I visited an Oakland high school today and interviewed two veteran teachers — teachers with reputations as hard graders — about their grading practices for a follow-up story on this issue. I talked with some students, too.
One of the teachers said it is “painful” to give half of the students in a particular class Ds and Fs, as he has done. But, he said, holding the kids to a certain standard (coming to class and completing their assignments, at a minimum) is the best leverage he knows of when it comes to motivating students to work hard and learn the material. Not that it always works…
Both teachers, however, said it’s much more difficult for newer hires — without tenure or an established reputation at a school — to adhere to high standards if that means giving out many Ds and Fs. Those teachers are more vulnerable to pressure from the school administration and parents alike, they said.
After all, an F isn’t a passing grade and Ds aren’t accepted by the state university systems. So if teachers hand out too many of those low marks, it could lower a school’s graduation rate and other stats, such as the number of students who graduate (on paper, anyway) as “college-ready,” by CSU/UC standards.
The students I interviewed said they wished grading were more consistent from classroom to classroom. Several, without naming names, described some of their teachers as “disorganized,” losing essays and assignments (One boy told me he didn’t like it when teachers “guessed” on grades).
While some teachers lay out their expectations and grading systems up front, the students said, others assign grades in more mysterious ways. Being nice and showing up to class is enough for an A in some classes, they said, while it doesn’t guarantee even a C in others. These grading reputations — while not always accurate — are widely known, and students sometimes seek out or avoid teachers accordingly, they said.
One of the students, 18, came to the U.S. from Mexico three years ago. Her dad recently lost his job, she said, and her family relies heavily on her and her older brother’s jobs for survival. She works 40 hours a week at a local bakery and gets off at midnight. She seemed to care deeply about her grades, but said that while she manages to complete most of her assignments, she doesn’t study very much for tests.
Teachers: What’s your grading philosophy? Has it changed over the years, or from school to school? Has an administrator ever nudged you to bump up your grades? Do you consider a student’s circumstances outside of the classroom when you grade them? Would you consider cutting a student (like the young woman I just described) slack if she were putting forth effort but not scoring well on tests?
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