Deleting Data – How Should We Evaluate?

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.

report card 1944

report card 1944 (Photo credit: pjern)

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.

Image representing Google Docs as depicted in ...

Image via CrunchBase

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?

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9 Comments

Filed under Education, Measuring Student Success

9 responses to “Deleting Data – How Should We Evaluate?

  1. I also struggle with these issues– especially state testing. There are way too many factors besides teachers that determine how much a student learns. As for homework– it’s mostly reading and Cornell note-taking. I also use differentiated short writing assignments that ask students to apply knowledge in a creative way to cut down on cheating. And I do project-based learning with presentations. My break down is 30% for home/class work, 30 exams/quizzes, 30 projects/essays, 10 participation.

  2. I have more than a little to say on this topic but I will try to stay brief. An older post on the issue is here: http://everythingreform.com/2012/04/29/you-want-school-reform-i-hope-youre-still-holding-on/ and worth reading (in my opinion). Grades are to education as money is to romance. Think about that analogy long and hard, because it is true in every meaningful way.
    The fact is, the moment accountability becomes the driving factor in any relationship, the relationship is doomed.

    I used to give the ‘grades are a necessary evil’ speech myself, but it doesn’t fly anymore. Considering that grades aren’t going anywahere, let me give you/your readers a few tips I have learned by seeing assessment from 2 very different perspectives:

    1 – Clearly differentiate assessment between content and character.
    There are always students who miss a few homework assignments but clearly know all of the content. Likewise there are students who will do everything twice and still never master content. This sets the stage for many unhappy conversations.
    Ex:
    Content – 78% (pure unedited content knowledge/mastry)
    Character 90% (things like HW, notebooks, participation, time management, etc.) .
    Determine how you will weight these in the final grade, and make sure each student understands that on the first day of class.

    2 – Explain your grades with words.
    Even my private school students resented the lack of clarity presented by traditional grades; what is a B? What is a C? It is extremely confusing and annoying, as we are beginning to realize as we (teachers) start to get graded ourselves.

    3 – Listen and be understanding.
    There are always special cases and circumstances. I try not to judge anyone, but the definition of a bad teacher in my book is one who isn’t at least willing to listen to a student. Yeah, your students will try to manipulate you. Some may even weasel a few points they didn’t deserve. But somewhere in the melee is a student who is going through something serious; an emotional trauma, undiagnosed learning difference (this happened to me – long story), family issues, or something else. How you deal with this situation will affect how he feels about school and teachers for the rest of his life.

    • Just to clarify and avoid any misunderstandings – I don’t mean to imply that any teacher doesn’t do these things already, and I don’t mean to imply that I know more/better than anyone else – I just get passionate when discussing the topic. I kind of wrote this comment as if I were giving advice to myself at the beginning of my career.

    • Matt,

      I didn’t read anything into your response. I can see the passion in your writing. Passion is what makes us evaluate our lessons. Passion is what allows us to examine how other teachers teach. Passion is what makes us improve. You are an expert on yourself and what works best for you in your classroom and methods. I appreciate your comments and honesty. Thanks for reading and responding so thoughtfully.

  3. I would be interested in learning more about improving attendance. While there are policies and procedures in place at the local and state level, they are only effective if they are enforced. Obviously, our impact as educators can only go so far–so, I’m wondering what are some effective ways to get them to school? Or, are there effective ways for us to do that?

    As far as the data scrubbing, it was imminent. When there is a loophole, people take advantage of it–desperate times and too much weight placed on district report card data.

    • I wish I had all of the answers. How about: flexible school hours may help some parents and children; feeding parents and their children a meal may bring them in; creating charter/boarding schools so the parents are relieved of their responsibility. None are cheap ideas and may be too far outside of the box. You work with many people in all types of educational circles. I am curious as to your thoughts.

    • I just wrote a wonderful response, and it disappeared! Let me try again…Attendance has never been something on my radar as far as my research and policy interests go, so I have to resort to my thoughts as a teacher. When I taught, I thought that if I built good relationships with the kids, they would come to school. Then I thought if I let them know that I noticed when they weren’t there and/or told them they were missed, they would come. I also thought calling parents and letting them know how important it was for their children to be in attendance would work, but I never noticed a marked difference in any of my tactics. It always surprised me that most of the kids with repeated absences were the likeable kids, not the misbehaved ones. I agree with where you’re going in your response–we need to address individual needs to the point that schools/teachers are able to do that. So, if students aren’t coming because they’re bored or they don’t see the point, that’s an opportunity for more personalized learning. I know a lot of kids who miss a lot and sigh with relief when they get accepted into vocational programs, where suddenly, their attendance spikes and they are engaged and excited every day; these are the kids for whom traditional education is a chore, not a privilege. I also like addressing their needs–what if they have family issues at home that outweigh the value of education? To the extent that schools/teachers can, I’d love to address those issues rather than let those kids fall through the cracks. There are so many issues and problems at work with attendance, I think a district would need to make a focused, concerted effort, complete with a plan for revision to improve attendance rates.

      I thoroughly enjoy learning from your years of experience!

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