Help! I have a 6th grade parent-teacher meeting on Weds.! Related to grading.

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by Title Wave, Dec 4, 2015.

  1. Title Wave

    Title Wave Rookie

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    I'm hoping for some feedback from this thoughtful group. My 11 year old daughter is demoralized about a 5th/6th grade history teacher's grading standards, and I've arranged an appointment with her teacher. We meet on Wednesday, with the middle school principal, so any feedback or tips here greatly appreciated.

    My daughter recently took a 6th grade history test, and one part was an essay worth 13 points. She lost 9 of the 13 points (ie. failed the essay) even though the content was correct. Even the teacher agreed the content was perfect. However, she took off 9 points throughout the test essay because of very minor punctuation errors. For example, my daughter's essay began as such:

    "Geography influenced the development of civilization in Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent because it was a flat land desert with two rivers, Tigris and Euphrates."

    After this line, the teacher wrote in red the word "the" before Tigris (ie., saying my daughter should have written "the Tigris") and then took off "-1."

    Now, as a parent, I look at that sentence -- a complex sentence for an 11 year old, use of advanced vocabulary, filled with key vocabulary words from the unit - and all I can think is "She marked it off because she forgot to put the word "the" in the sentence?" Remember, 1 point out of 13 off, and my daughter now already has a 92% on the essay. Let's keep going further into the essay:

    "The two rivers I talked about earlier, were made into part of a canal where you control the water that goes to the crops."

    After this sentence, the teacher took off two more points. She circled the comma as unnecessary (minus 1) and wrote "Be careful of your tense" (minus 1). Now my daughter has a 76% on the essay, and the teacher isn't through.

    "A ziggurat is almost temple-like, the smallest and highest part of it is where the preists worship their gods." The teacher circled "preists," wrote SP, and minus 1. My daughter has now officially failed the essay with a 69% but - oh no -- there are several more sentences & minor comma errors to come -- another two points off, and now here comes my daughter's concluding sentence......

    "Thats how geography influenced the development of civilazation in Mesopotamia and the Ferlite Crescent."

    This concluding sentence received 3 points off all on its own: Minus 1 for forgetting the apostrophe in That's; minus 1 for misspelling civilization; minus 1 for writing Ferlite instead of Fertile (which she had written correctly earlier in the essay and on the paper, but crossed the wrong letter for the T). That last concluding sentence alone cost her 24% points off her essay.

    My daughter's final essay grade was 4/13 = or a 30% grade.....even though the content was correct.

    I told my daughter, good thing you didn't write any more on the subject, which she had mastered, because had she written any more, her grade would have been a zero. The more you write, the more you open yourself up to punctuation errors. At 8% off per error, it's a steep price to pay. I'm now advising my daughter to write simple and fewer sentences and to not use advanced vocabulary. Of course, that's crazy, so I set up a meeting to discuss.

    The meeting is coming up, and I know from the middle school principal that the teacher's position is that she has a very high standard ("do I want her to lower her standards?"); that language arts is important in every class, not just English class; and that if she doesn't mark off heavily this way, that the kids won't learn. My concern is that the minor style errors ending up outweighing the content, that the resulting grade doesn't match the knowledge or aptitude of the subject at hand. In addition, the grading is demoralizing, and no learning takes place from it after the fact because they don't correct their papers or even address the points off. My opinion is that my daughter, who is only a 6th grader, wrote a beautiful (and complete) essay in a pressure-filled, timed history test that was factually accurate and complete, and yet failed it for minor comma and grammatical errors. Does this seem a little off-kilter to you as well? By the way, this teacher is not the only one in this school like this. Another teacher took off 6 points from my friend's son's 5th grade language arts essay because he keep linking a capital W in cursive to the rest of the letters in the word, where the W should not link (2 points per each of the three linked Ws), plus more points off for not writing out numbers, etc. He went down two letter grades for these minor errors, even though the content was correct. I think it's the culture of the school, although the middle school head doesn't agree with me on that feeling. She thinks it's isolated teachers, and I happen to be in a bad year. Am I really so far off base on this? Is this how "top private elementary schools" grade nowadays? How can I help the teacher understand her grading isn't reasonable, that at the very least, out of a 13 point essay, 12 of the points should go for content? Or am I wrong here? Are there studies showing this type of punitive grading is demoralizing and doesn't help learning?
     
