Giving up A’s and B’s for 4’s and 3’s…..

Winnie Hu:

There is no more A for effort at Prospect Hill Elementary School.
Parents have complained that since the new grading system is based on year-end expectations, 4s are generally not available until the final marking period.
In fact, there are no more A’s at all. Instead of letter grades in English or math, schoolchildren in this well-to-do Westchester suburb now get report cards filled with numbers indicating how they are faring on dozens of specific skills like “decoding strategies” and “number sense and operations.” The lowest mark, 1, indicates a student is not meeting New York State’s academic standards, while the top grade of 4 celebrates “meeting standards with distinction.”
They are called standards-based report cards, part of a new system flourishing around the country as the latest frontier in a 20-year push to establish rigorous academic standards and require state tests on the material.
Educators praise them for setting clear expectations, but many parents who chose to live in Pelham because of its well-regarded schools find them confusing or worse. Among their complaints are that since the new grades are based on year-end expectations, 4s are generally not available until the final marking period (school officials are planning to tweak this aspect next year).
“We’re running around the school saying ‘2 is cool,’ ” said Jennifer Lapey, a parent who grew up in Pelham, “but in my world, 2 out of 4 is not so cool.”

Much more on standards based report cards here.

One thought on “Giving up A’s and B’s for 4’s and 3’s…..”

  1. These readers’ comments in follow-up to the article may be of interest too.
    The New York Times
    March 29, 2009
    Tests Are (a) Fair (b) Unfair. Explain.
    To the Editor:
    Re “Reading Test Dummies,” by E. D. Hirsch Jr. (Op-Ed, March 23):
    Mr. Hirsch argues that we should keep using “bubble tests” but that their reading passages should be based on the content of each grade’s curriculum, so that the tests would be more fair and would also “help improve education.”
    While laudably practical, this proposal relies on the misconception that reading is not a “skill.”
    Standardized-test writers — from elementary-school exams to the LSAT — have it right: the ability to read critically does not depend on what Mr. Hirsch calls “implicit knowledge.” Rather, establishing context and dealing with unfamiliar subject matter are crucial skills, both in school and in life.
    No doubt having background knowledge does give a test taker a slight edge. But every topic chosen will give an advantage to some students and not others. The inclusion of many diverse passages is the proper equalizer.
    If we want children to learn history or science, we should test them on those subjects, rather than strip reading-comprehension exams of their basic purpose.
    Jay Parker Buchanan
    Bristol, Conn., March 23, 2009

    To the Editor:
    E. D. Hirsch Jr. is absolutely correct that in reading, what we bring to the printed page determines how much we get from the printed page.
    To make this point 40 years ago, my colleague in teacher education at Queens College would distribute the London sports page to our prospective teachers and assess their comprehension of the articles about cricket. They all failed, although they were bright, successful college seniors.
    Today, the inordinate amount of time spent on test preparation, in addition to having questionable value, has caused a serious narrowing of the curriculum. There has been a sharp decline in the number of hours spent in social studies, science, art, music and physical education.
    In our desperate attempt to inch up test scores, we have not only forgotten our definition of the educated person but also, as Mr. Hirsch points out, created a school environment where children know less about the world and therefore cannot possibly become better readers. How sad.
    Arthur Salz
    Kew Gardens, Queens, March 23, 2009

    To the Editor:
    The race to teach the content that will prove important to our students is a race we will never finish.
    As we enter the 21st century, a time when the amount of knowledge available is both far more vast and far more easily found than ever before, we do not need a knowledge-based curriculum derived from a set of state or national standards. There’s a good chance that the content we teach today will be laughably antiquated by the time students are in college or the workplace.
    This is why many schools, like Christchurch School, where I teach English, are exploring exciting, progressive curriculums that help students gain the skills they need to make meaning out of the worlds around them.
    Students who have gained these universal skills will be able to play meaningful roles in the future, as opposed to those who rely on their prior content knowledge.
    Peter Kempe
    Christchurch, Va., March 23, 2009

    To the Editor:
    I remember a day in the 1970s when one of these bubble tests was presented to me, apparently to forever peg my status on the educational tree. This, after having absorbed “Huckleberry Finn,” “The Red Badge of Courage” and a host of other classics. But here this little test was going to fix me in the minds of my educators.
    I never saw the “result,” but I suspect that my teachers thought I was challenged in many ways, although later in life advanced particle physics and calculus have not been especially difficult for me.
    Situational knowledge is not a precondition of learning, because humans have the ability to empathize.
    I have never walked through Thoreau’s woods, but every time I read “Walking,” I feel as if I can enjoy every breeze and the snap of twigs under my feet as I (in spirit) walk with him.
    Any child, even one from the concrete canyons of our larger cities, will instinctively understand well-written prose. (Of course, getting those children out of the city for a day or two every year wouldn’t be a bad thing either.)
    Let’s start teaching kids and engage their creativity with thoughtful lessons. Children are pretty smart. They suck knowledge out of anything that isn’t dry or bereft of human feeling.
    Robert Pratt
    London, Ontario, March 24, 2009

    To the Editor:
    I assume that the goal of reading instruction is to enable students to comprehend the wide variety of text they encounter in life, not just in school. So why do tests use reading passages that bear no resemblance to the content or form found in the real world?
    Passages are narrowly spaced black-and-white blocks of “neutral” text with no discernible voice or surprise twists, and are usually devoid of illustrations.
    Test passage writers are told how to structure their paragraphs and to avoid all language or topics that might arouse emotions. But don’t we read best when we’re engaged and perhaps surprised by a turn of phrase or an unexpected thought?
    No wonder students don’t do well slugging through prose that has bland content, predictable flow and zero visual appeal.
    Angelika Pohl
    Decatur, Ga., March 23, 2009
    The writer is the founder of Better Testing & Evaluations, an educational consulting firm.

    To the Editor:
    What is restraining educators from using rich literature instead of trivial reading passages as test prep?
    If students can find the main idea in sophisticated texts, they surely will be able to do so in the grade-level passages on the tests.
    Don’t change the test; change the instruction. Repeated low-level test prep instruction reflects low expectations.
    Norene Mahoney Rolle
    Auburndale, Mass., March 23, 2009
    The writer is a secondary reading specialist.

    To the Editor:
    As someone who spent four years working as a secondary reading specialist in a struggling public high school in California, I am familiar with the problems that arise when students cannot read at grade level.
    One problem is that reading teachers overemphasize strategies like finding the main idea, while the single most effective way to improve reading fluency is often ignored: “collective readings.”
    Quite simply, this is when a teacher leads the class through a reading with each student (if possible) participating and the teacher questioning students. It takes time and is hard work, but it can be done in any subject. If students follow along on the page, their “sight” vocabularies increase while they learn content. (Sight vocabularies are the words that are so ingrained in our mental libraries that we read and understand them automatically without decoding.)
    Essentially, reading fluency and content knowledge are improved simultaneously.
    I agree that background knowledge (world experience) is a major component of reading success. But if teachers focused more on collective readings and less on strategies that do not improve fluency while clarifying content, scores might rise regardless of the passages offered on standardized tests.
    Peter M. Toscano
    Shanghai, March 23, 2009

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