When is an "A" an "A"?

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by ByCandleLight, Nov 19, 2008.

  1. ByCandleLight

    ByCandleLight Rookie

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    Nov 19, 2008

    When is an "A" a true "A"? I have parents and children upset at me because while my failure rate isn't high and my students generally show a marked improvement on their standardized testing, many come out of my class with a "B" or a "C." To me, that's an accurate grading scale. Doesn't "A" represent above average? Should I make my tests easier because they've gotten A's (sorry but I'm dropping the quotation mark...too many to deal with) in other classes? My tests aren't geared toward rote memorization. I teach a skill using textbook models and my tests utilize OTHER models not used in class. I can't choose what's on a standardized test or the SAT's, so how would memorizing the entire plot of Julius Caesar help them if the Shakespearean example is Hamlet? Instead, I teach interpretation, critical thinking, and try to get some familiarity with Shakespearean language and structure. And because this isn't how they're normally tested, it does cause for a good deal of stunted grades. Usually they read a story, have the teacher go over and point out all the symbolic meaning in the story, memorize these, then have a test over the same questions they answered in class. As a result, their reading comprehension and critical thinking skills are low, low, low. This method would be effective if not for the fact that the kids learn that they don't have to utilize their brain cells. All they have to do with wait until the teacher give the answer, write them down, and memorize.

    But it's as if parents think an A is "my child turned in all of his work and tries hard." Well, that will get them a B in my class. There are assignments that give credit to effort and not just content, but the class is 10th grade English and not 10th grade work ethic skills. Work hard but still can't master most of the skills? You're below or at average. Why would I rank you at above average if you still can't comprehend most of what you read or recognize simple grammatical errors in a sentence? A touchy-feely teacher at school disagrees with me (we're friends who have very different ideas when it comes to our jobs) and says that a child shouldn't be held back from an A if they give it their all, but I feel this is one of the reasons why a high school diploma doesn't hold as much weight as it use to and businesses are now conducting their own independent test for competancy at basic skills. Last year we had an "A" student who couldn't score high enough to get into a college with a 800 min. SAT expectancy. And when did it become a sin to point out to a student that maybe they're just not that great at one particular subject or excel in all of them? Out of each semester, I have about four to five students in each class that truly excel at English. Writing, reading, grammar...the whole nine yards...through hard work or natural ability. And it means something to them. If they made an A in my class then they at least know they really earned that A and it wasn't just given to them. But again with the parents.

    "You're going to ruin her chances at getting into a good college b/c her GPA is going to drop."

    Considering the SAT is a good portion of English and English classes are required in every core curriculum, having a C in my class is the least of your worries when your son/daughter turns in a two page essay that reads like a 4th grader wrote it, consists of two short paragraphs, and every sentence is filled with "sorta," "like," and "I guess." Geez. Or when I call on them to identify any criticial thinking questions in our class dealing with comparisions between two works, identifying symbolic meaning, using deductive skills to create a theory as to the author's purpose or motivation...and each time I get a shrug of shoulders and a "I dunno." Get a clue people!!! What do you think they teach at colleges? Do you think the entire class is spent reading a story? I had to read a book before each class and be ready to discuss and debate as soon as my feet hit the room. And even if the child is not going to college...if they can't make it through Martin Luther's "I Have a Dream" speech and tell me what he's commenting on besides "everyone needs to get along," how are they going to understand the everyday legal, financial, and federal documents that are thrown at us when we reach adulthood? They're going to take the word of a car salesman as to what is on their paperwork? They're going to make a great impression on their potential boss when they ask for help filling out every single box on their W-2's or application.

    Or am I aiming too high? Is the touchy-feely friend right? Am I a heartless beast who feeds on the confidence of adolescents? :eek:

    :lol:
     
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  3. monsieurteacher

    monsieurteacher Aficionado

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    Nov 19, 2008

    While I don't teach high school, everything you're saying sounds right to me. I'm glad you're teaching critical thinking skills! Sounds like some parents/touchy-feely friends could use some when it comes to your grading!
     
  4. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    Nov 19, 2008

    Sounds like when my husband was a teaching assistant in grad school. Students complained about getting Bs or Cs on their assignments for inaccurate information or atrocious writing skills. His professor told him to give the kids As as long as they wrote two solid pages and included the word "volcano" (this was a geology class). He STILL had two students fail the assignment.
     
  5. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    In order for our students to receive an "A" (our Provincial Standard is B), we must have included questions/assignments/activities which allow them to demonstrate higher-level thinking skills. Perfect marks on spelling tests or math computation skills do not equate to "As" for us--they would equate to a B on the report card.
     
  6. CindyBlue

    CindyBlue Cohort

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    Nov 19, 2008

    I'm going through this, too, especially with two sets of parents...I'm trying to hold out for an A is exceptional, and B is very good, etc. They want their kids to have As when they know the concepts reasonably well, but make lots of "silly" errors, thus not getting the right answers all the time. That's a B or a C (depending on how many of thse errors) to me. I'm trying hard not to be a "grade inflater" teacher, but when others in your department don't expect as much of the kids, and are easier graders than you, then some kids (frequently goaded by their their parents) want to get out of your class so they can get into a class where they can get an A with less work and less learning than in your class. I understand it in principle (they need the A on their transcript for college) but it's depressing, because there's so much pressure on you to just give in and give the As so you aren't a) unpopular or b) fired. I'm lucky in that so far, the grades my kids are getting correlate well with the placement test scores as they enter college (i.e., a kid who scores a C in my class usually scores at a C level on the placement test) - I would feel badly if kids who got an A in my class regularly score Cs on the placement tests.
     