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  3. ms.irene

    ms.irene Connoisseur

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    I would hesitate to critique another teacher without knowing the whole situation -- it's possible she is under pressure from the department, or the admin, to grade a certain way. I teach Language Arts and would not personally grade in this way. I use a rubric in which grammar, spelling, and punctuation are part of the grade, usually about 10%, depending on the goals of the assignment and the standards we're working on. I would start the meeting by asking the teacher for her rationale for grading and letting her explain her thinking, since there is potentially a reason for it that is beyond her control, unfortunately.
     
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  4. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    I agree with this approach.

    On the rubrics I use for any written assignment, one of the categories relates to conventions. The students are marked down on the rubric for the frequency of errors that interfere with the reader's ability to understand what is being written or that disrupt the "flow" of the writing.

    Our marks in all subject areas must reflect the student mastery of the content expectations (standards); we couldn't justify a failing mark in Geography because of errors of mechanics.
     
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  5. swansong1

    swansong1 Virtuoso

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    I agree with the advice you have been given. I disagree with your advice to your daughter to dumb down her writing (and I think you disagree with your own advice, too). Your daughter sounds like she has an exceptional grasp of the content.

    I think I would stress the emotional implications for your daughter in your meeting.I certainly would not want a my daughter adversely affected by this grading fiasco.

    I find it hard to believe that a school would find conventions more important than content, especially in this ultra testing school environment that exists now.
     
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  6. mrsammieb

    mrsammieb Devotee

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    Oh my! Last year I taught fifth grade and I felt a little pressure to grade, deducting points for grammar errors. "We must hold them to a higher standard"...
    But I woud never take point after point for such mistakes. I may as a whole, deduct 5 to 10 points for errors in grammar, that had nothing to do with the matter. If you haven't already met witht he teacher/principal I would suggest that there be a limit to how many points can be deducted for spelling/grammar and or ask for all test to include a rubric so that there is a limit to how much one section can receive deductions. If you have already met, I'd love to know the outcome.
     
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  7. Title Wave

    Title Wave Rookie

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    Thank you! We meet next Wednesday. The teacher's position is that she tells the kids in advance that she could take off "up to 10 points off" per test for grammar, spelling, style, etc. My daughter is a good writer, so I expected her to be fine because the teacher would surely be taking off for big picture items only-- things like misspelling a word from the unit, or failing to write in complete sentences when the directions say to write in sentences, that sort of thing. So my first shock was that she has her editor cap on and is looking for any single error, no matter how inconsequential or small. So nit picky. That's what caused me to look closer at her policy. That's when, when I looked closer, I started to realize that the rest of the test is multiple choice or one word definitions. The only place you can really take off 10 points for grammar is on the essay (because you aren't going to spell "B" wrong in the multiple choice section). It was then I realized that the essay is worth about 10 points usually -- and because all the points off have to come off within that section -- that leads to the situation where my daughter lost 9 points out of the essay and failed that portion. The unintended consequence of her policy is that the essay becomes an exercise solely in comma placement. The truth is, it's not 10% off of the test, she's really taking up to 100% off the essay if there are at least 10 small errors, even if all of the content is correct. And truth be told, I see no evidence she is even looking at the content. There are no check marks indicating correct content has been given, no words to the side about the quality of the content. All of the marks are editing marks. I think I'm going to try to point out that 10 points off per test doesn't work in a situation where only 10-13 points on the test are subject to that deduction. She should tell the kids 10% of any short answers or test essays are subject to penalty for grammar, and therefore a 10 point essay might lose 1.0-1.5 points for style. But not all 10 points are at risk, that's just plain silly. I'm going to focus on the emotional side - a demoralized student who is quickly becoming disinterested in history and anxious about her writing. And I'm hopefully going to convince her to drop these penalties in a testing situation at all, and save the penalties for larger papers when the kids have had time to formalize their words and thoughts in a draft, proofread, and submitted a final draft.
     
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  8. Maryhf

    Maryhf Connoisseur

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    The only thing I could add, other than to suggest a rubric for grading essays, is to suggest that spelling should only count on vocabulary words. I teach world geography, and I do take of 1/2 point off for each missing capital letter on proper nouns ( country names, cities, rivers, etc.) but I deduct a maximum of 2 points.
    Are these grammar corrections from lessons that have already been taught by the English teacher? I can understand if the school is supporting the ELA teachers in that way. After a unit on commas in a series, students should be able to use commas in a series in all subjects. It doesn't seem like this grading is very fair to me. Good luck.
     
