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Old 02-12-2020, 08:18 AM
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Are we lying to ourselves about education?


When I think of education, specifically US K-12 education, both public and private, I think of kids learning things. With a school being defined as an institution for the teaching of children, this seems natural. I think this purpose gets undermined by something else. Grading.

Not testing, but grading, like you might grade a steak. Grading places students in a hierarchy, identifying certain students as smart, other students as... not so smart. Grading, as it's done today, creates a database of students, tracking their performance in a portable, easy to share report, in convenient card form, so that outside agencies, schools, employers, etc. can be readily provided with performance data about students. We grade students and help these agencies to pick and choose which students are afforded benefits, offered positions, jobs or scholarships, and which are not. Grading changes school from a place of learning into a proving ground for one's future opportunity. We understand this, it forms a deep undercurrent guiding our activities regarding school, but we don't often say it out loud. You don't get an angry parent in front of the school board saying the school isn't doing enough to differentiate the high performers from the slackers.

Despite this, tremendous amount of effort is put into developing these grades by schools, ensuring their usefulness, from constant testing of students, to the development of standardized tests, to tracking the grades of the students in individual schools or districts. Students cram for tests to get a high score, and we all know full well that they will forget it in a few weeks time, until they cram again for the final. The goal being not necessarily a top notch understanding of the subject at hand, but a good grade to put on the report card. The grade becomes the focus, not the learning.

Now, you'll say, grades are important because we don't know how well a student grasps the content without grades. This is a fair point. However, if a student does poorly on a test, the grade tends to just sit there like a mark of shame, and not a lot of effort by the school goes into re-teaching what this student failed to learn, or necessarily even documenting what it WAS they never learned. The grade, though, that is well documented and will remain part of this student's record, unchanged, whether or not the student eventually learns how to use Sine, Cosine and Tangent correctly. Even if we used grading/testing to directly help students learn more effectively, giving those grades to colleges and employers doesn't help students learn at all.

Parents, when they see a bad grade say "work harder to get those grades up". You got a bad grade in Fractions? You can "fix" it by doing better on the next topic, Geometry. We know that whether or not the kid knows fractions is irrelevant, the class is done with fractions, studying fractions NOW is a waste of time because the damage is already done. Maybe study it again when Finals comes along.

In the adult education world, grades are not really a 'thing' the same way they are for kids. If I go to a class to get my CDL certification I don't get a grade. At least I don't put down on my resume that I got a 90 in the class, or a 75, I put down that I completed the class to the satisfaction of the instructor, passed the test and can now legally drive large trucks. Nobody is keeping track of the adult classes I took where I didn't do well, where I decided it wasn't for me, and then punish me down the line for that failure. But we do this to kids, in addition to just the need to learn new things all day long, they deal with the pressure of knowing that what they do right now, when they're 13 years old, is going to have a lasting impact on their future opportunities.
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Old 02-12-2020, 08:24 AM
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Well, in life, some people are "smart" and others not so much. Some people are "hard workers" and others not so much. Having children grow up in an environment where no one is different in preparation for surviving an adult world of "dog-eat-dog-winner-take-all" where people survive because they are different, is not preparing children to be successful. Life is a test, and every day we are graded by our peers and superiors.
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Old 02-12-2020, 09:15 AM
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This is one of my real problems with children's education, also you could add in that grades are only there for the benefit of institutions and do nothing for children at all.

When I talk of institutions I don't just mean academic ones, I also mean administrative and political ones too, and taking it further can also involve parents taking out finance either to move to areas with known high performing education or private tuition.
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Old 02-12-2020, 09:27 AM
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It is a lazy shorthand way for politicians to claim they are 'improving standards' because it appears to be readily measured.

Testing in and of itself does little to prepare people for life, all it does is result in 'teaching for the test' and is quite easily strategised to improve performance either if individuals through specific coaching, or by institutions who can improve results by selecting easier courses and filtering learners towards lower course levels instead of challenging them.

Grades have nothing to do with checking understanding - but it can and does allow for larger class sizes, teach to the test with maximum numbers - its just a way to industrialise education, instead of cultural and value education. Its hardly surprising that Grades leave us with so many snowflake children who cannot cope with criticism.

If you compare what the very wealthy do with the education of their children you tend to find they have much smaller class sizes, a lot more individual tuition and learning that is tailored to the individual - but, this is expensive so it isn't available to the masses who are only educated for the purpose of providing revenue and taxes.

When you look at further education its almost always elective and its based on capacity and competence, no need for grading as such, but pressures are brought to bear on further education not to fail learners for fear of not meeting targets or not meeting the standard for fees.

A society that devalues education is pretty much blowing its own brains out
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Old 02-12-2020, 09:27 AM
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I agree with the OP that the grading process introduces fear and competition in a way that sabotages the true mission of learning. At the K-12 level, I think we could do away with most grading (but still need to keep some form of standardized testing.) Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, many kids would deliberately slack off and laze if they knew they weren't going to face grading in schools.
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Old 02-12-2020, 09:34 AM
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I think some degree of standardized testing is required.

Every Canadian province has a test that 16 year old students have to take. It's a grade 9 equivalent test that only covers English (or French) and math and you usually take it during grade 10. There's a province or territory in Canada where students routinely pass grade 9, then fail the stnadardized test the next year. It's easy for a school to pass a student who doesn't actually have the ability to pass. The standardized test identifies students who haven't been taught properly, but it's only an identifier, not a solution. The student still hasn't passed, and now that they're 16 and legally allowed to drop out, they usually do so.

