Schools change the way students get graded
ST. LOUIS — Parents thought their kids were doing great at Lincoln Elementary School.
Then they got state test results.
Although the children got great grades, most of them failed the test. The school knew it had a problem.
What it did next surprised everyone. The school changed the way students are graded.
Should Homework Count?
The new system doesn't reward students for completing work. Students don't get points for finishing homework. They don't get credit for good behavior or class participation. Instead, they are graded on what they know and how well they do their work.
“There are kids that are good at playing the game of school,” said Julie Williams. She is the principal of Lincoln Elementary in St. Charles, Mo. Many kids do well in school just by raising their hands every time the teacher asks a question. But when they are tested on what they know, it's a problem, she said.
People who don't like the new system say it sounds good on the surface. After all, who doesn’t think grades should be based on what kids actually learn? But what it means is another matter, they say.
Take, for example, not counting homework.
Under standards-based grading, points aren't taken off if a student fails to turn in homework. Instead, homework is seen as something that helps the students learn a subject. Likewise, students can redo assignments many times. They can even take tests over again.
This is not how school usually works. Some parents worry their kids would never do their homework if they didn't have to turn it in.
The new grading system was explained to middle school parents this year. They weren't very happy.
Parent Paul Bozdech said, “The general mood of the room was, ‘This isn’t how I had it growing up.’”
"That's Not Real Life"
Lately, schools have been focusing on measuring how much students learn. In the last few years, nearly all states have adopted the Common Core. It is an outline of what a child should know and do in each grade.
New tests uncovered gaps like the one at Lincoln Elementary. It also led to questions about how students can get good grades without learning anything.
Ken O’Connor is a former teacher. He now writes books. Teachers don't do kids any favors by giving them grades they don't deserve, he said. “Because at some point, they are going to fall on their face."
The usual way of grading can cover up failure. A student might earn a D grade in math. But he could wind up with a B or C, if he handed in math homework.
Some parents and teachers don't like the new system. They worry that nothing happens if kids don't do their work.
“That’s not real life,” Bozdeach said.
But most students know that if they don't do the work, they won't do well in class, said Ethan Dobbs. He is a student.
Better State Test Scores
For teachers, the change in grading students can be scary. Even teachers who like the new system think homework is important. They tell parents if work is not complete. Some don't let students retake tests until they finish their homework.
Becky Stevenson, an English teacher, says her students used to worry about getting good grades. Now they really want to learn.
“We’re seeing a change and it’s pretty powerful," she said.
Tom Guskey is a professor at the University of Kentucky. He doesn't know if the new grading helps students learn more.
But that doesn’t matter, he said. The new grading lets parents and teachers really know how students are doing.
Since the change, Lincoln moved from the bottom of the district on state tests to the top. In 2013, most students passed reading and math. This is double the number from 2010.
Williams says the new grading played a big part.
“It’s just been very powerful,” she said. “It’s clear to us this is what’s best for kids.”