Have you seen the any of the news about the changing of attendance records in Ohio schools? First, The Columbus City Schools were found to have deleted students who were chronically absent so these same student’s poor test scores could be eliminated. Next, came Toledo City Schools doing the same thing. Now, I have learned that the Cincinnati suburban Lockland City Schools superintendent sent an email to three employees about “scrubbing” student attendance data. Her email could be interpreted as either removing some data or making sure all of it was categorized correctly. We can all scream, “How dare those schools alter data!” However, we need to ask, “Why do they feel the need to so?”
In Ohio, schools get report cards. Schools want to look good for the voters who pass or fail levies, the schools vital source for funding. As students, many of us may have cheated to get higher grades to look good to our parents: our vital source for funding. Therefore, report cards are bad. Not really. Report cards continue to be one of many ways to determine achievement.
However, we need to look at what the report card is showing us. An “A” in my class is not the same as an “A” in another English teacher’s class. An “A” in my class twenty years ago is not the same as an “A” in my class today. I am a different teacher today based on my experiences. Nonetheless, our society, with all of the technology and desire for data, accepts a simple letter grade to provide us with all of the information we need to know.
Schools and teachers are being held accountable for student achievement, and there are discussions to give teachers merit pay for student success. I do not totally disagree with the idea. I would look at the system for merit pay and ask, “Will I make more money working to improve the attendance of one student, or will I make more money pushing the other students to excel academically?” Business owners look for the best way to increase profit. As a teacher, I would do the same. A merit pay system has to address this in order for all children to succeed, but the underlying issue today is the child’s attendance.
Something I learned twenty years ago was the fact that I could not control what my students did at home. If 50% of the grade was homework, Johnny could get 100% on all of his classwork, yet still fail. In essence, Johnny failed because he had no support at home. His grade did not reflect his skills. (Instead, the grade may have reflected the skill of his parent(s). Another thing I learned was being absent from school has a huge impact on performance. If Janie is not present for instruction, how can her scores reflect my teaching practices? The state department of education in Ohio has not learned this. They still say a school has to take the fall for a child’s poor test score even though the child was only present for half of the days.
In a way, the school districts that have altered data have found a way to adapt, improvise, and overcome. Society’s first reaction is, “The schools are wrong.” Nonetheless, the second reaction needs to be, “The rules aren’t fair.” No one has said we can’t change the rules. We can expand the data to show what test scores look like by attendance. For example, students who were present 95% of the days or more scored YYY. Student who were absent 85-94% of the days scored YYY. This break down would benefit parents, taxpayers, teachers, and students.
Now that I am finished complaining, the data deletion scandals has ignited my planning for this year fire. As school starts this year, I, like other teachers and ask: What percentage of the final grade is homework? Tests? Projects? Writing assignments? Classwork?
Over the years my philosophy has changed. Experience is always a good teacher, although, it can be expensive. Never buy a used car at dusk in a snow shower.
I do not give worksheets or questions from the book as homework. These types of assignments can be copied from another student on the way to school in the big yellow twinkie or in the controlled chaos-holding pen also known as the cafeteria. Instead, I may give part of grammar worksheet, review that in class, then give a quiz to evaluate understanding.
I may assign a reading selection for homework. The next day in class, I will give an extended response writing quiz or assignment. Or, we will have a small group, Socratic circle, or class discussion and students will earn participation points.
When we write essays, we do most of it in class. And, I plan on having students revise more this year, instead of turning the assignment in, having me grade it and return it, and then the student throws it away. Our students will be using Google Docs this year, and I will be able to see the revisions.
All of these methods differ from the way I taught a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far way. Moreover, I know can still learn how to improve. So, I ask parents, teachers, and all: What are your thoughts on evaluations? What percentage of the grade is homework? Classwork? Tests/quizzes?
- Merit Pay, the Undead Policy Idea (dianeravitch.net)
- Heaping Insults on America’s Teachers (dissidentvoice.org)
- Merit Pay for Teachers? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Bribe! (oldschoolteach.wordpress.com)