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Grades and Competition in School

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One of my high school English teachers liked to remind us students that he had more control over our grades than we did. We spent about 3/4 of one marking period working only on grammar and sentence diagramming, which most of the class learned well enough to get high scores on the quizzes and tests. After we finished our grammar section, I had a very high A average, as did most of my friends.

But I didn’t get an A for the marking period. The teacher designed the grammar section to end with enough time left in the marking period for us to read and be tested on Death of a Salesman. The teacher himself called the test “the death test” and bragged that nobody ever got an A on it. The goal of the test was to pull down our grades and reduce the number of A’s given out that marking period. I scored in the low 50s on the test and, as a result, got a B on my report card, in spite of the fact that I’d gotten a high A on everything except that one test. The same thing happened to a bunch of my classmates, too.

Imagine if my teacher had been required to give not grades but a specific evaluation of what we’d learned that marking period. He would have to have admitted that I’d mastered the entire grammar curriculum and that I’d done poorly only on the literature test (which tested the singular skill of regurgitating, word for word, the teacher’s interpretation of the play). Such a system would have completely emasculated this guy’s power play with our grades.

Most people who’ve been through traditional schooling can tell at least one bad story about grades. It’s just one of those unfortunate school rites of passage. We all move on and realize that one bad experience won’t affect much in the long run.

That said, it’s refreshing to know that a school district near me is replacing the standard letter grading system with a more comprehensive skills evaluation system. The system, based on the state standards for each grade level, lists all the skills covered in each curriculum area and denotes where each student stands in relation to the standard: beginning, developing, competent, excelling.

Naturally, because it’s good for students, lots of people hate the idea.

We Need to Know Who’s Better Than Whom
The local newspaper ran a “hot topic” opinion poll, asking readers what they thought of the proposed change. The response was overwhelmingly negative. One chief objection: we live in a “competitive world” and children need to learn to survive in it.

I find this argument refreshingly honest; it doesn’t try to hide the big lie about grades, which says that grades are a tool for communicating how well the students are learning. The truth, as the “competitive world” argument attests, is that grades are a tool for establishing competition between students.

But what are they competing for?

Why, for grades, of course!

(You didn’t think this was about learning, did you? Silly reader.)

We all know everyone can’t get an A. Teachers aren’t allowed to give all A’s, and even if they were, they usually don’t. If all students are doing very well, schools still must let parents know who’s doing better than whom. So we rank them with letter grades.

When many students score well, the criteria for who gets an A often becomes more restrictive because only a few select “stars” can get A’s. If everyone passes all the math tests with a 97 or above, for example, marking period grades must still be distributed across a spectrum. Enter the curve. The test must be too easy if everyone is doing that well, so the test scores must be adjusted so that only those who scored a perfect 100 get an A. Those with a 98 get a B. And those with a 97 get a C. And voila! We now know which students got higher scores than their peers.

Obviously, my example is an exaggeration, but don’t be too hard on me. I was only a C student in math.

[Aside: I was the beneficiary of many a math test curve, but the situation was the reverse of the scenario I described above. The curve was designed to pull student grades up instead of down. Just as it wasn’t acceptable to my English teacher that students who he thought should get B’s get A’s, it’s not acceptable for the “best” student in the class to get a B on his report card, is it? So the tests were graded on a curve to ensure that the grades for the class would start with A. Again, it’s about ranking, if not fitting kids into preconceived slots, not about learning.]

Because grades are subjective (“she had a B+, but I gave her an A- because she’s been working so hard”), malleable from assignment to assignment (“this test has an extra credit section, but that test doesn’t”), and restricted in number (“everyone can’t be an A student”), what in the world does a single letter grade on a report card tell a parent about what his or her kid is learning?

Absolutely nothing.

But it does tell a parent where his or her kid stands relative to the other kids in the class. Over time, report cards become code for what kind of people the kids are. And the kids know this. I was a C math student. Becky is an A student. Want to find a babysitter? Call the high school and ask who the honor students are.

Competitive Learning: Gee, That’s Healthy
Somehow, those who oppose the standards-based evaluation in the local school district have convinced themselves that academic competition is good for kids, even kids in lower elementary school. In a society where grammar school children play competitive sports — and kids as young as 9 or 10 ride the pine while the “good” players get all the playing time — and where schools try to coerce students into reading by holding reading competitions, I’d say it’s pretty clear that schools employ plenty of other competitive whips. They don’t need competitive learning.

