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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It's Not a 'C'

Melissa Grossbarth is a senior in an AP physics class who has a column in the local newspaper. You should read her teachers comments on the Action-Reaction blog.  I would suggest that it's not about everybody making a C, but everybody making an A. You don't lower the top student standards, you raise everybody else. Read Melissa's column below:

Rethinking grading

“What if this course was pass/fail instead of graded?” my AP Physics C teacher, Mr. Noschese, asked our class recently. “Would you try harder?” He motioned for us to raise our hands if we agreed. No one did.
“Why not? What do you have to lose?”
One kid answered with, “It wouldn’t be worth it. To pass the class, you’d only have to get a C; there’d be no difference between tons of effort for an A and just enough effort to pass the class. We have other courses to get through, too.”
It’s a shame that this is what our education has come to — making the grade. Getting an A is more important than learning the material — ask any of the hundreds of high schoolers who spend their nights and lunch periods cramming for tests, only to lose the information days later. Even for AP tests, SATs or ACTs, people who strive to do well study as hard as they can to learn as much as they can in a short time frame, but after the test, that information that they struggled to retain no longer matters. Grades are what matter, not knowledge.
But this year, my AP Physics C class strives to change that notion. Our grades are not based on test scores — not directly, at least. Instead of just using the grades on our examinations to judge aptitude, our teacher goes through each test and marks off which concepts an individual is comfortable with and which ones that person still struggles with. If you struggle on a few things, that’s OK — you can retest at any time with a new examination to prove that you have learned the concept, and not just for the test, but in the pursuit of knowledge.
Another thing radically different — quarter culminate. Each quarter grade is based on the entire year’s worth of concepts up until that point; for example, a grade in quarter 3 indicates knowledge of concepts in quarters 1, 2 and 3. That way, you can be sure that you can’t forget the things that are necessary for the course; but on the other hand, this also helps if you only figure out a quarter 2 concept toward the end of quarter 3 — you can improve your overall grade, even months after the subject has been taught.
My teacher ended the class recently with a video of a lecture comparing schools and skateboarding. My favorite part? There are no grades in skateboarding — when you don’t know something, you do it until you learn it. You can’t just think about the trick and pretend you know how to do it. Similarly, AP Physics C calls for constant learning, not just cramming for tests the night before, memorizing formulas and constants that we won’t know the names of in a month. By the end of the year, I may not retain everything, but I’ll certainly know more than if I had just had my nose in a book when necessary.

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