Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 16, 2003

A degrading experience

It's mid-semester time at K-State and the end of the first quarter for our Riley County schools.

K-State students had Monday and Tuesday off and elementary and high school students have Friday off. It's a nice break for the students, but for those of us who teach them, it usually means more work.

I'm in the process of grading 25 case studies for my internship class and another 30 research papers for my Ad Sales class. I'll also have about 30 tests to grade by the end of this week. I know from having two daughters in the Riley schools that their teachers also will be busy grading.

I realize that our students wouldn't be sympathetic to our plight at all. After all, we assigned the work to them and now it's our job to grade what they did. This is true, but I'm not quite sure if it is all worth it. Oh, I don't mean teaching, but just the grading part.

Teachers for years labored under the impression that the grades their students received were connected in a direct way to their success later in life. But numerous studies have shown again and again that the C student is as likely to be successful as his A-receiving classmate.

Art tells a story about attending a conference of engineering educators in St. Louis where a guest speaker brought up this same fact. He said many of his fellow professors actually booed - a case of shooting the messenger when you don't like the message.

Many of the studies were done by large corporations, desperate to determine just what they should look for in the resumes of prospective employees. Attempts were made to define success in terms of money, people supervised and a variety of other ways, but the results were always the same - that good grades by themselves had no correlation with success later on.

I'm not surprised. In most areas of school we encourage individual effort, but in life being part of a team is often more important. Teachers are asked to separate their relationship with their students from the grading process, but in how many jobs is it unimportant how you get along with the boss? Many top jobs rely heavily on personality traits such as creativity, yet how many teachers would really have enough time to grade if all their students were busy creating for all their assignments?

None of this means that learning is unimportant. Being competent is hard if you can't read or if you don't know your history or if you don't know at least basic mathematical skills. Who would visit a doctor who did poorly in medical school or trust a lawyer who failed law school?

It's only grading that is suspect. But I have to have something by which to judge my students. So, I'll keep giving them assignments and then I'll plug along to get those assignments graded.

Art has suggested that my dilemma with grading could be solved by using the "stair-step" method. He explained I should stand at the top of the steps and drop the case studies and research papers. Those that reach the bottom step get an A, those at the top an F and so on. The theory is that the heavier ones will go farther, so they should get the higher grade.

He's so helpful!

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