  9. agdamity

    agdamity Fanatic

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    While I do think it's fine to ask the teacher her rationale for grading and to ask if a rubric is used, I think you should be very careful about telling the teacher how she should grade. I do agree that missing 9 of 13 essay points is over the top, but insisting that she overhaul her entire grading system to please you isn't going to make her want to work with you.

    Also, keep the big picture in mind. What was the overall test score? Is this the only time your daughter has missed so many points for grammar? If she is doing well overall in the class, make sure you discuss your daughter's successes with her.
     
  10. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Agree with all of this. Perhaps the OP could take an example of a rubric to her meeting.

    If this is the culture in the building, I'd be scrutinizing EVERY notice, letter, communication, email from the school for errors! LOL
     
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  11. MsMar

    MsMar Fanatic

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    I would definitely want to know the school's position and philosophy on grading a Social Studies essay so much on conventions vs. content. I, like you, find it odd. I happen to be teaching this exact topic right now and I think your daughter has a great grasp of the concepts. As a parent of a child who struggles with grammar and spelling I'd be pretty annoyed if she lost all those points on a topic she understood.
     
  12. MsMar

    MsMar Fanatic

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    I agree!
     
  13. Missy

    Missy Aficionado

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    That is absurd, in my opinion. I might take off one point if several words from the question itself are misspelled, but I am looking for content knowledge when I assess in those areas.

    Before the meeting I would check the school's handbook for a grading policy.
     
  14. Backroads

    Backroads Aficionado

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    Best answer yet.
     
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  15. OUOhYeah

    OUOhYeah Comrade

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    I am sorry... I am a 5th/6th grade Social Studies teacher and I would never do what this teacher did. True, we are held to high standards for ELA, which I teach ELA. However, I do not take points off each time it happens. I might take 1 to 2 points off if it happens a lot, which is what my rubric is for. This teacher is probably feeling the pressure of admins and I know exactly what that feels like, believe me. The only issue I have here is was she looking for grammar or the right content, or both?

    Maybe ask the teacher if she could allow your daughter to make test corrections?
     
  16. Title Wave

    Title Wave Rookie

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    I'm about to go in for my 10:30am meeting - thank you for all of your comments! I have taken your suggestions and feedback & I'll be sure to write back the outcome!
     
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  17. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Looking forward to hearing how it went!
     
  18. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Bumping for update.
     
  19. Title Wave

    Title Wave Rookie

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    It's a doozy to report, but I'm on my phone & not near a computer until 7pm. Check back at 7:15 for all the gory details.
     
  20. Title Wave

    Title Wave Rookie

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    Thank you all for your ideas and input. I really appreciated it. The Wednesday morning meeting was interesting but didn't resolve the issue. It was a lot of politics, a lot of heel digging, and not a lot of resolution.

    The intermediate school head (grades 4-6) [let's call her "Jill"] wanted the meeting because she's trying to get the teachers to hear first-hand the parent complaints. What typically happens is that Jill hears all the parent complaints and passes the comments on to the teachers, but, according to Jill, they push back on the criticism and don't really make any changes. So Jill asked me to have the meeting so that the social studies teacher [let's call her "Kim"] could hear first hand a typical parent complaint. Jill felt that if teachers like Kim heard from parents directly, that it would help Jill make the case to change a few things and get teacher buy-in.

    Kim did not want to have the meeting with Jill and me, unless the Headmaster could also be included. However, I pushed back on that, saying it didn't need to elevate to that level. Jill also agreed that the Headmaster didn't need to be involved. So, in the end, Jill, Kim, and I met, and the Headmaster was not included.

    The tension was thick in the room. Kim clearly did not want to be in the meeting. Her body language was rigid; her arms folded; her legs crossed tightly with one leg bumping up and down nervously. She never made eye contact with me. I would make a point, and Kim would reply either looking at no one or looking just at Jill. She kept looking at the clock, her watch, and as soon as the meeting concluded, she was the first one to stand up and say she had to get going because of her class. She was out the door faster than a rocket.

    Basically, there is a difference of opinion. Kim's understanding is that she can take 10 points off of her history tests, quizzes or any assignment for grammar and syntax errors. She says she can do it, she should do it, and she plans to keep on doing it. She will take off for each and every thing - everything from a misspelled word to a misplaced comma. If it's an error of any kind, it's minus 1.

