January 11, 2012

The numbers don't add up

While looking at students' grades in other classes, I came across several that didn't make sense. (Of course, by now, you know that grades, in general, don't make much sense to me.) Take a look at this example: 

In a class with 391 possible points, a student has 195 for a 50% F.

Seven of the assignments have 100% scores, which account for 73 points, meaning the student is perfect on nearly 20% of the material. Obviously, this is not a completely inept kid.

Three missing assignments account for 49 points -- 13% of the total. How much incentive does the student have to make them up? Based on the late penalties outlined below, I'd say there's very little incentive.

The student is penalized 25 points for several late activities. These penalties are harsh -- 50% of the value of the activity. Pretty tough for a 13-year-old. If I turn something in late to my principal, I certainly don't lose half of my pay.

Our sample student receives 28.5/99 on two tests, with no evidence of a retake on either. (Don't even get me started on the problem with two tests being 25% of the value of what a student produces in 45 days of work.)

These numbers simply don't add up. I got to thinking that if a report card grade is absolutely necessary, why can't we at least help students like this one taste a little success? So, I did some basic math, and here's what I came up with.

Raising the bar
If the late penalties are eliminated completely, this adds 25 points to the student's total score. Assume that the teacher does some re-teaching/coaching and the student retakes both tests. If the student improves to just 60% on both, her test total increases to 59/99.

These two simple changes (eliminating late penalties and bringing low test scores to just 60%) bring this student to a grade of C. Even if the student gets only 50% on one of the test retakes, she'll still get a C-.

I'd much prefer narrative feedback over the grade, but if some effort is made to help students perform well and embrace learning, the grades they have to get will increase. Then, perhaps they'll feel better about themselves and develop a thirst for learning.

As long as numbers exist, they might as well add up.

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