I heard that in Ontario if you fail the test you can take a special course to still graduate from high school. Said course is taught by the school and is not standardized, so we probably have students graduating who should not be graduating.
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Old 02-12-2020, 09:34 AM
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Grades are feedback to the student. If the student who got a bad grade on fractions never got a grade, perhaps he would think that he knows fractions where he doesn't. Never underestimate our capacity for self-delusion.
It's not like grades from elementary school and junior high show up on transcripts a college sees. They are there to guide a student into doing better.
I bet the kid who got a bad grade in fractions also got bad grades on homework before the section test. If the kid ignored the danger signal, don't blame the system.
Some people are smarter than others. Some people have better work habits than others. If I'm hiring for a high paying high intellectual content job, I don't want to hear about the unfairness of the system.
I'll buy that there is too much standardized testing. But grades within a classroom situation? Absolutely essential.
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Old 02-12-2020, 09:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
I agree with the OP that the grading process introduces fear and competition in a way that sabotages the true mission of learning. At the K-12 level, I think we could do away with most grading (but still need to keep some form of standardized testing.) Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, many kids would deliberately slack off and laze if they knew they weren't going to face grading in schools.
Forget about slacking off. Do you think a kid would have a good understanding of how much they understand a subject without a grade? We're all good about self-delusion.
Not to mention that grades are important for teachers also, because that's one way of measuring how well what you are teaching is being received.
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Old 02-12-2020, 10:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Cheesesteak View Post
Grading, as it's done today, creates a database of students, tracking their performance in a portable, easy to share report, in convenient card form, so that outside agencies, schools, employers, etc. can be readily provided with performance data about students.
I think grades should primarily be used by the student, teachers, and parents to identify which subjects need additional time and instruction. The primary purpose is not to provide a metric for third-parties (with the notable exception of postsecondary institutions); that is what the diploma is for.
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However, if a student does poorly on a test, the grade tends to just sit there like a mark of shame, and not a lot of effort by the school goes into re-teaching what this student failed to learn, or necessarily even documenting what it WAS they never learned. The grade, though, that is well documented and will remain part of this student's record, unchanged, whether or not the student eventually learns how to use Sine, Cosine and Tangent correctly. Even if we used grading/testing to directly help students learn more effectively, giving those grades to colleges and employers doesn't help students learn at all.

Parents, when they see a bad grade say "work harder to get those grades up". You got a bad grade in Fractions? You can "fix" it by doing better on the next topic, Geometry. We know that whether or not the kid knows fractions is irrelevant, the class is done with fractions, studying fractions NOW is a waste of time because the damage is already done. Maybe study it again when Finals comes along.
This is a soluble problem. Anybody involved can take the time to revisit the topic of fractions. The student can, the teacher can, the parents can, friends can, even the school can step in if there is a problem in aggregate with students learning fractions.

The advice about skipping fractions is bad advice. Geometry builds on fractions, and most lessons build on previous lessons. The student will have to go back and learn fractions or they will not comprehend the rest of the course.

~Max
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Old 02-12-2020, 10:32 AM
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I am deeply skeptical of grades at younger levels. They may be useful in middle school, but far too often at younger grades they act as a distraction rather than as a useful pedagogical tool. It's far better to give a kid the tools to correct and improve her work, than it is to slap a 75% on a test and call it a day.
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Old 02-12-2020, 11:01 AM
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I am deeply skeptical of grades at younger levels. They may be useful in middle school, but far too often at younger grades they act as a distraction rather than as a useful pedagogical tool. It's far better to give a kid the tools to correct and improve her work, than it is to slap a 75% on a test and call it a day.
If I remember correctly, and this would be after the No Child Left Behind Act, we had pass/fail grades in primary school. Individual tests would be a graded as a fraction, so when we were learning division the worksheet would be graded as 20 correct out of 27, and in one lesson we actually used our own worksheet grades to calculate the percentages. Of course, the teacher would make us go back and re-do all of the problems we missed. But at the end of the semester and on my official transcript it was pass/fail broken down by subject, at the teacher's discretion.

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Old 02-12-2020, 11:20 AM
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Grades are feedback to the student. If the student who got a bad grade on fractions never got a grade, perhaps he would think that he knows fractions where he doesn't. Never underestimate our capacity for self-delusion.
It's not like grades from elementary school and junior high show up on transcripts a college sees. They are there to guide a student into doing better.
Grading a test or an assignment is feedback, grading the student is not. Grading the student is something for colleges and employers, and is the part that I'm finding distasteful.

I'm thinking of this now because my son is in 6th grade, middle school with real grades. In elementary, we got grades that were "at grade level" "ahead of grade level" "approaching grade level" and they were broken down to individual skills, like drawing inferences from text, editing of work, understanding place values, multiplication, etc. two full pages of skills with the teacher's evaluation.

Now, I feel like it's all about getting the numbers up, making honor roll, and something has been lost with the idea of teaching him skills, replaced by trying to get the all important A.
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Old 02-12-2020, 11:44 AM
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I don't have a problem with grades so much as I take issue with class rankings in general. Like, I don't think it's healthy for students or for society more broadly to rank high school kids in order of GPA. It just adds so much unnecessary stress and cutthroat competition to that cohort of kids vying for the #1 rank just so they can get into an Ivy (and drown themselves and/or their parents in student debt) or get a good scholarship or whatever. Titles like 'Valedictorian' and 'Salutatorian' should go away and maybe just keep letter grades but don't assign any GPA points to them.