    I pointed out that the "10 points off" is coming out of a philosophy where "10%" of a writing assignment can be penalized for grammar. In other words, at this school, if a term paper is worth 100, then 10% is subject to grammar grading. Therefore, the way I look at it, if a history test is comprised of 80% T/F and multiple choice (where no writing takes place), and 20% is short answer and essay (where writing occurs), I believe that only the short answer and essay should have 10% subject to grammar deductions (or 2 points out of 20 points), versus Kim who believes that 10 points can come out of the 20 point value.

    This is why, in the last test, when the 13 point essay had 9 minor syntax errors, she took off all 9 points. She would have taken 10 if there had been another error. She is willing to take the max 10 off. If the essay were worth 5 points, she would take off 10, because she sees it as "coming off the top of the test."

    When Jill piped up and she thought what I said about percentages made a lot of sense, Kim conceded that it might make sense. However, Kim then countered herself by saying she has to grade 60 papers and can't be expected to figure percentages. It's easier to say "take 10 points off the top," rather than take the time to say, "Oh, this test only has 30% writing, so I can only take 3 points off on this test."

    I tried to explain how it's demoralizing for a kid with a 94 in comprehension to get an 84, each and every time. I said there were probably kids who had a passion for history, had an A comprehension, but because of mechanics, they could never get an A in her class. I said that taking 10 points off of a 13 point essay made style trump substance by default. I said it wasn't correctly balanced, and they needed to go back to the 10% philosophy rather than 10 points.

    In the end, there was no conclusion. Jill thanked me for my time and said it was the beginning of many conversations that were happening at the school, and that it helped that I came in.
     
  21. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Hm. Interesting that "Kim" had wanted the headmaster there: that was far from an impressive performance, from the sound of things.
     
  22. Vulcan_Klaatu

    Vulcan_Klaatu Rookie

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    Sorry for my post. It was irrelevant to the subject of this thread. Please delete this post. Thanks
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2015
  23. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

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    I actually think the child should have to deal with it. In my opinion this is a great lesson for life. We have to learn to adapt what and how we do things for crazy bosses all the time. The student now knows excplicity where to improve and focus. The rest of her life is going to be similar runs in both in academics and outside. I remember several college professors with lines of students outside their office after tests, all wanting to complain and argue over how unfair it was.
     
  24. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    It doesn't sound like anything is going to change, sadly. Perhaps the Headmaster will wind up in on this one after all.
     
  25. vickilyn

    vickilyn Multitudinous

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    Or should have been there from the beginning. It sounds like they know they have a problem, have tried to address it in-house, and, getting nowhere, they are hoping that face to face meetings with irate parents will accomplish something that admin has been unable to do for themselves. I suspect that parents are being told one thing, while teachers are getting a different kind of "marching orders".

    Good luck, and I think you are going to need it.
     
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  26. stephenpe

    stephenpe Connoisseur

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    Grading an essay (worth 13 pts) and taking 7% off for a spelling error sounds insane to me. The teacher is beyond anal. Grammatical errors are worth noting and correcting but to give them that much weight seems from left field.
     
  27. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    I'm all for rigor and high standards, but this situation seems silly, especially given the grade level. I might expect this sort of harsh grading to happen in an AP course or in college where students have had years to practice these mechanics, but not at this level.

    What standards was the teacher assessing here? I think that these unfair grading practices are making it appear that the student is failing to meet the content-area standards, even though what the student is actually failing to do is write without errors in mechanics. If the teacher is grading so severely on mechanics, then I must assume she is providing regular, clear lessons on mechanics, yes? My suspicion is that she is not, and that she is simply expecting the students to know how to spell and use punctuation without errors (a skill with which many adults still struggle) without actually providing instruction. That's unfair.

    I think that a visit with the headmaster is in order. My feeling is that not much is going to come of it, given that this teacher has been allowed to grade in this way without being put in check by anyone in admin. I might consider moving my child to a new school if this is how things are going to be.
     
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  28. applecore

    applecore Devotee

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    I'm still stuck on the teacher stating she has to read 60 papers...and can't be expected to figure grades?

    Just like she'll be evaluated for her job this school year with a rubric, so should she evaluate her student's writing performance---especially if writing and grammar are the main focus of teaching.
     
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  29. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    I've met a few teachers over the years that have a similar attitude to that described by the OP. Their belief is that the students have already been provided instruction in those areas and are expected to either apply it properly or independently re-learn the information. I've even known a few teachers who felt they were going way out of their way to help by giving a student a book to borrow with no guidance as to what will help or offers to meet to answer questions. This teacher prided herself in going out of her way to help the student which was funny because with no direction, this actually hurts the student because now there was no excuse for the student to not improve.

