Lancer Letter 11-16-11
Several years ago, I was in the records room of the high school and came across two very interesting books. The first was a large ledger book with the the following penciled on the front: Edinboro High School 1920-1935. In it were names of students, carefully typed or handwritten, and the final grade for every high school course they took. The final grades were recorded using a familiar scale: A,B,C,D, and F. I remember thinking to myself how far we’ve come in the last fifty years with research on learning. We now can scan brains to define what areas are stimulated with certain types of learning and yet, we still report the progress of learning with only five designations. Not much progress in nearly 100 years.
The other book was even more fascinating. It was a teacher gradebook for a school including grades 1-8 from 1911-1913. Not only was this book used to record grades but it also included detailed instructions for the teacher on the entire state curriculum for grades one through eight. That total curriculum fit onto 8 printed pages! Eight pages wouldn’t even scratch the surface for one subject in one grade of our elementary schools today.
The real fascination with this grade book for me is the fact that it was a system for doing something we are now trying to do at our elementary schools. The teacher was instructed to record the progress each child made both in terms of the grade level at which the child was working and the degree of progress being made. Thus, they would use a fraction such as 4 over 85 to designate the child was working at the fourth grade level at 85% proficiency. This was to allow the next teacher to pick up where the previous teacher left off. It is obvious from looking at the book that every child truly advanced at his own pace as the book recorded the age and grade level of each child. There were students whose age didn’t quite fit the grade level.
The book also gave detailed instructions for the end of year exam furnished by the county superintendent An ancient PSSA of sorts, it was delivered in a sealed envelope and students who did not pass were not ready to go to the next grade level and did not receive a “certificate of promotion.”
I would love to be able to return to a grading system that is as simple and elegant as the one described in that book. But eight pages of curriculum has evolved into 800 pages and as a society, we really don’t want to believe that all children can’t progress at the same rate. So we report to parents in a simplistic way that summarizes the complex system of learning on one page in manner that simply says the child is doing well,very well, or needs more work. There are many educators throughout the country who believe we can do better.
We have embarked on a journey in our elementary schools to develop a grade reporting system that truly tells parents, and the next teacher down the line, what a child can and cannot do. Pennsylvania adopted the Common Core Standards which is a national curriculum of sorts. It is designed to articulate the skills, knowledge and understandings a child should have at each grade level. Theoretically, if a child moved from here to California, there should be some consistency in the curriculum so that the child is not significantly behind the new class in the new state. Our challenge is to develop a grade reporting system that accurately describes where a child is on the learning continuum of these standards in a way that is helpful to the parents and the educational professionals who will work with that child through his or her educational career.
Our educational system has become incredibly complex. The human brain, and the measurement of its ability, is also complex; therefore, developing a grade reporting system that deals with these complexities it is a daunting task. Understanding what a standard means, connecting every assessment to a standard and then having a computer somehow translate it all using a numerical scale is quite challenging.
During this first marking period at our elementary schools, different grade levels are trying a variety of methods to report to parents. Based on these experiences and the input we receive from parents on these experiences, we will work throughout the year to craft a system that will meet the complexities we face. With patience and input from all the parties involved, I believe that in the end, we will have a system that effectively serves students, parents and educators.
The Lancer Letter is a weekly editorial by Richard Scaletta, Superintendent of Schools, General McLane School District. Opinions expressed are Mr. Scaletta’s views on the issues and subjects of discussion.