« All Right, So You're Bored. Do It Anyway | Main | Kafka-esque, It Is! »

March 12, 2013

A Serious Suggestion to "Fix" Schools So Boys Will Get Better Grades

If this didn't exist, we'd have to make it up:

Solution

Lynn Mack teaches math at Piedmont Technical College in South Carolina. A young African American man fails to show up for the final exam. But Lynn really wants him to pass the course, so she puts the final exam in the college testing lab and tells them to give it to him if he shows up within seven days.

Two weeks later he shows up. But Lynn really wants him to pass the course, so she tells the testing lab to give him the exam. He gets a 97. He aces the exam!

Most faculty are horrified by this story and indicate they would have failed the student, preventing yet another African American male from completing college. Homework should be graded based on the learning and knowledge gained, not unrelated behavior such as when it is completed.

The solution:

Woodward supports the contention that grades should not be based on behavior unrelated to learning and knowledge

Grades should not be based upon attendance, punctuality, or behavior in class.

Grades should not be used to reward or to punish students. The purpose of the grade is to represent what students have learned.

Homework completion should not be a part of the grade. For many reasons homework completion is not an indicator of what was learned.

Based on this seminal (pun fully intended) research, the Editorial Staff have decided to eliminate all deadlines from the workplace... but only for male co-workers, who cannot be expected to follow rules, complete assignments on time, or - apparently - even be at work during normal working hours. The poor dears - one must make allowances :p

In future, we shall forget all this nonsense about punctuality and dependability and only hire people who do really, really well on tests. We bet this sort of out-of-the-box thinking will work really well in the Marine Corps, too.

Posted by Cassandra at March 12, 2013 07:56 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.villainouscompany.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/4534

Comments

Seems to me we can make the grades represent what we like. In a particular kind of school, the teachers can grade solely on mastering the material, and the outside world will know to interpret them that way. In another, the grade can factor in whether the student was diligent and learned on an ordinary schedule, which is useful information to give the world as well.

I took a self-paced math course my freshman year at college. Because the first half or so duplicated what I'd learned in high school, I drifted in and took tests now and then as convenient. There was no requirement to attend class or take the tests on any particular schedule. Later in the semester the course began to include unfamiliar material, but by then I was busy with other courses. I had the idea "self-paced" meant you could stretch the process over several semesters, so I was horrified to discover, with final exams approaching, that I was going to get an F if I didn't get my butt in gear. My final grade reflected only what exams I'd completed in a single semester. They didn't care whether I took the second half of the tests in the last week or so, but neither were they going to count any that I drifted in with a month after the course was finished. Their patience with my own convenience had a limit.

Professional competency exams measure only what you've completed, without any regard for how quickly or slowly you learned it. The pattern mostly is: grades for younger and less responsible students contain a much higher timeliness component, while grades for adults or near-adults focus more heavily on pure results. -- And then the school has every right to take into account the difficulty of tailoring every exam schedule for each special snowflake who has something better to do that day.

Posted by: Texan99 at March 12, 2013 10:08 AM

Their patience with my own convenience had a limit.

Again, one of the more valuable lessons one learns in life :p

As a young, rosy-cheeked Editorial Staff, I was rather full of myself and overly impressed with my own intelligence. The older I've gotten, the more I've learned to appreciate all the "pointless" stuff I disdained when younger.

Having done my own share of independent learning classes (I was on independent study for French and German and Constitutional law and many other courses), I can honestly say that although I would have passed the tests without doing the assignments in most of my classes, I would not have learned the material as well.

Being able to pass a test (and I'm quite good at that) is NOT the same as having mastered the material. It's a proxy, and an imprecise one at that. Most tests are multiple guess and I'm very good at guessing the right answer even on subjects where I don't know my fanny from a hole in the ground.

Writing a paper is harder to fake unless of course you plagiarize. Essay tests are almost impossible to fake, but no doubt we'd be told those unfairly favor girls, who are more verbal.

*sigh*

If the goal is to ensure that grades are distributed fairly (regardless of actual effort), then maybe this is the way to go. I wouldn't object to grades that were labeled "test only", though I wouldn't put much stock in them, either.

But that would be up to the public - bosses, schools, etc.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 12, 2013 10:41 AM

By the way, during their one year of home school, both my sons (7th grade and 10th) had to write a one page essay every single night of the school week.

Many of their tests were essay tests as well.

Their test scores went through the roof. We are told boys "can't" and "won't" learn verbally. My boys are diametrically opposite in their aptitudes and learning styles and guess what?

