Let Them Have "A"s

The issue of students earning As is like a teeter totter, and I’m not sure which side I fall on.  On the one side (teeter), an A earned on the first time around (project, speech, paper, test) means that student caught on quickly, has that skill or understands the content. This is great!

On the other side (totter), it takes some students longer than others to master skills and content. Allowing for retakes, revisions, or extra time to finish a project should cultivate a work up towards the student earning an A (theoretically); otherwise why allow retakes, revisions or more time?  To master the content or skill....

My focus is to lead students to skills and content mastery. If we imagine that teachers are like wilderness guides, leading a group of adventurers through a tropical rain forest or to the summit of a mountain, we can get a better sense or picture of a teacher’s duty. A wilderness guide does not leave a portion of her adventurers behind on the mountain or in a swamp because they can’t keep up. Likewise, a teacher works with every kid to ensure that each student can reach the summit. Looking at the journey in this way, we fail as teachers when students do not get As.

What does an A even measure though? And there’s the rub. We in the field need to communicate what it means to earn an A, and whether or not that means a student gets only one chance to earn the A or whether work product can be revised until it reaches the standard of A. Thoughts? Comments?

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Very good point about what does an A measure. Is it more related to the speed with which one mastered a concept, an indicator that the concept/skill was indeed mastered regardless of the time needed, or that one did as they were told and didn't cause trouble? The district where we live has gone to standard based report cards for the elementary grades at least so there aren't letter grades for ELA or math standards but a bar showing progress toward mastery. Students are supposed to get to 3.0 by the end of the year. While it is a lot of information to wade through, it's definitely more informative than a single letter grade and one or two comments allowed by a gradebook program. Great discussion prompt! I'd be interested in what students have to say on this as well.

My admin craps on me if my class has too many As (or too few). But admin won't define what percentage of the class should have As, not even a range of percentages, because defining the right amount makes it a policy. I find it really annoying. By the way, this issue is biggest for me in the first 6 weeks of the year, when I am supposed to be "weeding out the ones who don't belong" in honors or AP. Our school has a philosophy that is pretty anti-weeding-out, but this conversation happens anyway. In conclusion, I want Standards Based Grading (SBG) and I'm not ever going to get it.

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