But this model of schooling is extremely effective. Children learn very early that school = competition. And through 12 or more years in competitive schooling, they learn to compete in damn near everything they do. They learn it so well, in fact, that by the time they’re adults, their employers send them, en masse, to teamwork and team-building training. Really, it’s no surprise that 83% of employers pay for employee team-building training. Adults have spent a lifetime hoarding knowledge, “doing their own work,” and trying to beat out their peers for that one last spot on the soccer team or A for the course — they don’t know how to collaborate effectively with people with whom they share common interests and goals.

Unfortunately, many parents object to the non-letter grade evaluations because they’ve bought into the idea that they need to know this letter, even though it tells them nothing substantial. All they know is where their children stand relative to the other children in the class. If their kids have all A’s and B’s on their report cards, then they’re among the elite.

Another objection was that parents wouldn’t know how well their students were doing. Of course, that’s about ranking, too. Obviously, the new assessment format gives parents a lot more information about how their kids are doing and what they are and aren’t learning. They just won’t be able to figure out if their kids know more than anyone else’s kids. And why should they?

Look, if we want kids to stay interested in learning and to actually enjoy it, get rid of grades and competition in school. Lots of other changes would help, too, but this one change will let each child learn without looking over his or her shoulder. And parents will know a lot more about what their kids are learning in school.

They Just Can’t Help Themselves, Can They?
Before we go, let’s look at those new evaluation categories one more time: beginning, developing, competent, excelling.

Even when trying to do the right thing, schools can’t help but put a ranking or value judgment into the mix. Excelling doesn’t belong in that list. If you’re trying to show skill or knowledge development, you don’t use the word excel because you can’t excel at a standard. You can master or maybe exceed it, though. By sticking excelling in there, the district continues to imply that some kids are “excellent” and the others aren’t.

So if those kids are excelling, what are the other kids doing? Here’s how the categories might look if all of them dripped with value judgments:

Floundering
Stuttering
Cruising
Excelling

See what I mean?

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About Lori Mortimer

  • Bill

    Nice post, Lori. It raises some interesting thoughts.

  • RedTard

    More liberal feel good crap. It’s more important to feel good about yourself than to actually learn or achieve anything. If we don’t test or score students then how in the hell are we gonna know who is capable of being and engineer or doctor?

    Shit theories like this are the logical result of all the ‘work’ that goes on at our soft-science socialist indoctrination camps (universities). While China, India, and Japan are testing, working, competing, and pumping out scientists and engineers at a record pace, we’re concentrating on gender studies and multiculturalism 101 and the rest of the cumbayah crap.

    Dreaming of the end of competition in the United States is dreaming of the end of a competitive United States.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    interesting and well-written article lori. also interesting that comment #2 probably sounds extactly like the objections received by that newspaper.

    the idea of traditional grading is one of the big problems with the whole standardized testing phenomenon…because the tests measure how good somebody is at taking a test. that’s why colleges are moving away from the sat.

    i know from personal experience that of all of the courses i took in college, the ones that “stuck” were also the ones that had more research and writing…and less 40-question multiple guess.

    our students would do a whole lot better if in addition to “facts” they were also taught to learn how to learn. maybe that would foster the spirit of learning, that it’s fun, not just something to “get over with”.

  • RedTard

    “that’s why colleges are moving away from the sat.”

    Not really. Colleges are moving away from the SAT because some people get their feelings hurt when they don’t get a good score, not because of their lack of accurate predictive value.

    Leftist want college to be less about facts and finding answers and more subjective, see if you tow the socialist line nonsense. That’s the direction our education is moving and why degrees are becoming worth less and less every day.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    you seem to enjoy making stuff up.

  • RedTard

    Here’s a little snippet I grabbed form an article that hints at the real reason.

    “Maria Blanco, a regional counsel with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, remarked recently that the SAT “has turned into a barrier to students of color,”

    You’ll hear a similiar line repeated from the equal opportunity department at every single institution in the nation. SAT scores are a barrier to the diversity and affirmative action programs. The completely imagined benefit of diversity is more important than actual proven scholastic ability. Groups like the educational fund above desperately want to get rid of grades, tests, and the like so there will be no way to compare students. Then the schools can let people in any way they see fit. (based on skin color and some sense of forced equality)

    The SAT and grades are not perfect, but there is no better alternative to OBJECTIVELY measure students. The problem is that you end up with less intellectually qualified (possibly more likeable) people performing open heart surgery or competing to develop the next great technology. Doesn’t make me feel real confident myself.