They both learned the old fashioned way. Educators also fought against what they called "rote learning" in math and American math scores dropped abysmally.

Then, they discovered "The Singapore Method", which oddly centered around the very, boring repetitive "rote learning and drill" they had despised as old fashioned and backward.

Math scores for both boys and girls skyrocketed.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 12, 2013 10:46 AM

These math tests wouldn't have been easy to fake. They definitely weren't multiple guess -- I really had to learn the math to pass them. It's just that my instructors didn't care whether I learned it by self-study, or by harassing the tutors into explaining it to me, or by attending the optional classes, and within some limits, they didn't care how fast or slow my progress was.

I wonder what it would have been like if my K-12 education had been like that? There would have been less time sitting around in class doing nothing, I'd guess (they didn't like it if we brought something to read), but then there probably are many things I wouldn't have buckled down to, either, if my progress on the piano is any indication.

Posted by: Texan99 at March 12, 2013 01:14 PM

Well, the issue with repitition is that it is very good at instilling mastery.

But once mastery has been obtained it displaces new learning.

Being bored for the former: Good, do it again.
Being bored for the latter: Not so good, move on to something new and repeat *that*. Lather, rinse, repeat.

When one complains about "boredom" being the problem we do a disservice by not separating the two issues.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 12, 2013 01:25 PM

Well, part of the problem with classrooms is the type of problems me and my siblings had.

While we all hated the "rote" part of homework, *that*, at least, had some instructional value (up to a point, see above).

But in class, listening to the teacher explain the same concept for the 5th or 6th time to the students who weren't getting it (when I understood after the first), was certainly boring, though not particularly instructive.

There are some schools experimenting with turning the classroom on it's head. They are using online tools like Khan Academy to assign the lectures as homework (where a student can replay a section as needed by that particular student) and then using classtime to work the exercises (essentially turning it into a lab class). Supposedly these schools are having some success with this, but it does require a student body that has internet access at home.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 12, 2013 01:37 PM

One last point. When I have complained about schools being "boring" and that being a problem, I typically mean that schools should be harder, more difficult, and more challenging.

Not more fun.

If school were supposed to be fun, the students would be paying them for it.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 12, 2013 01:49 PM

I wonder what it would have been like if my K-12 education had been like that? There would have been less time sitting around in class doing nothing, I'd guess (they didn't like it if we brought something to read), but then there probably are many things I wouldn't have buckled down to, either, if my progress on the piano is any indication.

and...

... in class, listening to the teacher explain the same concept for the 5th or 6th time to the students who weren't getting it (when I understood after the first), was certainly boring, though not particularly instructive.

You know, a lot of this discussion reminds me of your (Tex's) video about people opining about a subject they know nothing about :p I include myself, by the way. I've never taught 30 squirming kids. Teaching adults was hard work. I can't imagine teaching kids, many of whom do perfectly awful things in school like biting other kids for no reason.

Would school be more efficient if everyone were on independent study (and had independent courses of study and test dates and assignments that reflected their special snowflake status)? Depends on what you mean by "efficient".

Yes, if parents step up and augment the classroom instruction part, maybe that will help some. Are they going to do all the grading and reporting too?

I'm no fan of public schools, but my DIL was a 2nd grade teacher and she worked LONG hours, 7 days a week. I am not seeing much consideration of how difficult/expensive it would be to run an a la carte school.

I do think schools should bring back tracking. In public school, my boys were in combined classes (5th/6th) where the quicker students were able to work on independent projects. Of course if parents can't or won't advocate for their children, we're left with depending on teachers to figure all this out on a case by case basis for all 30 kids in their classes. Is little Johnny's problem that his parents are divorcing and never taught him anything - including how to behave? Is it a learning disability? Is he just a twit? Is it that he can only learn in some special way and shouldn't be asked to try harder because the entire class can't revolve around him? Multiply by 30.

Yu-Ain makes some great points, but again, the problem is parents outsourcing the responsibility for making sure their kids learn.

George wants to make that the school's responsibility, though obviously schools can't follow kids home, make sure they get enough sleep or do their homework. So we just get rid of homework and outside assignments. And we can't fail students because that means they're not learning.

What's the solution?

Posted by: Cassandra at March 12, 2013 01:58 PM

When I have complained about schools being "boring" and that being a problem, I typically mean that schools should be harder, more difficult, and more challenging. Not more fun.

Yes, yes, yes :)

Posted by: Cassandra at March 12, 2013 01:59 PM

Teaching adults was hard work. I can't imagine teaching kids, many of whom do perfectly awful things in school like biting other kids for no reason.

