Despite the fact that I have often agreed with the Tucson Independent on several of its stands on education, I find myself at odds on this one (http://tucsoncitizen.com/tucson-daily-independent/2011/10/14/arizonas-new-district-grading-system-will-the-public-use-it/). I feel the ‘new’ grading system should be scrapped or rather it should never have been initiated. As an instructor I see only two purposes in such competitive based and punitive labels. The first reason is to embarrass those who do not achieve the standards set by others and the second is to further the agenda of those who are anti-public education.
About twenty years ago I was at a school that piloted the rubric method of grading. In this format there are four categories: exceeds the standard, meets the standard, approaches the standard and falls far below the standard. These are represented by the numbers 4 through 1 respectively.
At the time many teachers and parents did not like the new system. Without the more comfortable ranking of A,B,C,D and F, how were we to know if someone was eligible for Honor roll? It would be harder to recognize excellence if a student who got all 3s was seen as a good student, doing all his work while a student with mostly 4s but some 2s in critical areas was seen as needing focus.
For my own part I kept double books, I rated all work by the rubric and also with letter grades; that is for one year I did that. After that year I decided that rating the students by rubrics was much more equitable, not as subject to personal judgement and even more useful. Eventually the system was adopted across the district and we have used it for many years.
The advantage of the rubric is that it keeps the focus on the standard being taught, has the student achieved mastery, or are they approaching it? These kinds of questions can be answered without even looking at student comparisons; they exist for each student in competition with only themselves.
There are still those parents who want to compare their student’s progress against others rather than simply whether they accomplish standards. I will leave that to them; I do not believe that education and competition are irrevocably linked. I have nothing against accepted competition; that is, one individual choosing to compete with another, but in terms of an educational precept it is highly over-rated if not destructive.
Now the State of Arizona resurrects this system to reapply it to students, employees, schools and school districts. It won’t hurt the people who run the district all that much. They are elected in the case of the board and hired for significant salaries at the other. No, it is only calculated to hurt the schools, the people who work there and the students who attend them.
I became conscious of the extreme punitive nature of Arizona’s rating of schools in the way the last system was employed. One year our school was rated as ‘performing plus’ and my wife’s school was simply ‘performing’. The next year we switched places even though we had performed the same and I joked with my wife that they had stolen our rating. Then I did some research. It turned out that under the system established by that scion of educational excellence, Tom Horne, only a certain number of schools could be rated in each category, for someone to move up, someone else had to move down, no matter what their score was. The joke was on me, they had stolen our rating, by simply doing as good a job as we had the year before we had lost ground.
Compare that to the job you do. If your boss came to you and said, “I’m sorry, you only worked as hard this year as you did last year, I’m cutting your salary.” How would you feel?
The ‘new’ grading system will be worse.
It will facilitate the agendas of those who say that public schools are no good and it will lend credence to the idea of privatizing education. As a teacher in public school I have nothing against private schools that are held to the same standards and funding that public schools are but in Arizona that is simply not the procedure. I also recognize the absurdity of those who say, “Send everyone to Basis or Sonoran Science Academy, that is patently impractical and to be brutally honest those schools don’t want everyone. It would dilute their effort, cause them to shift focus onto underperforming students in an effort to bring them up to speed with the self motivated students they currently educate.
No, there is only one kind of school takes everyone who comes in the door and does their best to educate them: public schools. Some form of public education has existed in parts of our country since before we were a country and I can only hope we will weather this attack and it will continue to be true as long as there is a United States of America.