Return to Headlines

Something to think Superintendent Westerberg

Most of us can think of someone who was a good student in school, but struggled academically in college. There are several reasons why some students find college difficult even when they earned good grades in high school.  Living away from home for the first time in a less structured environment, poor study habits, and increased difficulty of a college curriculum are just a few reasons some students struggle to be successful in college.  However, in some instances these students were simply not as prepared for the rigors of college as they thought. 


Grades are meant to be a measure of how well students have learned and then should be a predictor of success at the next level of learning. Unfortunately, some students who earned above average grades (A’s & B’s) find out they aren’t very well prepared for the next level of their education.  This disconnect between grades and learning can be a product of ineffective grading practices.


For years, grading practices in schools resulted in a letter grade based upon an accumulation of points.  These points are then converted into a percentage, which was then associated with a letter grade.  The grading scale most commonly used in America uses a letter A – F where it takes 90% or greater of the total points to earn an A and less than 50% of the points earns a failing grade.


In the traditional system of grading, points are awarded for all work whether a test is taken in class or work is accomplished at home.  Therein lies the problem.  Homework provides students an opportunity to practice the learning from classroom lessons; however, there is uncertainty as to whether the homework was completed by the student or someone else.  For years, homework has been a tool many students have used to improve poor test performance without a good understanding of the content.  Students having inflated grades, due to points accumulated by homework, have grades that don’t truly reflect how much the students have actually learned.  Since most college classes put little or no value to homework, some students quickly learn they don’t understand the subject as well as their high school grade would indicate. 


Many educators have come to realize how homework inflates grades and often doesn’t reflect the real learning. The purpose of homework is to practice the skills and learn the knowledge needed for a future assessment.  Homework is where students find out how much they understand and make corrections when wrong.  Homework is part of the process of learning and shouldn’t be factored into determining a final letter grade. As someone pointed out to me many years ago, factoring homework scores into a final grade is like keeping score during baseball practice.  


Understandably, some students aren’t good test takers due to the pressure of testing.  To address this concern, effective grading practices allows students to retake tests after receiving more instruction and support from the teacher. Whether a student learns the concepts after the first effort or second shouldn’t matter in an environment where the goal is learning and not accumulating points.


Some would argue that life doesn’t work that way; there are no do-overs in the “real world.” Thank goodness this isn’t true, since several of us wouldn’t have a driver’s license.