Sunday, June 13, 2004

Extra Credit

A lot of my students are failing this term because they did not complete one of the major projects. I am going through the usual agony over their grades, and will not bore you with the details. Ultimately, I have decided to offer them an extra-credit make-up project. In addition to doing the regular assignment for the lab we did on Friday, students who want extra credit can write it up as a lab report. TONS of students are planning to do the extra credit. We'll see how many actually follow-through. If done well, it could definitely save some kids from failing.

Failing a class is not as serious to kids in NY public schools as it would have been to me and my classmates in middle school. Even a single failed quiz or test was cause for a heart attack for us - I can probably remember every single thing I failed from kindergarten to college. Sure, there were kids who did poorly in their classes, and probably were accustomed to low grades, but no one was blase about grades. There were kids who failed classes, but not many of them. A lot of kids in the Bronx - even my students, who are very motivated academically - don't see failing a test or even a class as such a crisis. They are likely to know many other kids who've failed at least one class before, so it's sort of a normal part of the school environment for them. They hear over and over again about attending failing schools and getting failing grades on the standardized tests. Academic failure is pervasive and not particularly stigmatizing. This is not to say that my students don't care when they fail classes, but they don't care AS MUCH as I would have cared at their age.

One of my colleagues was talking to me about this. She pointed out that starting in middle school, she would keep detailed records of her grades on assignments and calculate and recalculate her average for each class as the marking period progressed. I was never this crazy, but I definitely had an idea how my grades were calculated and therefore how I was doing in any particular class. Based on the kinds of questions they ask, many of our kids don't have a sense of how they're doing in their classes or how to figure that out on their own. I am hoping to get the other teachers to collaborate with me next year in teaching the kids how to keep track of their assignment scores and calculate their averages for themselves. I don't want to create grade-obsessed students, but I think many of them could use a little more grade-awareness. Knowing how you're doing is necessary to reflecting on ways to do better! Grades should not be mystery numbers handed down from above...

And speaking of assessment, we got our citywide test scores back. Our sixth graders did fine, and our seventh graders did fabulously! The tests are scored on a 1-2-3-4 scale. Four is "above the standard" and 1 is "below the standard." Three is "meeting the standard," although the city treats a 2 as a passing grade. We had about 70-75% of our students at a 3 or above, and only a single score of 1 in the whole school. Then again, our kids started out with good scores.

Analyzing test score data is a complicated and subtle project. I appreciate the "sub-groups" part of NCLB, because I think it is really, really important to know if your boys are doing as well as your girls, your Dominican kids as well as your African-American or Bangladeshi kids. Along with the 1-4 score comes a "scale score" which is a number in the hundreds. This is how you know whether a child is a high 3 or a low 3 and so forth. This year's scale scores are broken down into 1-4 scores differently from last year's. What does THAT mean? What if a kid's scale score improved but 1-4 score went down, or vice versa? What can we learn from comparing the scores of this year's sixth graders to those of last year's sixth graders? They are two very different groups of kids! Nevertheless, that is the information most often required to be reported on documents like the CEP (Comprehensive Education Plan). It seems like we learn more by comparing this year's seventh grade scores to last year's sixth grade scores? Those are the same kids, after all, so it reflects whether or not they've improved on the things the test measures.

Anyway, we did well. Phew!

*****

Thanks for all the birthday wishes! I had a great weekend with lots of friends and celebrations (I have two other friends with birthdays at the same time).

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