The ranking issue certainly doesn't carry over to the college level, or at least it didn't at my university; I had no idea what my class rank was or whether my school even tracked such a thing. GPA calculations, however, became stricter in college than they ever were for me in high school. So it could be a catch-22.

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Old 02-12-2020, 11:56 AM
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Grading a test or an assignment is feedback, grading the student is not. Grading the student is something for colleges and employers, and is the part that I'm finding distasteful.

I'm thinking of this now because my son is in 6th grade, middle school with real grades. In elementary, we got grades that were "at grade level" "ahead of grade level" "approaching grade level" and they were broken down to individual skills, like drawing inferences from text, editing of work, understanding place values, multiplication, etc. two full pages of skills with the teacher's evaluation.

Now, I feel like it's all about getting the numbers up, making honor roll, and something has been lost with the idea of teaching him skills, replaced by trying to get the all important A.
I only remember sending my middle school transcript once, to the high school. It was used to determine which classes would be appropriate during freshman year - for example, because I had done well with life science in the eighth grade, I chose to go straight to AP Bio in ninth grade. I had an excellent grade in middle school band and was offered the option of skipping to the advanced class for freshman year (which I turned down out of disinterest).

But there were also a couple kids who didn't have great grades, or rather had not taken the prerequisite course in middle school, and the principal let them take aptitude tests to get into the advanced classes anyways. But that want has to come from the kid, not just the parent.

At no point have I given my middle school transcript to a college; neither have I given any primary/secondary school records (besides diploma) to a potential employer.

~Max
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Old 02-12-2020, 01:05 PM
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Grading a test or an assignment is feedback, grading the student is not. Grading the student is something for colleges and employers, and is the part that I'm finding distasteful.

I'm thinking of this now because my son is in 6th grade, middle school with real grades. In elementary, we got grades that were "at grade level" "ahead of grade level" "approaching grade level" and they were broken down to individual skills, like drawing inferences from text, editing of work, understanding place values, multiplication, etc. two full pages of skills with the teacher's evaluation.

Now, I feel like it's all about getting the numbers up, making honor roll, and something has been lost with the idea of teaching him skills, replaced by trying to get the all important A.
Me elementary school 60 years ago had only a few categories and lots of teacher comments. But they were tracking us in more detail than this, since some got nominated for SP (kind of GATE) programs for junior high.
In junior high you get to understand grades which won't matter for college.
But at no time is a person, graded, only the work - though I can understand people feeling graded.
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Old 02-12-2020, 02:59 PM
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If I remember correctly, and this would be after the No Child Left Behind Act, we had pass/fail grades in primary school. Individual tests would be a graded as a fraction, so when we were learning division the worksheet would be graded as 20 correct out of 27, and in one lesson we actually used our own worksheet grades to calculate the percentages. Of course, the teacher would make us go back and re-do all of the problems we missed. But at the end of the semester and on my official transcript it was pass/fail broken down by subject, at the teacher's discretion.
My son (currently 4th grade) gets proportion scoring (e.g. "4/5") on his math homeworks and tests. But the end-of-term scores are a 4-tier letter system (I forget the letters but it's not ABCD) and the letters stand for (paraphrasing) "exceeding grade level", "at standard grade level", "grasps some concepts but below grade expectations" and "doesn't know it at all". As far as I know the proportional scores are not hard scores, but guidelines for the teachers' qualitative rankings.

We do glance at the homework and quiz scores and if we see 1/5 or something try to spend a little extra time with him to see if he's missing concepts or just had a bad day - the scores are quite useful for that though in checking we regularly reassure him not to stress the exact score just seeing if anything got missed.
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Old 02-12-2020, 03:08 PM
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The thing that bothers me is homework itself, as a concept. At least for elementary school. I know that practice on some subjects is needed outside of class time, but it teaches that work can't be left at work and has to come home and cut into family time, lessons that IMO set up cultural patterns of overwork at an early age (I think I read recently that the value of homework was being questioned in some education circles but don't know details of any studies etc).
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Old 02-12-2020, 03:46 PM
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Well, in life, some people are "smart" and others not so much. Some people are "hard workers" and others not so much. Having children grow up in an environment where no one is different in preparation for surviving an adult world of "dog-eat-dog-winner-take-all" where people survive because they are different, is not preparing children to be successful. Life is a test, and every day we are graded by our peers and superiors.
Like the man said: this is LIFE; we're playing for points. And there are a shit-ton of stupid questions.

Last edited by Snowboarder Bo; 02-12-2020 at 03:48 PM.
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Old 02-12-2020, 03:49 PM
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The thing that bothers me is homework itself, as a concept. At least for elementary school. I know that practice on some subjects is needed outside of class time, but it teaches that work can't be left at work and has to come home and cut into family time, lessons that IMO set up cultural patterns of overwork at an early age (I think I read recently that the value of homework was being questioned in some education circles but don't know details of any studies etc).
Yes, well in their defense your child will have to take homework home at least through high school. I remember in middle school I actually got referred to the principal's office for trying to do homework instead of listening to the lesson. The school got a few complaints about this and in eighth grade they ended up adding a designated class period where you just sit and do homework, called "study hall". Most kids didn't study during that time, obviously. They also opened up the school library for about two hours after school, and one hour before school. If these options aren't available you can bring it up with the school board. The local library probably has a program for schoolchildren and homework, and then you might have other options like a Boys and Girls Club or YMCA program.