  • RedTard

    No more made up than the fantasy that grades and testing is what is wrong with our educational system.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    no, it’s not made up…it’s an idea being floated. one that deserves to be looked at.

  • http://wp.blogcritics.org Justene

    It drives my kids nuts that I care very little about grades. I decide if they are learning by how well they can carry on an intelligent conversation. Way too many stupid people get As. Way too many smart people don’t.

    Apparently there was some PE test that had to be finished in 7 min to pass. One daughter finished in 7 min and 9 seconds. She was rather perturbed. I told her that if she did not graduate high school because she missed a PE credit by 6 seconds, we’d be on every cable talk show in the country.

    If every parent unhooked from grades, grades would cease being so important.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    there! and ya can’t call justene a feel-good liberal.

  • Orchid

    I always enjoy seeing Japan’s education being trotted out as a positive example (as Red Tard did). I’ve worked in the Japanese education system for 16 years now and it’s nothing like the fantasies westerners concoct it to be. For one thing, teachers are pressured to pass everyone at all levels of education. If everyone does not pass, the tests are made easier or the teacher may be censured.

    The only area where competition is hot is for entrance exams to select universities which are considered high level. Once the students get into those universities, they go on vacation and play tennis, ski and do very little for 4 years. The education system in Japan emphasizes regurgitating memorized facts for a few years while taking the entrance exams then it’s all pretty much easy street.

    The reason Japan fares so well is that companies have intensive training for employess. They invest heavily in new employees and mold them into the workers they want with the knowledge they need them to have. This is very expensive but tends to build employees with a narrow skill set which is highly useful to one company and therefore makes them pretty loyal to their company. In the long run, the investment pays off but it can take a decade before the employee is really productive.

    A lot of companies that want someone seriously talented and skilled send their employees to…wait for it…America…for grad school.

    Looking at statistics and test scores to gauge a country’s education system can be highly misleading. The Japanese education system produces workers who are timid, rigid, passive and extremely poor at innovation and critical thinking. It also produces a lot of people willing to work overtime and weekends day in and day out without extra pay or promotion. It is the latter that they build their perceived excellence on, not the education system.

    It’s a highly unfulfilling and stressful system for the Japanese people.

    As for the topic of grades, it might interest people to know that grades are of zero interest in Japan when getting into college or applying for a job. All they care about is the name of the school you went to. They don’t care how well you did or even about your major, only about the name.

  • Steve

    I think Lori might be onto something there. Of course, in a society where everything is about ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, it’ll be an uphill battle to change things.

  • TA Dodger

    RedTard does bring up at least one good point. Tests and grades might not be perfect, but jettisoning them in favor of completely subjective standards might be worse, especially, for students of color. If teachers are just asked how they feel about individual students’ progress, there can only be an increased chance that bias will enter into the evaluation. Since white, middle class women are proportionally overrepresented in the teaching profession I think their cultural biases (even innocent and unintentional ones) would color their evaluations of male minority studens (which I think is already the group with the highest drop out rate).

  • Steve

    Oh, my, I just recognised the author of the book Lori highlights – Alfie Cohn!
    I saw him lecture on TV a couple of years ago, and thought he made alot of sense, but I never did catch the name of the books he wrote. Now I know what to look for in the bookstore. I thought he might be speaking ‘liberal crap’ when I first heard him, but he really did make alot of sense, and it jived with my observations of competition, in sports and elsewhere. Thanks, Lori.

  • Steve

    Actually, TA, if there were lists of what the student actually learnt, it would be far more useful and instructive for all involved. The list could be presented in such a way that gaps in the student’s knowledge could be clearly seen, with notes as to how common/uncommon those gaps are among the students in general.

  • TA Dodger

    My concern is with the way that evaluation is done. Now, if the students will still be evaluated objectively (say with tests that measure if they have acheived certain skills) but the competitive element is removed, I can see how that might be helpful. If, on the other hand, the evaluation is completely subjective (the teacher just rates the student based on their observations of the student in class) I think that would have a negative effect.

    Also, all of this is assuming competition is bad and I think that’s still an open question. Some kids might respond well to competition as an incentive; some might not. Employers may have to do team building (and we’ll assume, for the sake of argument, that this has something to do with the competitive academic environment) but they also want to be able to pick the “best” graduates using a measure that compares one student against another.

    Maybe competitive grading is more appropriate with some age groups than others? Thoughts?

