Saturday, April 26, 2014

This seems to be very controversial and unpopular in my neck of the woods, what do you think?



This is not my school district,  but near where I live and teach.  This policy seems to be getting a lot of press and the opinions are flying.   It seems that most people in my area and the people running for our school board are very against this.   I don't think I am.

It seems the biggest argument that people are giving is that this is not "real life".   That kids will fail out of college and lose their jobs if they move into the the world with this work ethic.    I get that.   You have to get things done in the "real world".   There are definitely high expectations at the university level. I don't want my kids to fail out or be slackers any more than the next guy, in fact,  as a teacher, I probably give this more thought than most.   But,   I think by and large,  I am in favor of this policy.   Here's why.

I believe that school is not supposed to be a model of "real life" with shorter people.   I believe it is more like an apprentice program.   The place to LEARN the things that will one day help kids when they are adults.   I believe that is a truly complex mission.   It is not all about instant achievement. We scaffold our teaching, pulling away supports as new skills are learned.   It is about gaining skills throughout the process,   some content skills,  some work habits, some social skills.   But I don't necessarily believe that those occur for every person at the same time.   

From my reading,  I understand that there are two main ideas in this proposal:

NOT AUTOMATICALLY FAILING LATE WORK:

I believe that academic area grades should reflect true content learning.   They should not be a reward or punishment or "alternative paycheck".  As an educator it is my RESPONSIBILITY to make sure that my students are mastering the CONTENT and SKILLS prescribed by the state (and common sense).  It is essential that parents and students know how well they are achieving those skills.   If I simply give a grade based on the time something is turned in,  rather than mastery of skills,  then the grade is not a measure of of true knowledge,  but rather a measure of time management.  

Now,  I also believe that time management is extraordinarily important.   I believe that it is something that we have a responsibility to teach with the same amount of passion we teach our content area,   but they are not one and same.  Some people will get this at the same time,  but others won't.   One of the arguments I am reading over and over is that if a report is turned in late at a job,   then the employee with lose said job.    This may be true.   In my experience,   it has not been.   I have had reasons over the years that I have turned in a report late.   For example,  this year my sweet father in law became very ill and passed away.   I had several reports that I turned in late or forgot about during this time period.  I was emotionally hurting and it affected my work negatively.   I was also physically absent from my job for a time.   But in my "real world",  I have a compassionate employer who understands this kind of thing and gave me some time to get things done.   She did not excuse the work or give me a pass,  but accepted my late reports with a hug and some understanding.   I guess she could have just said,  YOU FAIL and fired me,  but I have never experienced that kind of "real world" that people seem to be talking about on line.   I may just be very blessed,  but I tend to believe that the "real world" does occasionally make exceptions for late work and mistakes. 

Just as we do,  our students have reasons for turning in late work. We may or may not see them as valid,  but they are valid to them. They are doing the difficult work of growing up.   Some are dealing with incredibly difficult life circumstances,   some are over committed with other responsibilities,  some have no example of what that time management looks like because their parents are unemployed or have substance abuse problems or are just plain absent.   Some kids are just naturally slower than others or less able to manage their time.  Some don't comprehend the content in the assignment and need help that may or may not be available at home. They need help to develop these skills very intentionally.  What do we do FOR students if we just give them a zero and let it go?    Are we TEACHING them anything other than life is hard?   So many of our students have grown to accept and expect failure.   They don't have an expectation of success (much less college and a professional career),  they just cease to care.

So what if we TEACH these skills instead?   What if we expect that it is done NO MATTER WHAT?  Even if they can't get it there on Tuesday, we still believe that mastery is achievable and important and we push that student, and love that student, and assist that student until it happens?    Is that really going to make them a loser? Or it is going to build up their self confidence and hold them accountable for the work? I think we need to ask ourselves some serious questions.  What is our goal?  What should our goal be?  If they never do the work and simply fail, what has been accomplished?   What have they been taught?  


LETTING THEM TEST UNTIL THEY PASS:

I believe that much of the debate around this stems from our core beliefs about why students fail.   If you believe that students fail because they are lazy and don't try, and should be punished,   then it makes sense that we would just give them the fail and move on.   But if we believe that all people learn differently and some more quickly or slowly than others,   then this new grading policy makes sense.   

If a student is struggling with algebra (I am tapping into my real life experience here),  then it is entirely possible that they are not even completely able to understand what they do not know yet.  They can take a test and be surprised at how poorly they do.  I have been there (I remember thinking I had studied well for a test and getting the test and thinking I was an idiot).  Should we then just record the failing grade (as punishment that the student didn't learn it), or should we let the student keep trying until they get it?  Which method is more likely to have all of our students reach mastery?

From what I understand,  it will be a choice in Denton ISD.  If a student wants to do better,  they are given the chance to keep working until they achieve their goals.   People against this seem to cite that it is similar to giving students rewards for losing, a trophy for participation.   I don't see this at all (and rewarding without reason is a practice I am very against).   If the student accepts the failing grade, then that is what is recorded,   but they use perseverance and keep plugging away at the skills tested,  then they will receive a grade based on that.    To me,  taking the test over and over again until they master it,  seems to be a far more desirable outcome than a straight up failure.  If they fail a college course, they can pay to retake it right?   I would much rather them do that then just quit.   Otherwise,  we have "punished them" for not getting the information in our time frame,  and while I guess that "teaches them" something... is it what we want to teach?   


Now this is a new philosophy of grading students, and it is entirely possible it will not work out.   But right now,   we are failing a LOT of kids.   Not all of our kids are college bound,  nor should be expect them to be.  Many of them will not go into the professional world. Some will choose another path.  In my opinion, that is not a tragedy. We need people who are passionate about in all walks of life.  In the end,  that is not our choice.   But I believe, as educators,  we need to give them every opportunity to be successful,  whatever that looks like.   I applaud this district for shifting paradigms and taking a chance.    I, for one, will be watching and cheering them on!

What do you think???  I think this conversation is important,  please join in!  




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