So… What is a grade?
For two years teachers at SJH have been wrestling with an honest question: what, afterall, is a grade? I commend their courage and willingness to admit that such a simple question has become a scary, convoluted mess of an issue for those of us in public education. Grades have evolved over time – a process that has been accelerated by online gradebooks that empower parents, counselors, and administrators with the ability to pick apart the details of assigning points to student work. Questions and arguments ensued to where we are today… grades are a mathmatically calculated form of currency. Students earn points for doing work much like we earn money for doing work at our jobs. Indeed, most student grades hold little real correlation to a student's demonstrated mastery of concepts, content and skills – the heart of what we are supposed to be teaching and assessing.
After a full year of research, dialogue, debate, and reflection, teachers at SJH have agreed that grades are to be a "communication regarding a student's demonstrated level of mastery of the concepts, content, and skills of a course (the objectives)." We are currently working through the difficult process of aligning our practices to this definition – with varying degrees of success. The tools we use don't line up with our definition, and few of us have experience with making this work. There are bright spots however. Teachers, for the first time, feel in their hearts that they are communicating about student achievement with transparent honesty. Differentiation is actually easier when every student doesn't have to do the same thing to be considered "fair." And students are learning that some have to work harder than others to accomplish the same goals – a real life lesson.
I commend the teachers at SJH for their courage and support their efforts to do what is right instead of what is commonly practiced. In the end, students will benefit – and that's what this passion is all about.