  • Steve

    I agree, TA, that the subjective element in evaluating students must be held to a minimum (some subjects, e.g. creative essays in English, would not enable complete elimination of it alas).

    Though you may have a point that some kids might respond better to competition than others, I’m not sure that a ‘non-graded’ system would totally elminate it, depends on how it’s done.

    I would think businesses would be more interested in knowing what a student has learned that might be relevant to the jobs they are trying to fill, as opposed to who had a better grade than average, grades only have value according to the content of the course, which varies from school to school. After all, getting ‘A”s in an easy curriculum course might not be better than a ‘B’ in a more difficult one.

  • Baronius

    Those stinking white middle-class women who get into teaching just to oppress the males of color! TA, is that really what you’re saying?

    “Over time, report cards become code for what kind of people the kids are.” Lori, do you really think that happens? I wouldn’t hire a baby-sitter based on his grades. I’d find a kid whose parents I knew and trusted.

    But my main disagreement with this article is in the alternative to grades. “Beginning, developing, competent, and excelling”. You can bet that teachers will be strongly encouraged to give out 35% excellings, 40% competents, etc., just as they would do with letter grades. I don’t think that the particular words matter, either. If “excelling” were changed to “fully proficient”, it would still be an A.

    The best part of this new system is the reference to standards. If done properly, they would make the report cards more objective. But I’m not sure if that’s what the author wants. Lori, would you prefer a system which denoted specific academic success and failure? If so, that’s hardly the feel-good liberalism of RedTard’s accusation.

  • TA Dodger

    Those stinking white middle-class women who get into teaching just to oppress the males of color! TA, is that really what you’re saying?

    Of course not. I am a middle class white woman who is considering switching to a teaching career, and I’m certainly not interested in oppressing anybody. On the other hand, I also believe that, despite our best intentions we all carry a set of cultural assumptions and biases and that, no matter how hard we try to fight them, infuence the way we evaluate others. A totally subjective form of grading would increase the impact those unintentional biases affect students’ academic performance.

  • http://jpsgoddamnblog.blogspot.com JP

    I think this deserves some thought–some calm, rational thought, nothing like RedTard’s response. I’ll write another comment with my thoughts, but first I must address Red: I can’t believe the FIRST thing you come up with to write is “More liberal feel good crap.” Not to mention following it with “Shi* theories like this”, “leftists..” etc.

    I don’t have a problem with the fact that you disagree, but your insistence upon POUNCING on an article (happened to be 2nd comment here, but whenever) with personal or political insults is demeaning to the author.

    Have some class; unless you write with more dignity, I don’t consider you qualified to mow my lawn.

  • http://jpsgoddamnblog.blogspot.com JP

    My thoughts (pardon the diversion) – some subjectivity would be beneficial, but grades should not be eliminated. What’s the motivation here–why is it “good for kids” to be competitive for grades? Because it helps them get into a good college–why is that “good”? Because they can get a better job. Why is that “good”? To make money. Why is this “good”?

    Everything in the US capitalist culture is competitive. Conservatives believe this is what makes capitalism work, that businesses competing to offer better service at lower value is what leads to successful business, and to turning a profit.

    But learning is NOT a competition. Classes built around knowledge are simple–either you know the material, or you don’t. Those that are skill-based require a measurable set of characteristics about the skill in order to grade students–if they excel at all the measures, that doesn’t mean others cannot.

    It’s unfair to require that if a skill is learned to an A level by 20 of 20 students, that only 4 can get an A grade. (hypothetical example) It’s such a part of the fabric that we fail to question the concept anymore, but isn’t this insistence upon competition a method of conditioning children to BE competitive as adults? It occurs to me this is overdone in the US–take our roads as an example, where people race to pass one another and causing accidents for no reason other than to race each other. Who cares?

    There are definite advantages to be gained by tweaking our system of grading to be less competitive.

  • http://wisdomandmurder.blogspot.com Lisa McKay

    When my son was in grade school, he attended an independent progressive school that had no grading system and did not believe in setting up the educational environment to be competitive. Instead of report cards with grades on them, we got a portfolio assessment every quarter, with examples of his work and a very detailed written assessment of his skills by his teacher(s). This was so much more valuable to our understanding of his development as a student than were the traditional report cards he got when he attended public high school. Kids don’t need to be motivated by grades — they need to be motivated by the love of learning.

    Lest you think that atmosphere killed his competitive spirit, he went on to do really well on his SATs and is currently on the Dean’s List at his college, where he’s enrolled in the Honors Program. Grades by themselves aren’t much of a goal — allowing a kid’s natural thirst for learning to unfold is what’s important.