Well, it wasn't elementary school, nor for a very long time, but I have some limited experience in both 9th grade Math (that was not ability tracked) and college Statistics (Senior level Stats for non-Math majors).

The adults were *much* easier. In fact, despite having an education minor, that 9th grade class was almost single handedly responsible for me *not* pursuing a teaching position.

The simple fact is that trying to teach a Freshman algebra course when half the class can barely do basic arithmetic is doomed to failure. You must abandon half the class to teach the other half.

By the time the students reach High school, it's already too late.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 12, 2013 02:40 PM

I was pretty routinely appalled by the stories my DIL told me involving 2nd graders who (IMO) should not have been allowed near other 2nd graders.

She had a good reputation as a strict teacher whose classes were far better behaved than the norm.

I can't imagine teaching under those conditions. My hat was (and is) off to her, and anyone who is willing to do that job.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 12, 2013 04:34 PM

I should also note, that of the 10-12 Ed minor students going into that school only me and one other person objected to mixed ability classes: "The kids already know they are behind, *telling* them they're stupid isn't going to help them".

Coming out of that school there wasn't a single one of them that still thought it was a good idea.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 12, 2013 04:43 PM

Self-paced classes certainly have their place. I've also heard about the approach YAG describes, in which the kids do self-paced learning with the excellent Khan Academy videos, then come to class to work together on problem-solving using their new knowledge. It's an approach that works well with kids who like to learn, which may be why it's more common at higher grade levels or in "gifted" curricula.

For that group of kids, self-paced education is no harder on the teachers than ordinary lecture classes, and arguably easier. But I'd be the first to admit it wouldn't work well with struggling students or with (most) disaffected students. I think it might be a fine idea to offer self-paced courses to students who have demonstrated an ability to deal with them by passing a series of increasingly difficult tests, but to require them to attend more traditional lecture classes in areas where they seem weak. After all, good students are all, at some point in their education, going to reach the point where they're responsible for educating themselves for the rest of their lives. If they reach that point earlier on for some of the subjects at which they're most precocious, it seems a good idea to encourage them.

Posted by: Texan99 at March 12, 2013 07:59 PM

Homework completion should not be a part of the grade. For many reasons homework completion is not an indicator of what was learned.

This seems to me to be an assertion rather than a fact. In most of my classes, I had the ability to skip class, skip homework, and do very well on a test by staying up studying all night the night before. (Obviously this worked well in classes like English and Poli Sci, not so much in math.) Had I actually learned the material? Not really since by the day after the test I often forgot 75% of what I'd crammed in.

If I'd attended class and done the homework, I imagine I'd retain far more of what I "learned". For example, I remember almost no dates from my history courses but from my B-Law course - which required attendance and preparation - I still remember ideas like "to seek equity one must do equity"; the concept of having to offer something valuable in order to have an enforceable contract; and that Fred Astaire dance studios are scary, scary places.

Posted by: Elise at March 13, 2013 12:17 AM

Had I actually learned the material? Not really since by the day after the test I often forgot 75% of what I'd crammed in.

Bingo!

The linked piece was so full of nonsense that it is really hard to know where to begin. Like you, I was able to skip doing most assignments and glide by on my test scores (which did not measure whether I'd learned anything, and tested only my ability to memorize quickly and recognize the right answer).

I would have failed an essay test.

In general, we retain what we have used, repeatedly. That's the way our brains were designed to work.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 13, 2013 05:55 AM

Fred Astaire dance studios are scary, scary places

Oops! Should have been "Arthur Murray dance studios". That will teach me to write comments about what I remember in the middle of the night.

I wonder what the boy/girl test score difference would look like if we were talking about a class that only had pop quizzes.

Posted by: Elise at March 13, 2013 11:41 AM

"Based on this seminal (pun fully intended) research, the Editorial Staff have decided to eliminate all deadlines from the workplace... but only for male co-workers, who cannot be expected to follow rules, complete assignments on time, or - apparently - even be at work during normal working hours. The poor dears - one must make allowances :p"

Funnily enough that's what some say for girls to do better on standardized tests. That they are male biased has been used for title ix'ing scholarships cause girls weren't getting that many without grades being added into the mix.
GCSEs included coursework which saw boys being overtaken even in maths, however since 2010 when it was removed, boys have gone ahead.

Despite the fact that you don't get votes for that.

http://www.angryharry.com/esStopHelpingBoys.htm

Posted by: namae nanka at March 24, 2013 06:33 AM