Another option, which I did, is to knock out most of the homework during the bus ride...

Then of course, keep in mind that those poor teachers are probably taking home loads of work and cutting into their family time. And you see all of those commercials about taking work on the go. For many people, work comes home.

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Old 02-12-2020, 06:25 PM
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The thing that bothers me is homework itself, as a concept. At least for elementary school. I know that practice on some subjects is needed outside of class time, but it teaches that work can't be left at work and has to come home and cut into family time, lessons that IMO set up cultural patterns of overwork at an early age (I think I read recently that the value of homework was being questioned in some education circles but don't know details of any studies etc).
We should distinguish between homework needed to reinforce the concept and busywork. One teacher said that if a kid gets all the words right on a spelling test, they shouldn't be forced to write all the words in sentences. They should either get an enriching assignment or be able to use that time for their own ends.

The homework we most detested for our kids were the damn art projects they got. We figured it was for kids who couldn't write
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Old 02-12-2020, 08:06 PM
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Titles like 'Valedictorian' and 'Salutatorian' should go away and maybe just keep letter grades but don't assign any GPA points to them.
I always wonder about this claim. Do you feel that school sports teams also should not have MVPs awarded or no lettering their sports? We always seem perfectly fine picking out the best athletes at school and are troubled by picking out those who are best at academics.
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Old 02-12-2020, 08:22 PM
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In elementary, we got grades that were "at grade level" "ahead of grade level" "approaching grade level" and they were broken down to individual skills, like drawing inferences from text, editing of work, understanding place values, multiplication, etc. two full pages of skills with the teacher's evaluation.
Yet you started your OP by mentioning K-12 education. So now you're saying you're not talking about K-12??

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Now, I feel like it's all about getting the numbers up, making honor roll, and something has been lost with the idea of teaching him skills, replaced by trying to get the all important A.
But is that the fault of the grades, or is it the fault of the people who are saying that the grades are "all important"?
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Old 02-12-2020, 08:46 PM
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I always wonder about this claim. Do you feel that school sports teams also should not have MVPs awarded or no lettering their sports? We always seem perfectly fine picking out the best athletes at school and are troubled by picking out those who are best at academics.
Top student athletes get in the paper, top academic students rarely do. It's more like pulling the kid into a dark alley and saying "psst - you're a National Merit Finalist."
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Old 02-12-2020, 08:47 PM
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I've got no problem with testing and grading, but the real problem is repetitive high-stakes summative testing, which determine not only whether students advance or fail, but also whether teachers and administrators get additional school funding and pay raises. The result is that so much time is spent on testing and less on teaching and intellectual development.
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Old 02-12-2020, 09:03 PM
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The thing that bothers me is homework itself, as a concept. At least for elementary school. I know that practice on some subjects is needed outside of class time, but it teaches that work can't be left at work and has to come home and cut into family time, lessons that IMO set up cultural patterns of overwork at an early age (I think I read recently that the value of homework was being questioned in some education circles but don't know details of any studies etc).
My gripe with homework is that every teacher seems to imagine that they are the only source of homework for students. If they are going to give homework, make it something light and short. Six teachers each assigning something short and simple still adds up to something considerable.
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Old 02-12-2020, 09:37 PM
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Now, I feel like it's all about getting the numbers up, making honor roll, and something has been lost with the idea of teaching him skills, replaced by trying to get the all important A.
*snip. But isn't getting the A an indication that the student has been taught and mastered the skills? That a B means the student has been taught and shows above average proficiency in the skill, etc.?

If your objection is that there is a gaming of the system, then the system should be improved, not eliminated.
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Old 02-12-2020, 10:29 PM
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When I was teaching, we had a principal who wanted to abolish grades. It didn't fly for a number of reasons, including these:

1) Grades are the currency on which students operate. You think students want to abolish grades? Think again. Knowing they "mastered a skill" is insufficient and unsatisfying to them.

"How'd I do on the essay?"
"Well, as I said in my remarks, it was well-written, with minimal errors in grammar, mechanics, and syntax, but you need better support for your thesis."
"Yeah, but how'd I do?"
"You did well in some areas, but there are others in which you could improve, such as thesis support and organization."
"Yeah, but how'd I do?"
"If you'd like to give it another crack, you're welcome to do so. I can help you understand how to support your thesis if you didn't understand it when we covered it."
"Nah, I understood it. I don't want to bother rewriting it unless it'll improve my grade."
"Well, you can do better on the next essay."
"Yeah, I don't think I'll do the next essay. I mean, I will if I have to to pass the class, but to be honest, I won't put much work into it."

2) Abolishing grades in high school makes for a mess in the admissions process at colleges and technical schools. You can't just go on test scores for this. Some kids are poor test -takers for a variety of reasons, such as test anxiety. Can a kid see a project through from start to finish? Does she come up with a novel approach to problem-solving? How's his work ethic?

3) Students crave specific grades. The state where I taught had mandated "performance assessments." These were scored 1-4, with 4 as the top score. Students soon figured out that a "3" was the equivalent of a C- to a B+. Why try for a B+ if you can do less work and still get a 3?

4) Students aren't always "stuck with that grade." Sometimes teachers will let them re-do or re-take. Sometimes when they are "stuck with the grade," it tells them they need to work harder or come in for extra help.

