The Superintendent of Public Instruction has released the grades for all the schools in Indiana. On an A through F scale, each school has received its grade, and now communities must deal with the aftermath.
The superintendent of the school district in which I teach sent out an email to all our families explaining the absurdity of the whole thing. It includes a four-page document, complete with research from Butler University professors, itself complete with bibliography, detailing the flaws in a system of school evaluation based on high-stakes standardized testing and a process of data analysis so complex that few if any schools or communities understand it.
This whole scenario raises some interesting questions. While I agree that the system of evaluation is flawed, to say the least, I am amused to see grown adults scrambling to offer an explanation for a poor grade. Now hear me. I think that most, if not all, of the evaluation is bogus and the results vitiated by a host factors. That said, is the response of the school districts not similar to the reaction of students who receive poor grades? "But mom, dad, the test wasn't fair! I don't know what the teacher wants from me! It wasn't clear what I was expected to do! I wasn't at my best that day! I didn't get to bed until late because of team practice the night before!"
The challenges that my superintendent, and most others, have made are valid, yet I wonder. If the grading system of the schools is so flawed, is it possible that all grading systems are flawed, including the ones we impose on our students?
Consider this. According to almost fifty years of documented research, only 7-10% of variability in student performance on standardized tests in attributable to teacher and school level factors. That means 90% or more of standardized test score performance is attributable to factors that are not related to schools and teachers.
If that is true of standardized tests, then is it not true of the 4th grade chapter 3 spelling test and the 10th grade chapter 7 math test? Every teacher with whom I have discussed this issue over more than two decades in education has said the same thing. Success and failure in the classroom are derivative of, if not wholly determined by, factors beyond our control and most often beyond our awareness.
When it came to grades, I got good ones. From Kindergarten through the fall semester of my freshman year in college, I got exactly two Bs. One was in 5th grade cursive writing, because the teacher gave no As. The other was in one semester of 7th grade health. Yet I, this great-grade-making machine, will tell you that grades are among the least important things in life. What matters is that a student be curious and pursue knowledge of the magnificent, infinitely mysterious and complex world that God has created. There is a place for testing, of course. Both teacher and student should want to know how well a student has grasped the material. This, however, has nothing to do with the current system of grades, which, no matter what anyone says, are the equivalent of pay for a job. Just as with money, a student is out to gain as many points as possible to cash in on ever higher grades. This approach has nothing to do with learning and everything to do with preparing children for a life of materialistic keeping-up-with-the-Joneses.
Perhaps the absurd grading of schools will do some good after all, good completely unintended by the educrats who put it into place. Maybe, just maybe, it will prompt all of us to take a serious look at what we are doing with grades, testing, and the whole enterprise of education.