The Apple Leaf

Standards-based grading misses the mark for students

Story published Oct. 31, 2012
Story published Oct. 31, 2012

Story originally published in The Apple Leaf Oct. 31, 2012.


This year, when I walked into English, I was excited to have another class full of reading and writing. But, there was a problem. It was graded on standards, a technique devoted to giving students formative control over their own progress.

With standards, the grading scale seems to be off compared to the old way. Generally, a 3 (in standards) is meeting standard. But getting a 3 doesn’t mean you get an A. Where else in the world do you fail to succeed when you follow the given directions? That’s right, nowhere. When you buy a new desk from the local furniture store, do you go home, read the directions, and guess how to put it together?

Why do we have to make inferences just to get an A? Well, that’s a good question. Isn’t school meant for learning, not inferring? This “way of the world” seems to cater to those who are barely paying attention in class. For those of you that choose to sit in the back of the room and pop your gum: shame. And those of you sitting in the “middle class” hoping that you could raise your hand first and answer the question, but Brainiac next to you beats you to it: good for you. And Brainiac next to you: don’t try so hard. There’s a lot of other students sitting in the back, trying to come up with the answer or refer back to their notes. Some learners need more time to process the task at hand, and come up with their best educated guess.

All along, we’ve learned the traditional way of grading. That’s how we understand it. But now, since the the world is changing, the person in the back of the room doesn’t have to do anything, and the person who participates the most is stuck teaching the concept and assisting in group work. That way, we all look equally smart and equally improving. Maybe that’s the way of the United States; to cover the tracks and hide the flaws.

How is that preparing us for the future? In the real world, with real bosses, and real tasks, you’re on your own, my friend. Your buddy isn’t going to be able to sit at your desk and lead the way. You have to take it into your own hands. You have to be in charge. In the real world, you are your own leader!

Granted, standards-based grading lets the learner do what they want, but just because the teacher has a set opinion about a certain student, doesn’t mean that student should have a different level of standard to get a 4. Once the teacher forms their opinion, the level of a 4 isn’t consistent throughout the class. That in itself is unfair to the overachievers and the underachievers. The underachievers should be held more accountable, while the overachievers should back off and lessen the workload. In the end, it’s quite possible that both groups of students will come out with the same grade while each did far from similar tasks.

Overall, it’s bringing those who don’t want to learn to a level where they can at least pass the class, and it’s taxing those who are used to the traditional way of grading that they’ve learned to appreciate and work hard for since kindergarten.

When you follow the directions given, and then you do the work, you will not come out with an A in the class (even though you’re doing exactly what’s expected); instead, maybe an A- or a B. What does that mean? Yes, that’s right. B’s will drop your cumulative GPA. And what’s the first thing that college’s look at? Yes, your GPA.

My fellow peers and classmates who want to graduate from Wenatchee High School with a 4.0: good luck. I hope you can find a way to make your best guess through the given directions (or lack thereof) and wander your way through all the new obstacles. To my college: I’m sorry that my GPA reflects my high school thinking the world was changing all at once.

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