Thursday, May 17, 2018

One Year in AP: Grades Part II (Week Thirty-six)

By Mark Heintz

Context

I have two main focuses as I write this weekly blog. Two driving questions that I have in my mind while making decisions.  They are:
  • How do I know if my students know? 
  • How do I get them to know if they know?  
Whether that is a skill or content, I want to know if they know it.   I no longer think it is acceptable for me to guess or get a feeling on whether or not they know it. Getting the students to know if they know it is downright hard, but I am really attempting to get to a point where the students can recognize their understandings or progress on their skill levels and content knowledge.  Therefore, the purpose of this year of reflection is to see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along on the journey.  You can read how last week went here.

Answer the Question:

AP is hard. There is no way around it.  Furthering the problem is assigning a grade to a student.   The AP examination stratifies students and ranks them.  Because of that reality, how does a teacher assign a fair grade?  Do I equate grades with predicted AP scores?  Should I change grades based on AP scores? How do I curve four parts of a test?  Do I value work ethic?  How do you factor in a weighted grade?

To help me understand what they thought about all of this, I asked them a few weeks ago what they thought they should have earned.  Before I handed back their last major assessment, I asked them again what grade they thought they earned.  To gather data, I posted a Google form that asked the students to state what their current grade is, what grade they felt they have earned, and explain why they earned the grade they selected. I was amazed at the honesty in their responses.  There were quite a few students who gave themselves a lower score and some of their responses really made me think about the year.

Here is what some of the students had to say.

Provide Specific Evidence: 

Hodor

I would choose to give myself a low A. I know that I’m giving my best on every test that we take in class, but I just don’t feel that my work is that exceptional. My reasoning is not as reflective as I would like it to be, and I’m always rushed on time. However, I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time at home lately going over prompts we’ve done in class and writing practice DBQs and short answers, which I send to Mr. Heintz for feedback. Just this morning, I woke up early to take a practice stimulus test to challenge my mind and see how I would do that early in the morning. Finally, I am one of the most focused people in the class, and I have finished all my checklists on time throughout the whole year.

Arya

I think that the grade I deserve would have to be a C because I have tried in this class but at the same time have lacked on the part of doing my work on time. As well in asking for help when it was needed and asking questions. Also with waiting to last min. To do things that needed to be done a long time ago.

Gregor

Although I would like an A, I believe that I deserve a B since I don’t really study, practice essays/DBQs/short answer, or do all of the checklists on time.  My actions are also the reason why I’m getting worse at everything in AP World History so I will try to study and practice for the AP exam and study and practice more next year.

Cersei

I know I have earned a B because I work really hard in this class and at certain times it can be one of my best grades. The hard work that I accomplish for this class pays off in our tests and writings that we do. I prioritize this class over all my other classes because I enjoy the workload and learning about history even though it can be infuriating and frustrating at times. This class always manages to get the best of me but I also get the best from itself by learning things that might potentially stick with me forever.

Daenerys

Because even though I don't keep up on checklists I make up for them. I still do the checklists, but then my grade doesn't increase. Some DBQ's we write and then grade with peers I do well on but scores don't go into the grade book sometimes. I do participate in class, I pay attention, and I think that should earn points itself. Also, I do know the material and what we're talking or writing about even if I'm not the best at expressing it.

Explanation

My students are very hard on themselves.  Between balancing coursework, getting up early, prioritizing other work, and being attentive in class, their reflection reveals the struggle with the course and their lives.  It is a stressful time for them. Their posts challenge me because of their self-deprivation.  School should be a place that lifts people up and gives confidence since they are gaining new skills and knowledge.  Instead, they are looking at what they haven't gained instead of what they have.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note the emphasis the students place on time in the classroom and paying attention.  The way our school system is set up, time is highly valued.  In our current system, many view time spent in the seat equates to learning.  However,  I thought I moved past that with my students.  Time in the seat help learning occur. But that is not the case.  As a teacher, I constantly converse with students, read their work, and probe with questions that help push their thinking.  In my class, it is not just the time in the seat or filling in of worksheets.  It is what they can do or apply.  In reading their reflection, I need to keep working on it.

Overall, I am not sure the place grades have in the classroom.  They often get in the way of creativity or students taking risks because it is easier to take the linear path to "earn" the A.  They change the narrative of learning.  I have to issue grades and I have really enjoyed reading the students insight.  As I stated before, I need to include them in the process more frequently next year.

Read week thirty-seven here.

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