Sunday, December 1, 2013

Homework & Grading & Mastery

The theme of the December 2013 edition of EL (Educational Leadership) is student mastery of subject matter. What is not surprising is how often the educational experts contributing to the issue referred to grading and homework in their writings about mastery.

Among the comments:

  • "Teachers need to allow students to work on tasks repeatedly, without penalties, until they achieve mastery." [The takeaway? Evaluate homework with students and reteach when necessary but do NOT grade practice homework.]
  • "...I have found that most teachers merely come up with an algorithm for calculating grades rather than ensuring that their grades link to larger, defensible standards. The fact that such norm-referenced, individualistic grading is a time-honored education custom fails to justify it." [The takeaway? How to best grade students should be studied by teachers and should be examined in-depth in schools of education.]
  • "To see the harm in the current approach to grading, imagine a teacher who, like most teachers, gives As or Bs to her better students. But suppose that the school is one of the weakest schools regionally. She is thus giving grades determined by familiar local norms and low expectations, not measured against standards. Although, the teacher is well-intentioned, she is unwittingly setting up her students for heartbreak." [The takeaway? Rigorous statewide standards are needed so students can see how they compare to a standard that is much wider than their local schools.]
  • "...remediation rates in college average 40 percent of incoming students (Wiggins, 2010) .  As a result, it's hard to feel confident about local performance standards." [The takeaway? College and university officials have been complaining for some time about too many incoming students not being college ready. The grade inflation that goes on at many, possibly most, high schools keeps students and parents content and quiet but masks truth and sets students up for failure.]
  • "We owe each student the facts as to where he or she fits in in terms of wider-world standards."
  • "Education has a long-standing practice of turning worthy learning goals into lists of bits." 
  • "A march through facts and sub-skills, dotted with numerous quizzes, is not a path to true mastery."
  • "The practice of reducing mastery to accurate recall of discrete facts and skills is tempting, common, and harmful. [The takeaway? Students should be taught how to think deeply. American educational content has often been characterized as being a mile wide and a millimeter deep.]
    • "Too often we opt for uniformity over individuality because it's easier to manage." [The takeaway? Compliance, conformity, uniformity are prized in too many classrooms and school districts. The recent insult to student privacy, via data collection and sharing,  illustrates the extent to which these traits are expected of parents as well as their children. Going along to get along can come at a great price.]

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