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Wow, Here’s an Intriquing “New” Idea: Grade Kids on What They Know

September 20, 2010

The Columbus Dispatch is reporting a new practice that is being explored by some Ohio high schools: grading students on what they actually know!  The article points out that in many (if not most) high schools, students are rarely graded just on their knowledge of a subject.  They are graded on attitude and effort.  Many teachers provide extra credit opportunities for students to beef up their grades.  Extra credit, good attitude, and effort are all great things to encourage.  However, it usually does not work in favor of those high ability students who know the material in half the time and don’t really want to jump through the hoops of showing effort.

I had lunch with the parent of a just such a student, who very nearly didn’t graduate this past year.  The student was a national merit scholar, an AP Scholar, and is entering college with two years of college credit.  Sounds like a great student, right?  Well, not according to the student’s high school.  Even though the student aced every exam, he refused to do the homework.  He considered it busy work, and he (legitimately) had better things to do with his time.  His high school disagreed.

The bottom line is that the student did graduate, but the cost was great:  even with all of his academic awards, he was unable to get scholarship money because of his low grades.  How different it would be for him, if his school had a adopted a 85% or 90% content mastery rule as the Metro School has done in Columbus.

The truth is, most colleges don’t care too much about whether you do daily homework.  They care about how well you do on exams and projects.  Extra credit for attitude?  Yeah, that doesn’t happen so much in college.

I do believe that work ethic is important.  But there is a big difference between meaningful homework and homework that merely serves the purpose of showing good attitude.  There is research that shows that students who already know a concept and are forced to “re-learn” the concept often re-learn it incorrectly.

My advice to high schools: Let students who show content mastery move on.  All the add-ons to inflate grades ultimately do a disservice to students in college.  Possibly, this could explain the 40% remediation rate in Ohio’s colleges, no?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. lepmom permalink
    September 21, 2010 3:30 am

    I have always wished that my son’s report card would have two columns for each class… One for content knowledge, and the other for “attitude” or “effort” or whatever. I do think it’s important to encourage cooperative behavior and for it to be assessed, but it is terribly wrong to punish a child with a poor grade when they show mastery of the content without putting forth “effort.” I think this practice shows a lack of effort on the teachers part to challenge and engage the student appropriately.

  2. Xerox permalink
    September 22, 2010 8:35 pm

    When I read your post, I felt thrown back to the days when I went to a German (high) school. Even if I (being a girl) did not suffer grade-wise, I always kept on pointing out to my mother that all this grading of effort was really a comedian nuisance. What should I invest my effort into if classwork did not even challenge me enough to give 100% attention to it. Guess I should still be glad at least someone noticed “already”.

  3. January 14, 2011 4:54 pm

    I disagree with your post to a certain extent. Yes, mastery of subject matter is important, but so is attitude. I work with a bunch of young people like the high school student you describe. They are all “too smart” or “too educated” to start at the bottom. They want to be given the really important projects just because they show up to work each day.

    It’s not enough to be smart. It’s also important for these students to be mature. Too often gifted students are given a pass on being mature because they are “too smart” to do the homework or participate in the program or be part of the class. Guess what? In the work world, we fire people who won’t be part of the team. While the senior leaders are busy doing whatever needs to be done, we don’t need some junior-level “genius” telling us s/he is too smart to help us.

    The world is not going to continually look for ways to challenge you and keep you engaged. Sometimes you just need to do the work because it is asked of you.

    Our girls have been designated as highly-gifted. I teach them that it’s not enough to be smart. They also have to be part of the class, even when the work might not be as challenging as they’d like. It’s not always about IQ. As the popular book pointed out, EQ plays as important a role in success.

  4. Kristen West permalink
    February 20, 2011 4:08 pm

    I do not agree with having mastery count as a majority of the grade. I taught in a high school that adopted an 80/20 policy where 80 percent of the grade was based on district created tests. It was horrible for the students who did try their hardest and did all of the assignments because some students are not great multiple choice test takers. I understand that your child struggled because they didn’t want to have to do the work but that is part of the grade. Sometimes I don’t want to write a paper because I know what I would say and how to write but that does not mean I am given a free pass. I still have to complete the work whether or not I think it is a waste of my time. Part of being in college and school is dealing with the BS of work. I can’t think of many people who would prefer to do their work over other things but they know that is what it takes to be successful. If your child doesn’t want to do the work to succeed some other child will and they will get the scholarship.

  5. May 14, 2012 3:45 pm

    Perhaps the conversation should be centered around the intellectual rigor of the homework versus whether homework should be assigned. Study time to develop skills should be developed in all students. At this time in his life, he knows the content, but that will not always be the case. Many students used to getting 100% on assignments aren’t challenged by the work. When the time of challenge does come, will he have developed a study ethic or become frustrated because he has not developed study skills to help him deal with grasping new material? Students need to develop the habit studying at their instructional level. Rather than have him resent homework, talk to the school about assigning more rigorous tasks that will challenge him intellectually.

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