Tunnel Vision

by Robert Pondiscio
May 18th, 2009

It’s the worst Canadian import since Celine Dion, says Fordham’s Education Gadfly:  Ken “The Grade Doctor” O’Connor’s standards-based grading idea.  One North Carolina school system is looking to throw thousands of dollars at the Toronto-based consultant to speak to its teachers about why they shouldn’t lower grades for cheating, misbehaving or blowing off homework. 

“When you are focused on students’ achievement on standards it makes no sense to judge (i.e., grade) students on anything other than achievement,” O’Connor tells the Raleigh News & Observer in an e-mail message.  “In a standards-based system, grades need to be as pure measures of achievement that we can make them and they should not be inflated by good behavior or deflated by ‘bad’ behavior.”

 (Cue rending of garments and gnashing of teeth.  Kindly step aside to allow teachers to run screaming into the night.)

“Students are quickly learning that they do not have to be held to deadlines and timelines,” says one Wake County, North Carolina teacher. “They have learned that they can redo or retake, and not have to be held to high standards. When the bar is set lower, it is as high as the students will aim.”

Gadfly wonders if Wake County school officials are lacking in critical thinking skills.  It may surprise my friends at Fordham to learn we already have a great deal of standards-based grading as de facto policy.  In my school, there was absolutely, positively no way to hold a kid back–or even compel him to go to summer school–if he scored even a 2 (euphemistically called “approaching grade level”) on either the state math or ELA test.  This included the kid who was absent for more than 60 days, and the kid with over 100 latenesses and zero — I mean this quite literally — work done for the entire year.    Classwork?  Homework?  Report cards? Attendance??  Dumb shows and circuses.  The test was the alpha and omega; all else was optional.   Calling it standards-based grading would at least give it a patina of respectability.

Taken to its logical conclusion, doesn’t standards-based grading reduce all education to the equivalent of earning a GED or passing a CLEP exam?  Once you’ve proven you know the material, you get the credit.