Grades aren't a bad thing. It's a bad thing when some parents focus on the grades alone and don't give a rip about learning or curiosity or work ethic. That, in my book is a bigger and far more common issues.
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Old 02-13-2020, 12:31 AM
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My gripe with homework is that every teacher seems to imagine that they are the only source of homework for students. If they are going to give homework, make it something light and short. Six teachers each assigning something short and simple still adds up to something considerable.
Our school district had guidelines for homework for this very reason. And some parents complained to the teachers that their kids weren't getting enough.
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Old 02-13-2020, 06:01 AM
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Yet you started your OP by mentioning K-12 education. So now you're saying you're not talking about K-12??
Excellent point.
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But is that the fault of the grades, or is it the fault of the people who are saying that the grades are "all important"?
The importance of grades isn't a parental delusion, grades impact what college accepts you, what scholarships are available to you, what classes you are eligible to take, which employers are looking at you for your first job.

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If your objection is that there is a gaming of the system, then the system should be improved, not eliminated.
My objection isn't so much that the system is gamed, it's that we use places of learning to competitively differentiate children, and never ask the question "Are you doing a good job differentiating children?" Or even "Should the government be differentiating children?"
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Old 02-13-2020, 06:21 AM
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School is not just about learning, but is a modern extension of the extended family and the concept of village/community. The concept is basically a take on a children's creche. A place where the young are placed together to help them be raised in many aspects, subject learning is just a part.

As for grades, that is also just a part. learning to connect for favoritism or help, or cheat are other ways to overcome the grade aspect, but those skills also carry over to other aspects of schooling. As with many other things the kids are learning how to accomplish a task, which is a useful skill.
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Old 02-13-2020, 08:47 AM
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Excellent point.The importance of grades isn't a parental delusion, grades impact what college accepts you, what scholarships are available to you, what classes you are eligible to take, which employers are looking at you for your first job.
So what should impact what college accepts you, what scholarships are available to you, what classes you are eligible to take, which employers are looking at you for your first job?
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Old 02-13-2020, 10:17 AM
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Colleges and employers should have their own entrance exams that reflect their goals and needs. Gaming the SSAT scores is an industry that defeats the purpose of the test.

The Semiconductor company I worked for did a survey of the product groups to develop a profile of their top performers. The result was:

1. College drop out after <2 years
2. Poor student - esaily bored
3. 3-4 years experience as low level technician or military service prior to joining company
4. Takes selected courses in house or at local college
5. Hobbyist, fanatically interested in the technology

Grading systems tend to eliminate these people. We also found that hiring from the middle third of the class produced better results than the top third. I was amazed at how many folks with high GPA and an engineering degree knew nothing about engineering. I was also amazed at the answers I got in discussions "I belonged to a frat and we had all the tests" and "I was on a sports scholarship and they had somebody attend my classes for me".

So, grading is OK but I do not believe it always achieves the desired result. I do believe there are other things that are more worth changing. It's well beyond time for the US to abandoned the 19th century agricultural semester system. We need a year round quarter system. Quarters provide a finer granularity that exposes problems earlier. Rather than repeat a failed school year, a student should move on and take a remedial course (not the same course) in the following quarter. Graduation should be by written and oral exam that the student can take when ready.
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Old 02-13-2020, 12:00 PM
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I have so, so many opinions about grades. This comes from almost two decades of teaching high school in public schools in the US.

Grades are pretty much useless, as they currently exist. There are several fundamental problems.

1. There's no agreement of what they measure. Most people use them to represent some combination of mastery, compliance, improvement, and effort. Often kids with the same grade in a class may have displayed very different amounts of those four things. There's almost never any sort of theory to what is assigned what weight; there might be some idea of tests counting X% and projects Y% or something, but the number of assignments in each category is rarely thought out. We don't get any training in any of this. We just grade shit, follow some district grading policy that doesn't mean much (because nothing is really defined, because there are so many special cases) and hope for the best.

Because of this, they aren't very useful for students for feedback. Your grade came up. Did you achieve mastery? Were you more compliant? Was there simply a more favorable ratio between effort assignments and mastery assignments this term? Did the teacher grade more easily because they suddenly had to watch 40 hours of compliance videos and so there were more completion grades? Who can say?

2. Children cheat. So, so much. The most important grades become, the most out of control it gets. Many of them, the high performing ones, know it's wrong but they cheat anyway, for the same reason a starving person steals food--they think they have to, or they will die. Others just don't care, don't see the point. They are so good at it. Cell phones and the internet and such make it utterly trivial to get the answers to things and distribute them widely. It's to the point where it's like doping and sports--top students almost have to cheat to be there at all, because they are competing against super smart super hard working peers who are also cheating to get that final leg up.

This means teachers get turned into Grade Cops more than teachers. They develop an adversarial relationships with their students where they are more concerned with catching/preventing cheating than anything else. They abandon or avoid approaches and activities that would be the best pedagogy because if they teach that way, it makes cheating easier or harder to detect. It also makes the kids feel better about cheating--if the teacher's main job is to catch them, and they can be more clever enough to get away with it, it's like winning a game.

3. It dries up internal motivation. The grade becomes everything. You can't have a conversation about anything without kids interrupting you to ask which parts of this will be a grade. It makes school feel like a series of transactions: you do these "assignments" and then I grade them, and then you're done. People will have the weirdest idea that as long as you "make up assignments", you've completed the course. Kids don't look at feedback, actual meaningful feedback--they just glance at the grade.

4. It creates perverse incentives. Kids don't take band or join newspaper and take AP Art History instead to bump up rank, even when they are passionate about the former and disinterested in the later.