  • Steve

    You know, Lisa, though I don’t have kids of my own (yet, anyway), as I reflect on mine and others’ school experience, I think your independent school chose the better route to evaluate your son’s academic performance. I think engendering a thirst for knowledge is key. Good for you and yours!

  • http://wisdomandmurder.blogspot.com Lisa McKay

    Steve, I’m sure that one reason that this approach is probably unattractive in a public school setting with large class sizes has something to do with the amount of work involved in evaluations of that sort. It’s really time-consuming, and mandates that the teacher know all of the students really well. In a large class, that would be a daunting task for even the most dedicated teacher. I’m not sure I know what the best solution is, but I’m pretty sure that making grades the goal isn’t the best thing.

  • Steve

    I know in Canada in recent years, there has been a move to have each class not only have a teacher but also a teacher’s aide, who can assist the teacher during class. I wonder if that might help take some of the burden off of the teacher.

    I believe in Ontario here that they’ve instituted a minimum class size rule, so classes are not over…20 or 25… I think in the public system anymore, or at least I believe that’s the goal if it isn’t a reality already. I don’t teach or have kids, so I’m not totally up to date on things in schools, but I’m sure I heard something along those lines since our current provincial govt. came to power in 2003.

  • http://www.educateddoubt.com lori

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone.

    RedTard (comment #2), did you even read my article? Please tell me where I said “It’s more important to feel good about yourself than to actually learn or achieve anything.” My whole point is that learning should take precedence over sorting and ranking students. This isn’t about feeling good — it’s about LEARNING.

    Grades don’t motivate students to care about what they’re learning. They motivate students and most parents to care only about what shows up on the report card, even if nothing at all was learned. The goal is good grades, no matter how they’re acquired. Ever hear the question, “Will this be on the test?” Ever hear of parents going to the teacher and demanding their kid’s grade be upped? If the kid learned, why do parents care about the letter grade? Um, because they don’t care about anything *but* the letter grade; learning is irrelevant.

    Also, where did I “dream of the end of competition in the United States”? I simply stated that competition IN SCHOOLS for GRADES negatively affects LEARNING, so academic competition in schools, especially among our youngest students, should be done away with. Getting rid of letter grades is the first step in that direction.

    You seem to be missing the point that students will still be evaluated and their progress assessed every marking period. The new “report cards” will be much longer and will explain in much more detail exactly how well or how poorly students are learning the material being covered in class. (Much as Lisa McKay describes in her comment!) Letter grades tell you none of that.

    Also, you can’t *objectively* compare students with grades, as you suggest in a later comment. A huge problem with grades is that they’re entirely subjective. Different teachers who teach the same course in the same school grade differently, for god’s sake! In fact, it’s the subjective nature of grades that people have used to defend the use of the SAT. Except that it doesn’t work as designed, either.

    TA Dodger, you say “Tests and grades might not be perfect, but jettisoning them in favor of completely subjective standards might be worse, especially, for students of color.” Again, tests and grades are themselves SUBJECTIVE standards. They change from class to class, teacher to teacher, school to school. There is no such thing as an objective grade on a report card.

    I’m suggesting that we replace those subjective standards, which also create a competitive environment that hurts student interest in learning, with a much more detailed and difficult to fudge analysis of student skills and abilities. I have not suggested that students not be evaluated, although I can’t understand why you don’t think teacher observation of student progress is a valid evaluation. Tests are only one method of assessment — observation is another equally valid method.

    Baronius says: “Lori, do you really think that happens? I wouldn’t hire a baby-sitter based on his grades. I’d find a kid whose parents I knew and trusted.” So would I, Baronius. But that exact thing was suggested to me recently. People do associate grades in school with personal integrity, for some reason.

    “Lori, would you prefer a system which denoted specific academic success and failure?” I prefer a system that evaluates student progress in detail. If you do that, then you’ll know which students need help in exactly what areas, and so will their parents. There would be no label of “failure” because the underlying belief is that students who are not reaching the “competent” level in enough skill areas are not failing (another value-laden term). They’re just in need of additional help in developing those skills. They may need to repeat the entire grade, or they may just need tutoring in specific areas.

  • TA Dodger

    Again, tests and grades are themselves SUBJECTIVE standards.

