Sunday, November 15, 2015

Cotati surrenders, figures that kneeling to lower standards produces better results.

I’ve always been afraid of these kind of grading systems.  Now they have hit close to home.

“The new system is called the equal interval scale. Essentially, it makes it harder to get a failing grade. It departs from the traditional A to F scale in which students receive F’s for scores below 59 percent. Instead, the scale awards F’s only for scores below 20 percent…..

……Under the new policy, grades rise in 20-point increments. For example, scores of 20 to 40 percentage points earn D- through D+ grades — and so on, up the ladder. Students get an A- for scoring between 80 and 85, which traditionally is low B territory…..

…..Some teachers have tried to hang on to the traditional grading system but have been tripped up by a blanket new policy that students, even if they do not hand in homework or take a test, get 50 percent.”

The Cotati-Rohnert Park School District has fallen straight into the trap of giving up.  Instead of actually addressing the problems within the schools and teaching everyone how to work more efficiently, they simply moved the bar. 

“I would see students in my classroom who for whatever reason, they would see themselves get further and further behind and at some point you would see some give up and check out,” (Valerie)Ganzler said. “Having grades that are equal intervals, it is always possible for those kids to catch up.”

There is something so fundamentally wrong with that statement that I almost don’t even know where to begin.  It might be that the “for whatever reason” theory that a student is getting behind.  There is a reason and the school’s job (and the teacher’s job) is to find the support structure that can help that kid.  Lowering the bar just makes it less necessary for the district and all its components to remain accountable to the student.  Student is failing?  No big deal because the bar is so low that we can let the problem slide, and in the long run it will also save the district money because support programs actually cost money. 

Or maybe my horror at the statement is pointed towards the teacher that manufactures the blanket of “hope” as solution for not structuring the classroom around what’s going on with the students.  If a student is in my class working hard they will not fail.  Period.  That student will learn and progress and while the numbers may not totally represent the same academic outcome as, let’s say, a four-year college bound student, the struggling student that works is going to graduate.  That’s the system that’s built within the class and the student that desire’s the education will get one.

But Cotati has created an atmosphere that relies on hope and the image that if you lower the bar enough, less people will fail and the community will be oh-so-happy.  “Look, the new grading system has created more graduates!  Success!”  Except that the graduate simply didn’t show up and received a 50% for all the missed work yet still graduated because failing is at 20%.  Makes.  Perfect.  Sense. 

This kind of grading system does have severe consequences.  The “failure is not an option” mentality has created students that can’t seem to deal with everyday life.  This article from Psychology Today has been making the rounds on the Interwebz and has stirred up all kinds of conversation about the negative externalities creating grading systems based on false hope.

“Many students, they (the faculty) said, now view a C, or sometimes even a B, as failure, and they interpret such “failure” as the end of the world. Faculty also noted an increased tendency for students to blame them (the faculty) for low grades—they weren’t explicit enough in telling the students just what the test would cover or just what would distinguish a good paper from a bad one. They described an increased tendency to see a poor grade as reason to complain rather than as reason to study more, or more effectively. Much of the discussions had to do with the amount of handholding faculty should do versus the degree to which the response should be something like, “Buck up, this is college.” Does the first response simply play into and perpetuate students’ neediness and unwillingness to take responsibility? Does the second response create the possibility of serious emotional breakdown, or, who knows, maybe even suicide?”

We are failing all right; we are failing to teach students how to think, how to pick themselves up from negative experiences, and how to overcome adversity. 

And Cotati Unified is now the epicenter of this failure on the North Coast.