I could go on and on. I probably will later, but I need to go put some feedback on some essays before kids come back from lunch. In my own class, I basically zero out the whole impact of grades by inflating the shit out of them--almost everyone makes an A, and the only way not to is to refuse to do almost any work at all--and then I refuse to entertain conversations about it. I get kids to do their work by nagging the shit out of them if they don't, giving them lots of feedback, and endlessly, endlessly, endlessly, reminding them that the goal here is to be ready for college, not to get a number on the paper. It doesn't work perfectly by any means, but it works better than grades ever did. I get better results on the SAT and AP tests than my colleagues who accuse me of being too slack with grades. Most of my kids do most of their work.

If you absolutely had to have grades, they would need to be represented as a bar-and-whisker style graph. The greatest sin of all is that we take these incredibly crude approximations and then calculate GPA out to 2 decimal places.
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Old 02-13-2020, 12:25 PM
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At no point have I given my middle school transcript to a college; neither have I given any primary/secondary school records (besides diploma) to a potential employer.
I am 51 years old and have a PhD and a JD from extremely reputable schools. I have been practicing in my area of law for more than twenty years. When I was applying for jobs in the past year, law firms still wanted a copy of my transcript from undergrad before they would consider me. My transcript is fine, but the fact that I still need to produce it sucks.
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Old 02-13-2020, 12:37 PM
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What is the purpose of education? It is twofold, one is to pass along information, but this can be done for most people in much less time than we use now. The second is to signal to who is smart and hardworking because in general those are the people who make the best employees. Probably half of high school and 80% of college is signaling the rest is actual knowledge transfer.

The only alternative would be for companies to do the filtering themselves and that would be massively expensive. The kids need to be in school to get the basic useful education, why not accomplish the signalling at the same time?
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Old 02-13-2020, 12:38 PM
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So what should impact what college accepts you, what scholarships are available to you, what classes you are eligible to take, which employers are looking at you for your first job?
This is a very important question, I just am not satisfied that school grades is the answer to it.

Note Manda JO's post, teachers are not trained to provide this service to colleges, employers, and scholarship providers, they are trained to teach. No school focuses on high quality testing of student achievement. It's at best a by-product of the need to know whether or not students are learning, repurposed for something that is fairly important, and twisted to become the sole focus of many high performing students.
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Old 02-13-2020, 02:21 PM
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Originally Posted by puddleglum View Post
What is the purpose of education? It is twofold, one is to pass along information, but this can be done for most people in much less time than we use now. The second is to signal to who is smart and hardworking because in general those are the people who make the best employees. Probably half of high school and 80% of college is signaling the rest is actual knowledge transfer.

The only alternative would be for companies to do the filtering themselves and that would be massively expensive. The kids need to be in school to get the basic useful education, why not accomplish the signalling at the same time?
Because the signals are not accurate, or at least not to the precision they are used. You cannot use the difference between a GPA of 87.5 and 92.25 within a school. Much larger differences in in GPA are meaningless if you are comparing between schools. Likewise rank: at a strong school, a student ranked below the top quartile might be a stronger student than the kid ranked in the top 5 at a weaker school, or even in a weaker class year. And that doesn't even get into the distortion caused by persistent academic dishonesty. But distinctions like this--distinctions much finer than this--are used to decide who gets hundreds of millions of dollars in scholarship money, who gets admitted into the prestigious programs, who gets internships and opportunities.

Ideology aside, it's bad data. Yes, the kid with a report card full of Cs probably lacks something that the kid with straight As has. The difference between the two is some combination of work ethic, intelligence, improvement, and compliance. But that's about all you can say: a difference exists, in something, of some magnitude. Probably.

Teachers assigning grades are like a guy in a lumber yard using a machete to cut boards, and then people come around with laser calipers and decide every distance they can detect is meaningful.

Last edited by Manda JO; 02-13-2020 at 02:22 PM.
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Old 02-13-2020, 09:37 PM
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Long time ago I heard a discussion of US pre-college schools vs the rest of the "civilized" world. IIRC West Germany fixed the problem of teachers passing students just to get rid of them by assigning teachers to the same elementary and secondary students over time. Whichever slugs you (teacher) had in 6th grade are still there in 7th - you can't lose them. So you had best make sure they're up to speed.

Another difference was that grading was of teams, not individuals. For a team to score well, everyone on it had to be adequate or better. Thus it was in team members' interest to mentor (prod) the slow. Modern employment reality has us working in groups, not as singletons. If the "smartest" student can't work with others, what good are they?
  #39  
Old 02-14-2020, 12:14 AM
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The thing that bothers me is homework itself, as a concept. At least for elementary school. I know that practice on some subjects is needed outside of class time, but it teaches that work can't be left at work and has to come home and cut into family time, lessons that IMO set up cultural patterns of overwork at an early age (I think I read recently that the value of homework was being questioned in some education circles but don't know details of any studies etc).
Finland is basically acting as a whole-country study for things like drastically reducing homework and not emphasising grades or competitiveness, higher teacher professionalism and valuing non-academic study as highly as academic subjects.

Results so far seem quite promising.
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Old 02-14-2020, 05:39 AM
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(snip) We also found that hiring from the middle third of the class produced better results than the top third. I was amazed at how many folks with high GPA and an engineering degree knew nothing about engineering. I was also amazed at the answers I got in discussions "I belonged to a frat and we had all the tests" and "I was on a sports scholarship and they had somebody attend my classes for me". (snip)
Another, more benign reason some companies prefer to hire B-C students over A students is that the former have probably known what it's like to work at the top of their abilities; A students are (often) smart enough to have breezed through everything without working very hard, and may find it difficult to do so when it becomes necessary.