    I think it is unfair to harshly grade without instruction. I also think it is unfair that many school systems leave students partially literate in their language by allowing them to remain woefully inadequate in written mechanics, grammar, and language structure.
     
  30. Title Wave

    Title Wave Rookie

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    I will be interested to see if anything happens. It's going to have to be a policy change, I think, in order for Kim to change. She said in the meeting that "10 points off the top" was "the school rule," "the standard." She felt strongly that she was doing her job by holding the kids accountable in a non-language arts class. She also felt that more attention was paid to her grading mechanics (as a history teacher) because Science, Math or foreign language don't have the same opportunity to take off for mechanics. She feels her position is backed up by the Headmaster.

    There is a certain mentality within this school to "be tough." Other policies include: if you forget your homework, it's not 10% or even 50% off per day late, it's a zero. Lunch is only 20 minutes, and they had a "no talking" policy for 1st-3rd graders.....quiet lunch. (Thank goodness they got rid of that policy after parent complaints). You are not allowed to touch other either in grades 1-3, no hugging (they call it "the two finger rule"). The headmaster recently had a talkdown with 8th graders who were off-site, after school, at a local café, on their own free time, and their uniform shirts were seen untucked ("You represent the school at all times.") It's a very strict environment. One mother joked with me that it's a school for the future accountants of America. Why did we send our children there? It was sold as a tight-knit, small school community with high academic achievement. Parents complain with each other (often!) about the culture there, the anxiety and stress on their kids. But we love the families and children who attend, and it's hard to pull a child from their friends. I obviously can't recommend the school in good faith, but not to worry, as there is a long waitlist to get in.

    The headmaster and many of the teachers believe tough grading is correlated with high standards and, therefore, they are the best school in town. If anyone suggests that other schools don't grade this way, or have zero tolerance homework policies, etc etc, they say "We don't compare ourselves to other schools because we have higher standards and are the best school in town."

    The intermediate school head - "Jill" - is my hope. She totally gets it. She understands. But she's in an uphill battle to change the culture of the school. I told her, if she has the ability as head of 4th-6th to make a grading policy change, she should just do it. If there is a rule that "10 points come off the top," she should change it to "5 points come off the top" -- even though that doesn't embrace the spirit of what I'm trying to convey, it would be a start.

    And, by the way, I graduated from two Ivy League schools, and I made it that far because there was joy in my learning. I hope this school can find the joy and put away the stick.
     
  31. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    Is there a school close by that might have high standards and a more acceptable level of rigor? My brother recently went through the very emotionally charged decision of moving his daughter to a new school. In the end, the family decided as a unit that Niece would be better off elsewhere, and they would work together to maintain the friendships she wanted to keep with her former classmates.
     
  32. TeacherNY

    TeacherNY Maven

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    That's odd to take off so many points.I could see if the essay was worth 100 points and she took off 1 point for each error.
     
  33. BioAngel

    BioAngel Science Teacher - Grades 3-6

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    I wouldn't take off so many points. But, at the same time, I don't appreciate someone coming into my classroom and telling me how I should grade. It probably really upset her and she's less likely to listen to you when you're coming in and telling her how to grade. That's not the job of any parent - just being honest. I'm really willing to work with my students and parents, but please do not tell me how to do my job.
     
  34. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    I disagree, BioAngel. It is a parent's job to monitor what goes on in his or her child's education including unfair grading practices by a teacher or a school. The report card is supposed to represent subject knowledge and if the grading practices are such that the grades do not represent that because of a large number of points being taken off for non-subject related mistakes OR the teacher's practices differ significantly from the policies of the school, then it is the parent's job to step in. Who else will watch out for the best interest of the child?
     
  35. BreezyGirl

    BreezyGirl Companion

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    I teach 5/6. I use rubrics so depending on their number of errors is the number of points they receive. Sounds like this teacher is marking as a college prof.

    Use it as a teachable moment for your daughter. I have done this my daughter... She now knows that not all teachers are the same and that she can get through anything. :) We have all had teachers where we couldn't wait for the year to be over with!!! :)

    I have to add that as I was reading your original post, I was shaking my head with the points deducted. I'm still not sure how the content was marked. It appears that the essay portion was more a test on conventions.
     

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