Friday, December 6, 2013

Palm Beach Drops Grades

I was just talking to a mother of a second grader. She had been frustrated that her child, who attends a public school in Palm Beach County, never gets grades. She only gets satisfactory (or not satisfactory).  In fact, while she prepares for and takes tests, the results are never revealed to the parents or students.

Now, she's livid. She had expected that started in third grade, they would return to a classic grading system but Palm Beach has just announced: "No grades all through elementary school!"  Her reaction is: "That's retarded!"

Do grades help? Hurt?  What about the reality of grades being something that we all are used to and expect. Who is driving this no grades experiment at Palm Beach?

The Sun Sentinel reported on this last year: "Getting straight A's on report cards is no longer possible at 20 Palm Beach County elementary schools, despite even the best student achievement.
That's because those schools are test labs for assigning pupils new "performance codes" instead of the traditional A, B, C, D and F marks. The school year's second round of report cards come out Monday.

Educators say they are trying to convince parents that the new format — including the terms "exemplary" and "proficient" — is a much better indicator of whether students are mastering state standards for reading, writing, math, science and social studies.
"The biggest obstacle is that it is such a paradigm shift because all we know are grades," said Sharon Hench, principal of H.L. Johnson Elementary in Royal Palm Beach. The school uses the new report cards in kindergarten through second grade, and the old letter grade report cards for third through fifth grades.
School district administrators say they have not decided whether to expand this experiment next year to more of the 107 elementary schools. Officials have learned it's better to take their time rolling out revolutionary changes, after their failed 2009 attempt at systemwide curriculum changes.
So far, what appears to be a small number of parents at the schools where the switch began last year have complained they miss seeing letter grades on report cards, and tests too.
Kari Hansen, mother of a second grader at Berkshire Elementary in West Palm Beach, says it's harder for her to track her child's progress without numerical scores and a corresponding grading scale.
"They are just promoting mediocrity with this new system," she said.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

STEM Leadership and International Test Scores

I was just reading Steve Peha's weekly newsletter who pointed me towards an article by Gerald Bracey: this relatively brief blog post.  I'd like to quote it since it makes a significant point about technology leadership,  STEM education, and cross-national test comparisons:

It should be noted that these rankings <PISA Test> are determined by nations’ average scores. ....A publication from OECD itself observes that if one examines the number of highest-scoring students in science, the United States has 25% of all high-scoring students in the world (at least in “the world” as defined by the 58 nations taking part in the assessment—the 30 OECD nations and 28 “partner” countries). Among nations with high average scores, Japan accounted for 13% of the highest scorers, Korea 5%, Taipei 3%, Finland 1%, and Hong Kong 1%. Singapore did not participate.
The picture emerging from this highest-scorer comparison is far different than that suggested by the frequently cited national average comparisons; it is a picture that suggests many American schools are actually doing very well indeed.
Of course, the U.S. is much larger than these other countries and should be expected to produce larger numbers of successful students. But it is only when we look beyond the mean and consider the distribution of students and schools that we see the true picture.