Letter grading deserves an A
For generations, students have fretted at report card time — both those who are worried about not getting all A’s and those who are worried about getting all F’s. A’s are a validation of good work. F’s are the sad result of a student’s failure to do good work.
Students understand that, and so do parents and teachers.
But educators apparently feel it’s different when schools or districts are assigned letter grades based on their performance. They say letter grades based on standardized tests force schools to focus on testing “at the expense of teaching and learning.”
S.C. Superintendent of Education Mick Zais disagrees. He believes the letter grades are more transparent to parents and to the public. He’s right.
Further, he says it is important that schools and districts are held accountable for the quality of education they provide.
Sure, it feels bad to get an F, and maybe there are mitigating circumstances. A district has more poor children. A school lost several teachers mid-year. A hurricane interrupted the fall semester.
But what parents, students and the public need to know is if students did or didn’t learn the material educators have determined is necessary for them to learn to proceed to the next grade or to earn a diploma.
And when a community becomes aware that its school scored an F, its members can galvanize to push for improvements. Dr. Zais points to St. Helena Elementary in Beaufort County, which went from an F to an A. The community held meetings and parents got more involved in the school than ever before.
Educators are wont to say that “teaching to standardized tests” cheats students of broader educational experiences that help them learn to reason.
But surely students have to use reason when they solve a problem in algebra. And surely students have to think in a broader context when they are asked to read and comprehend a paragraph.
“Teaching to the test” would, in itself, mean showing students how to apply reasoning to specific problems.
Some course work demands memorization. It helps, for example, to understand the culture of a country to grasp fully why it went to war. But it takes memorization to know when the war began and where that country is on the map.
The Charleston County School Board in 2010 made literacy its top priority, and the district designed and implemented several programs focusing on that.
Test results released Thursday showed the number of students passing state standardized tests increased with all grades except fourth.
Dr. Zais has made it a statewide priority for all third graders to be able to read at grade level. Without basic reading skills, students don’t have much of a chance to learn science, history or even math.
Teaching specific skills makes sense.
Letter grades for schools and districts might take educators a while to adjust to. And the formula used to arrive at the letter grades can be examined closely for possible improvements.
But if the letter grades work for the public, educators’ efforts might be better spent on teaching.