I caught an interesting online headline the other day that raised the hair on the back of my neck. It concerned the timeless debates about the value of a grade. A task force in Wake County, NC had made recommendations to the Board of Education concerning a new grading policy. Â One of the recommendations was to allow no extra credit. It has generated quite a discussion, including some debate about who has the power to make these decisions about grading policies, the elected board or the professional educators employed by the school system. I was in graduate school, prior to my teaching career, before I realized that education was a political entity. I enrolled in a course called â€śThe Politics of Education.â€ť Â What an eye-opener for the then 23-year old idealist ready to change the world through her teaching.
But I want to focus on the concept of the grade, not the politics. The current discussion in Wake County seems to lean toward changing the recommendation to only allowing extra credit assignments that are academic. Years ago I would have asked, â€śWhat other kind is there?â€ť but that was before I had children who attended schools where the parental pressure for high grades was significant, not only to their kids, but to the teachers and the administration. I have known students who received high grades that belied their content knowledge because they could earn points by bringing in Kleenex, hand sanitizer, etc. or had points added to their grade for perfect attendance. In this world a C is not considered average, but unacceptable. With the push toward college for all, being accepted to the college of your choice has continued to become more and more difficult. Hence the need for higher and higher grades.
As a high school math teacher, my concern was the meaning of that math grade to colleges looking at the transcript. So I never awarded extra credit for non-academic work and demanded any extra-credit was only awarded for quality work that displayed a focus on learning. I would much rather allow a student to do test corrections and be awarded some of their points back than give them busy work which served no purpose for learning. My concern over the meaning of a grade has never diminished. As we move into the more rigorous Common Core curriculum for all, demanding a deeper conceptual understanding of the content, one challenge might be to motivate students to concentrate on the learning that occurs, not just the grade. In a perfect world students would be motivated and engaged at a high level at all times, focused on learning relevant to their needs and their world. There are certainly classrooms, and schools where that happens much more often than in others. I would love to hear about some of the strategies, including Thinking Maps, you employ to create those classrooms where, as Chris Yeager described in her recent post, everyone is in the flow!