Monday, November 17, 2014

Comment for Nov 17 School Committee meeting

Sent this via email because I was too sick to attend.  :(  Wish I could have because I got the impression that it was going to be heated (oh the drama!) and I am invested in this concept and hope to use it when I return to teaching. 

I am against Common Core State Standards because they were not developed with local input, and thus, they were forced on the state with stick and carrot tactics leaving the public with little voice in the matter.  I'm also against CCSS because they were not written with sufficient educator or scholar input, and thus, they contain illogical sequences, developmentally inappropriate expectations, and other such faults.  

However, I am in favor of standards in general and standards based grading.  And, I agree credit for a course should represent mastery of content, as should a diploma.  (As long as we are working with the assumption that courses require specific content and graduation requires passing of these courses instead of students having more of a say in the content they learn.  That's a topic for another day). 

Standards should not create a fixed timeline for all students or fixed methods or materials for all students.  If we agree fractions, thesis statements, and the Bill of Rights are necessary for a diploma, then it is irrelevant how and when a student masters the material.  Those factors are determined by the student's individual needs; educators and parents must learn what that child needs to master content and then provide it. 

We should have high expectations for all students.  But, we can not expect students to just fall in line because we insist that they can.  Demands like this are popular these days.  (Check out these two pieces both published June 24th.  One is from blogger Peter Greene and the other the Bangor Daily News).  But, popular doesn't make it pedagogically sound or make it match common sense. 

Furthermore, not all meaningful learning can be measured and thus curriculum should never be narrowed to only what can be quantified with a score or check mark.  I taught ELA to freshmen for five years and my content of literature is the perfect example.  While it is important for students write essays with well formed arguments about character and theme including properly cited supporting evidence, that is not the purpose of literature.  We will never be able to assess how literature helps students explore history, beauty, or universal humanity, as well as their own perceptions of themselves, their morals and values, their relationships, and their world.  We can not assess that, nor should we try, but we should strive for that happen in classrooms daily. 

All of this said, some learning can be assessed, and standards based systems do a better job. 

Traditional grading systems:
  • penalize students when they try and fail because all scores are averaged.
  • provide pressure for everything to "count."
  • inflate or penalize grades for elements unrelated to content mastery such as: organization, speed, punctuality, parental involvement, compliance, neatness, etc. 
  • are finite at predetermined points in time unrelated to student needs.
  • have cultural understanding of what a score means disconnected to content.  
With standards based grading systems:
  • when or how quickly a student masters material does not affect score
  • elements unrelated to content affect grades less
  • greater opportunity exists for parents and students to know what a score represents in terms of content by seeing the standards and rubrics
  • great opportunity exists for collaboration on units and assessments, including determining exemplars and anchoring to score thus reducing subjectivity of grades.   (No system ever will be perfect as teachers are human and thus subjective, as well as teachers value autonomy in their own classrooms leading to differences in instruction).  
  • differentiates between a students who master what is taught versus students who are exceptional in a subject area. 
  • is a new system and should not be translated to A - F

I would like to further reitorate a comment from November 3rd.  While common planning time is necessary for PBL to work, a teacher can not have all her planning time dedicated to collaborative work.  Teachers have contracted hours.  Rare is the teacher who works to contract simply because so many teachers strive for excellence.  However, a teacher should at least have some opportunity, some chance to complete her daily obligations during her contracted time.  When can a teacher research and plan lessons, review assessments, provide students with make up and extra instruction, meet with administrators or support staff, or contact parents?  This issue needs to be addressed. 

Finally, one more article I found on the topic:
http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/oct08/vol66/num02/Seven_Reasons_for_Standards-Based_Grading.aspx

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