Mar. 21st, 2010

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[personal profile] velvetpage
I hate giving marks.

I hate the process of figuring out how a dozen different assignments, all relating to different expectations and all taught, supported, and assessed in different ways, go together to create one overarching letter that is supposed to sum up a kid's work for a term.

You know what? It doesn't. There's no way that it can. The same kid can be at three different levels in three different key expectations, and giving them the middle level doesn't recognize either their weaknesses or their strengths well enough to satisfy my professionalism, much less well enough to really represent the kid.

Furthermore, the parents don't look at that A and say, "Wow, you did really well on that brochure assignment! You put a lot of effort into it and used your information well, and your research came from lots of different sources! I'm impressed with your work!" No, the vast majority of parents look at the A and say, "You're really smart in English!"

Then they look at the C+ in number sense and numeration, and instead of saying, "It seems you were really struggling with multiplication. What can we work on together that will help you with that?" they say, "It's okay. Some people just aren't good at math." Which is a better message than the other most likely one: "You're stupid and lazy and that's why you got a low mark." But it's still not the truth. Neither of them are the truth. And since a parent's opinion is necessarily and properly more important to a kid than a teacher's, my repetition of the first message gets drowned out by their repetitions of the other messages.

For the parents out there, please, please, know this: no matter what your personal relationship with grades was in school, you need to put it aside. If there's one message I want to give you, as a teacher trying to improve your child's learning and give them hope for their future, it's this: marks are not a reflection of the child's abilities. They're a reflection of the child's achievement on a certain number of assessment tasks which may or may not accurately reflect the child's understanding of the material and almost certainly do not reflect the child's full potential. If you treat marks as indicators of work already done, and tie them directly to the learning that went into that work, then you'll probably avoid this trap. If you interpret marks as a reflection of your child's aptitudes, you are doing your child a significant disservice. Marks are only as good as the expectations they relate to and the tasks used to assess the child's achievement of that expectation. They do not reflect the child well at all. They're at best a necessary evil, at worst a horrible setback to kids who might otherwise be making great gains.

This rant brought to you by my second-term report cards and the letter C+.

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