Also, undergrad engineering is often about feeding back material. Graduate study (and actual work) requires more original thinking and problem solving. Undergrad GPA can overstate one's skills at this.

As an engineering student who struggled to pull Bs, I found this astounding--I thought all the people outdoing me could simply crank up the effort and continue to outdo me. (Some did, but not all of them).

As one of my profs stated, the A students write the textbooks, the B students teach the classes, and the C students do most of the work.
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Old 02-14-2020, 08:47 AM
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I heard that in Ontario if you fail the test you can take a special course to still graduate from high school. Said course is taught by the school and is not standardized, so we probably have students graduating who should not be graduating.
But that is historically the case pretty much everywhere. I also vaguely remember running into foreign exchange students that had a less than stellar grasp of the English language - and for someone to be in a program where they come to a foreign country and can not seem to read, write or verbalize in a language has got to be terrifying. Not to mention the cultural differences between say at home in China or Moscow of Tokyo and small town western NY state ...
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Me elementary school 60 years ago had only a few categories and lots of teacher comments. But they were tracking us in more detail than this, since some got nominated for SP (kind of GATE) programs for junior high.
In junior high you get to understand grades which won't matter for college.
But at no time is a person, graded, only the work - though I can understand people feeling graded.
school 1966-1980. We also had ABCDF and a comment section.

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The thing that bothers me is homework itself, as a concept. At least for elementary school. I know that practice on some subjects is needed outside of class time, but it teaches that work can't be left at work and has to come home and cut into family time, lessons that IMO set up cultural patterns of overwork at an early age (I think I read recently that the value of homework was being questioned in some education circles but don't know details of any studies etc).
I agree entirely. I got into trouble [to a degree] at more than one job because I absolutely refused to deal with work issues when I was not at work. I will not come in, I will not break vacation plans, I barely entertain the idea of a phone call asking where something is in the system/office/desk. I actually think that something like a reading assignment can be detrimental - current politics is an excellent example - if a kid does his evening newspaper article reading from some white supremacist rag [um, Jews and Wetbacks are flooding the country, kill them all] another kid reads some uber liberal snowflake rag [um, The US is the cause of every problem in the world, we need to self flaggilate and give everything we own to everybody else to compensate] and a third kid reads something in the middle [Today Wherethefucckistan made Female Genital Mutilation illegal and how it impacts their relationship with the surrounding countries] there is nothing uniting the information the kids are getting in. When we did the whole read an article in the newspaper, for the most part we got similar information whether it was the New York Times, the Washington Post or Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

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We should distinguish between homework needed to reinforce the concept and busywork. One teacher said that if a kid gets all the words right on a spelling test, they shouldn't be forced to write all the words in sentences. They should either get an enriching assignment or be able to use that time for their own ends.

The homework we most detested for our kids were the damn art projects they got. We figured it was for kids who couldn't write
Art projects always sucked, IMHO - though the ones that make sense are if you are in an art enrichment class [go ye hence and sketch a cow in the style of Dali] I can remember the SRA Reading Comprehension boxes in 6th grade - if the kid in class got done with whatever insane project the teacher assigned as do in class work, we got to go and pick a module to read and do as a reward [?] My problem was that in 6th grade, I read 600 words per minute [as tested by the school system] and was reading at a college level of comprehension. I finished the entire box in 4 days, it took me roughly 3 minutes to do them and that included walking over to the corner and selecting a new module. They are supposed to take something like 5 minutes of reading and 1 minute for the handful of questions and about 15 seconds to self grade.

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Top student athletes get in the paper, top academic students rarely do. It's more like pulling the kid into a dark alley and saying "psst - you're a National Merit Finalist."
ROTFLMAO love the mental image =)

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Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
My gripe with homework is that every teacher seems to imagine that they are the only source of homework for students. If they are going to give homework, make it something light and short. Six teachers each assigning something short and simple still adds up to something considerable.
SUpposedly it is to be a certain number of minutes per year the kid is old of homework. And you are right, when you have 5 or 6 classes with homework, and then you add parents who aggressively enrich the kids life [after school music lessons, sports team, dance class, language lessons, college entrance exam tutoring or whatever] there is no time left to be a freaking KID.
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I am 51 years old and have a PhD and a JD from extremely reputable schools. I have been practicing in my area of law for more than twenty years. When I was applying for jobs in the past year, law firms still wanted a copy of my transcript from undergrad before they would consider me. My transcript is fine, but the fact that I still need to produce it sucks.
Pretty much. As an inside/outside mechanic on the other hand, get certified, stay certified and nobody gives a shit about my degree in Poly Sci in college or what I did in high school Yay for manual labor?

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Finland is basically acting as a whole-country study for things like drastically reducing homework and not emphasising grades or competitiveness, higher teacher professionalism and valuing non-academic study as highly as academic subjects.

Results so far seem quite promising.
And I have been following it with great interest. Almost would make me consider [if we were young like 21 or 22 and just started the family] learning Finnish and figuring a way to move over. They seem to have a very sane approach to school.
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Old 02-14-2020, 10:08 AM
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And I have been following it with great interest. Almost would make me consider [if we were young like 21 or 22 and just started the family] learning Finnish and figuring a way to move over. They seem to have a very sane approach to school.
I hear you. Although I hear Denmark is good for people like us, too...
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Old 02-14-2020, 10:14 AM
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Because the signals are not accurate, or at least not to the precision they are used. You cannot use the difference between a GPA of 87.5 and 92.25 within a school. Much larger differences in in GPA are meaningless if you are comparing between schools. Likewise rank: at a strong school, a student ranked below the top quartile might be a stronger student than the kid ranked in the top 5 at a weaker school, or even in a weaker class year. And that doesn't even get into the distortion caused by persistent academic dishonesty. But distinctions like this--distinctions much finer than this--are used to decide who gets hundreds of millions of dollars in scholarship money, who gets admitted into the prestigious programs, who gets internships and opportunities.