    Obviously almost all methods of evaluation will be subjective to some degree. That doesn’t change the fact that some are more subjective than others. It also doesn’t change the fact that a more subjective standard leaves more room for differences between teacher and student to affect the student’s evaluation.

    I think it’s possible to use “objective” measures like tests to see if students have mastered skills in a class AND to give a detailed report to the parents (“Little Suzy did well in x, has mastered x, y, and z grammar objectives, but has not mastered, n.”) AND to still take out the competitive element (“If everyone shows mastery of the course material, all the better”).

  • http://www.educateddoubt.com lori

    Sorry, TA, a test written by and graded by a teacher is just as subjective as an observation by the same teacher. The teacher is looking for the same thing both times: can the student solve the math problem, write a complete sentence, etc. Why would a teacher be more objective when marking a a student’s test than s/he would be when observing that same student in class?

  • TA Dodger

    Why would a teacher be more objective when marking a a student’s test than s/he would be when observing that same student in class?

    Well for one thing, there would be a measure like “how many of x type question did student A get right?” That’s an objective question. “How good do you think student A is at doing x-type problems?” is a subjective question.

    When it comes to evaluating a students’ writing skill, it gets harder. I know that in law school professors are at least required to grade students’ exams without knowing which student wrote which exam paper.

    Regardless of whether competition is good or bad (I think it’s probably harmful for younger students but necessary for older ones) it is obviously beneficial for parents to get more information about what their kids are doing in school, so I’m in favor of detailed reports. I just think that we need to try to limit the degree to which teachers’ affinities for certain students impact those evaluations unfairly. (And no, I’m not saying that teachers are intentioinally biased or unfair, just human.)

  • http://www.educateddoubt.com lori

    “Well for one thing, there would be a measure like “how many of x type question did student A get right?” That’s an objective question. “How good do you think student A is at doing x-type problems?” is a subjective question.”

    But why do you assume that the evaluation criteria for a test would be different and/or more objective than it would be for an observation?

    You’re right, teachers are human. And that’s why letter grades or grades on tests can be and often are subjective. The type of evaluation doesn’t change human nature.

  • TA Dodger

    But why do you assume that the evaluation criteria for a test would be different and/or more objective than it would be for an observation?

    I feel like I just answered this question, but I’ll try to restate my point more clearly.

    Assuming that the evaluation on the test is based on a teacher looking to see what percentage of a certain question the student got right, that’s very different from a teacher just thinking back and remembering how good the student is at something.

    If the teacher is using the former method, the fact that she relates well to student A isn’t going to make a difference in the evaluation. If (s)he uses the latter method, how well (s)he relates to student A will make a much bigger difference in the evaluation.

  • http://www.educateddoubt.com lori

    Okay, I think the point is that teachers who don’t give tests have to make sure s/he observed each child and took notes about their progress. No teacher of 20+ students could or should try to rely on memory alone.

    Again, it seems like you’re making assumptions about observation or standards-based assessments. You seem to be assuming that there’s less structure for teachers — like it’s just a nebulous free-for-all — when, in fact, teachers who do these types of evaluations have more work to do than before, which requires a great deal of structure and specificity.

  • mysterymeat

    How about an educational system that works like international figure skating. You get points for technical elements and points for artistic presentation. That would be fun (especially if you could wear sequins to school every day).

    Interestingly enough, I was talking to a friend about when exactly did people start getting dumber. We decided it can be traced to the advent of ‘political correctness’ – when everything got dumbed down to the lowest common denominator so no one would ever be offended or have their fragile soul crushed by any reference to reality.

    I think I’m going to go into theoretical mathematics, it’s the only place where sociology is irrelevant.

  • Baronius

    Lori – I suspect that we’d agree on a lot if we were speaking with the same vocabulary. Your focus is on making the system non-competitive; mine is on increasing objectivity. Not incompatible, by any means, but not the same thing. I tested pretty much the same as I learned, for better and worse, so I never really perceived the problems you’re talking about.

    I have, however, been in a few business seminars recently. I’ve come to the conclusion that every new management technique gives the good managers an opening to improve things, while the bad managers will continue to make the same mistakes. The nature of the change doesn’t matter (unless it’s overtly harmful, which happens sometimes). This is a tad cynical, I realize. But it makes me wonder about the results of this new system.

    I imagine that lousy teachers would keep grading students, just using different words. Kids and parents would catch on quickly, with parents badgering their children to “get a competent or better”. Some teachers would use the new system well, but they’re the ones who would do most anything well.

    “Donkeys live a long time.” – George Orwell