At the beginning of the summer I was so psyched about my summer classes. I got an A in the first one and I took my final in for the second one and I think I got an A in that one too. So, I should be happy right? Well. Yes. I am happy with my grades. I'm not exactly happy with how much espanol aprendio (I've learned.)
About the time I received my A en espanol uno I realized I had stopped focusing on what I was learning and was back to focusing on what grade I ended up with.
Bennington College was my first experience with a grading system that did not focus on an average of all the grades I receivced but rather a demonstation of how I could use what I had learned in the class. This was a whole new world for me after high school where all of your grades were averaged into one score that showed what you knew (and got you into college). I didn't do very well in high school. I didn't do badly, but I didn't do well. Often times it took me longer than my classmates to grasp certain things and so my grades at the beginning of a semester were not as good as my grades at the end. To my high school teachers, it never mattered if at the end I grasped the concept, it only mattered how all of my scores averaged out. I never thought to question this grading system until I entered Bennington. My first year at Bennington, I took a range of classes in different subject areas (as per "The Plan.") I remember two of them distinctly.
One was an environmental chemistry class. During class we learned mathematical ways of solving chemical equations, the ins and outs of running a real experiement (well, to me it was real, my high school didn't really have a lab setting at all, actually, it did, but you had to get the grades to get into one) and how chemistry is used in the environment. I was not good at solving the chemical equations. I was constantly in the professor's office for extra help. I took me a few turns before I felt comfortable in the lab and it took a while to get used to reading the amount that needed to be read and understood before each class. But I had a syllabus and I knew where I needed to be at the end of the course. It wasn't a final written test. As a final project, in pairs we were to come up with, perfom and critique an experiment that included each of the main ideas from the course.
My history class that semester was equally as challenging and equally as creative. It was called: Journey 1: The Year 1000. In this class, we broke up into groups and travelled the world. Our textbooks were novels and ancient atlases. Using our team members we were choose a place in the world to start and travel all over the world, while doing research about how the people from our part of the world traveled, what they wore, what they ate and how they related to other cultures. Each group chose a different place in the world to start and during each class, each group made a presentation on where they had been the last week and what they had learned. Our final project from that term was to take everything we had learned from our own groups and other and turn it into a comparitive paper at least 15 pages long. It was an amazing course. I didn't learn as much in four years in high school as I did in those 16 weeks. I loved that course so much I took Journey 2: The World Between the Wars, a course about what the world was like in between World War I and World War II.
It hit me. For once in my life, I was going to be graded mostly on what I knew at the end of the course. It wasn't going to matter that on the first problem set of chemical equations I had gotten them all wrong because I could show in my final experiement that I could do them. It wasn't going to matter that our group didn't really get the hang of what we needed to be doing until the third week. I was finally getting ascessed on what I could prove I knew. The rest of my classes at Bennington were set up this way as well. No tests, no finals because at the end of each class the professor said, "Show me what you learned." And we did.
I succeeded in college, a heck of a lot more so than I did in all my years of public schooling. I'm pretty sure that if my school had has a Dean's List I would have been on it every semester. College was where I blossomed. As I was finishing and getting ready to do my year of student teaching, I was a little nervous about getting back into the public school system and being forced to average out each grade that a student received in order to show their parents what they knew.
I'm happy to say that I never had to. Not once have done that. I was lucky enough to do my student teaching at a school that had been chosen as one of the schools to be in a pilot program for standardized report cards. A handful of schools from around the state of Vermont were chosen to take part and report back to the state on how it had gone and decide whether or not it would continue.
Here is the standardized report card grading system in a nutshell, if I haven't described it before, if you already understand it, you may skip to the next paragraph. Each state has a set of standards for each subject that has been agreed on. It is the job of all the teachers in each state to teach those specific standards. If students can perform those particular standards at their grade level, they recieve a 3 on their report card. If they are almost there and perform those particular standards with help, they recieve a 2, if they can not perform those particular standards, they recieve a 1. Students for the first three quarters of the year are aiming for a two or a three. They don't need to be able to perform all of the standards right away because they have the entire year to learn how to do it. The best example is this; a fourth grader is working at memorizing their muliplication tables. They take a quiz once or twice a week in order to gauge how much they know. They fail the first ten because they haven't gotten the hang of it. They take the next ten and know half, the next ten and they know them all. Why should I take all of those grades and average them out to an A, B, C, D or F. The kid got it. At the end, he knows his multiplication tables. I don't care that he failed the first ten times he tried. He got it in the end. He'll get a three because he can perform that skill at grade level.
I had the same fear when I moved to La Pasa, I hated the idea of moving away from my standardized grading system. I needn't have worried. The charter school that hired me also used a standardized grading system. I've been happy ever since. Because everything I teach is directly tied to the state standards and my students have been accessed accordingly, they have a better shot at the state standardized test. I believe my students are far better for it.
This summer was interesting for me. I had to go back to the "normal" grading system. It freaked me out at the beginning. I remember how frightening it was to take that first test (and then I found out that it was the fake one.) I hadn't taken a test in a class since my geometry final in high school. But I got through it all with an A and probably an A in the second class as well. But at the same time, I'm not really sure how much I have actually "learned."
Thank you Bennington for teaching me to question my education.
4 years ago