Ideology aside, it's bad data. Yes, the kid with a report card full of Cs probably lacks something that the kid with straight As has. The difference between the two is some combination of work ethic, intelligence, improvement, and compliance. But that's about all you can say: a difference exists, in something, of some magnitude. Probably.

Teachers assigning grades are like a guy in a lumber yard using a machete to cut boards, and then people come around with laser calipers and decide every distance they can detect is meaningful.
Unless the bias is systematic then much of the bias of having hard vs easy teachers will be cancelled out. Also if the school is systematically biasing grades intelligence tests such as the SAT or ACT are used

Signals don't have to be perfect to be useful. It is true there is probably no meaningful difference between people with a 2.9 average and a 3.0 average but if you make a cutoff at 3.0 as a group those above will be better students and employees than those who don't make the cut off. People around the cutoffs will be either arbitrarily helped or hurt by the groupings but most students are not right at the cutoffs.

Furthermore, while college acceptance and employment decisions are binary, life outcomes are not. It is not like everyone who is not accepted at Harvard has to go to Vassar. They could go to Yale, and those who are not accepted at Yale can go to MIT, etc.
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Old 02-14-2020, 10:15 AM
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Finland is basically acting as a whole-country study for things like drastically reducing homework and not emphasising grades or competitiveness, higher teacher professionalism and valuing non-academic study as highly as academic subjects.

Results so far seem quite promising.
This is not a good study. Finland is different than every other country. What works in Finland may not work elsewhere and what is working in Finland may be different than the treatment.
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Old 02-14-2020, 10:40 AM
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What is the purpose of education? It is twofold, one is to pass along information,

The second is to signal to who is smart and hardworking
What do these two ideas:
-teaching things to children
-signalling which children are smart and hardworking

have in common other than the fact that they deal with children? At best it is a marriage of convenience. At worst, the first idea, the core reason schools exist, gets polluted by the second, and learning takes a back seat to promoting the appearance of being smart and hardworking.
  #46  
Old 02-14-2020, 11:00 AM
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  #47  
Old 02-14-2020, 11:25 AM
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Unless the bias is systematic then much of the bias of having hard vs easy teachers will be cancelled out. Also if the school is systematically biasing grades intelligence tests such as the SAT or ACT are used

Signals don't have to be perfect to be useful. It is true there is probably no meaningful difference between people with a 2.9 average and a 3.0 average but if you make a cutoff at 3.0 as a group those above will be better students and employees than those who don't make the cut off. People around the cutoffs will be either arbitrarily helped or hurt by the groupings but most students are not right at the cutoffs.

Furthermore, while college acceptance and employment decisions are binary, life outcomes are not. It is not like everyone who is not accepted at Harvard has to go to Vassar. They could go to Yale, and those who are not accepted at Yale can go to MIT, etc.
This is the second time in my memory you've used Vassar as an example of a shit school. Last year, the average student at Vassar had an SAT of 1450, which is around the 95% nationally. Half of them are higher than that, of course. Over half of the admitted students were in the top 5% of their graduating class, and 95% were in the top 25% of their class. It's not a shit school. Do you just assume it is because it was for women, years ago? It's not anymore, you know. 40% of admitted students last year were men.

Past that, you've simply hand-waved away all my objections without actually explaining anything. I'm the one generating this data, and I am telling you it is incredibly crude at best and often downright fraudulent. And top schools, as you can see from the Vassar stats, don't make the cut-off at 3.0. They make it at 3.95.

Last edited by Manda JO; 02-14-2020 at 11:25 AM.
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Old 02-14-2020, 12:55 PM
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What do these two ideas:
-teaching things to children
-signalling which children are smart and hardworking

have in common other than the fact that they deal with children?
If you're teaching things to children, don't you want a way of measuring/assessing how well you are doing so? And won't there be an enormous overlap between how much children are learning and how smart and/or hardworking they are?
  #49  
Old 02-14-2020, 02:22 PM
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Yes, but using achievement data to evaluate students puts perverse incentives that distort that data, making much less useful for both purposes.

Furthermore, the format of one number for a semester's performance in class, a number that represents a summation of mastery, improvement, effort, and compliance, is such a rough approximation of anything. Teachers collect and use much more granulated data. There's no pedagogical benefit to blending it. Blending 4 years into a single number is even crazier.
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Old 02-14-2020, 02:25 PM
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What do these two ideas:
-teaching things to children
-signalling which children are smart and hardworking

have in common other than the fact that they deal with children? At best it is a marriage of convenience. At worst, the first idea, the core reason schools exist, gets polluted by the second, and learning takes a back seat to promoting the appearance of being smart and hardworking.
In order to teach things to people you have to find out how much is being learned either through tests or projects. Since those are going to be generated anyway, why not use them to rank the students since they are going to need to be ranked?

You underestimate the value of the signalling. Most people are going to quickly forget what they learn in school beyond the basics so most of the value of schools comes from the signalling.
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