  7. ELA 11 12

    ELA 11 12 Companion

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    Nov 19, 2008

    An A in my class is when the students EXCEED my expectations. All expectations are clearly outlined. If you have clear rubrics, it's all good. I posted a link below.

    Students get mostly 3's and often less in the conventions categories:

    http://www.fishwithafly.net/rubric.pdf (I'm familiar with this rubric so it doesn't take me long to use it, but IT DID :dizzy: when I first created it.)
     
  8. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    Excellent rubric, ELA 11 12! I love it!
     
  9. adventuresofJ

    adventuresofJ Comrade

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    A is super fantastic oh my you got every little thing right... C is average.... I think most people's expectations have dropped and I always hated when my teacher's graded on a curve. Because that means the people who are exceeding expectations, their grade means less.

    I think its awesome that you have high expectations.
     
  10. Luv2Learn

    Luv2Learn Companion

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    Nov 19, 2008

    Maybe put it to the parents...how would they feel that if there student did deserve an A but there were students that were not putting in all the work and showing the effort to be A students, how would THEY feel. Here their sons/daughters are showing superb work, and yet, they have classmates that may show some effort but they are still demonstrating only mediocre work, again, how would they feel?

    Kids are coming into the college system (community colleges since there are many who have done very well are able to get into 4-yr unis) with A's in math and English, and yet on placement tests they are finding themselves in remedial classes.

    I truly feel that if you be honest with students of what is expected and how they can get the grades they want, they can achieve it. Let them know that if they want to get an A there are going to be things expected of them, and don't bend. Have this written out and given to the students so that they can bring it to their parents to sign.

    Kris
     
  11. JustT

    JustT Comrade

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    Nov 19, 2008

    ByCandleLight,

    Have you ever read The Art of Possibility by Zander? He gave me an interesting perspective about grading and students taking responsibility for their learning. It's an interesting read and I suppose if the lesson was managed right, students would gain an invaluable lesson about success and excellence. (Zander is a Harvard professor)

    In gist.... he gives all his students an A the first day of school and challenges them to maintain it by describing what they would do to keep their A.
     
  12. Rockguykev

    Rockguykev Connoisseur

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    The problem with making your A harder to attain than most teacher's As is what that does to students when they hit the college application stage. The kids in my community have so much going against them already that I'm not going to demand "above and beyond" to get an A.

    A student who turns in everything completed and scores well consistently on tests is going to get an A from me. Is it inflated? Probably. But until we have uniform grading from school to school, state to state and even teacher to teacher I'm not going to be one holding my kids future back simply because I'm not amazed by their critical thinking skills.
     
  13. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

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    How many of you grade on a curve? And I mean a real curve, not the "add 10 points to everyone's grade" curve I was familiar with when I went to high school (or, in my physics class, it was more like "add 60 points to everyone's grade ;)).

    A true curve is a bit harsh in ways: only a certain number of kids can earn an A regardless of how well the class does on the whole. However, you could grade all tests on a curve, and then allow extra points outside the curve (for example, HW turned in or extra tutoring time attended or something) for the lower folks to increase their final letter grade.
     
  14. palla

    palla Companion

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    I am a university professor, and I feel strongly that an "A" is above average. It does not mean that a student completed all the work or gave 100%; it means that the student mastered the material and showed that mastery through the course assignments.

    Our job as teachers is to assign the grades the students earn. I don't give grades; students earn them. If you give a student a grade he or she did not earn, you are doing a disservice to the student and to the student's future teachers. The student goes to the next class thinking he or she is an A student, when in reality the student is a B or C student. The student may get placed in classes he or she doesn’t belong (advanced placement, for example), and then the student will struggle to keep up. And very often, the student can’t keep up and quits all together.

    I see students again and again in remedial classes who never made anything but an A in high school. They come to college excited, but that excitement dissipates when they realize they are not truly prepared for college work or that turning in all assignments doesn’t equal an A. I can’t tell you how often they give up because they are afraid of making less than an A. Students need to learn that an A is great, but a B is good, and a C is acceptable. The early they learn that lesson, the easier time they will have in school.
     
  15. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    Excellent points, palla (welcome, by the way). Giving those hard-working kids an A so that they have a better chance of being accepted in college is not doing anyone any favours.
     
  16. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    There will be repercussions later in life, too: just take a look at the Examinations for Teachers forum.
     
  17. boogaboo214

    boogaboo214 Companion

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    ok, im in my senior year of college now. and you all know you will have that professor who you can sleep through class and still make an A and you actually have to insult the teacher to get any lower then you have those teachers where you spend 15 hours a week studying the material just to keep up and you leave the final just hoping for a C.(im in one of those now) If college is their main objective then they need to be thankful that they have a teacher wanting them to do better. my advise is that this is 10th grade and these kids are preparing for college and only 2 years away. use a rubric whenever possible and have a syllabus at the beginning of the class, that clearly outlines the expectations and say in it that the students are expected to understand the material and be able to apply the skills listed. I would have the student and parents sign just like a contract of expectations.
    If college is the goal use it as an opportunity to tune certain aspects of the class to be like a college class so that they will also know how to function in that kind of environment.
     
  18. Rockguykev

    Rockguykev Connoisseur

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    But a C is not acceptable. They will not get into college with all Cs, period. You'd rather stop a kid from trying college. I'd rather get them there and let them decide as adults whether it is right for them.

    If you want Cs to be acceptable don't talk to secondary teachers, talk to your college admissions folks.
     
  19. palla

    palla Companion

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    What about community colleges? Why do we have to insist that a student must attend an R1 university to be successful? There is nothing wrong with starting at a community college and transferring to a larger university after two years. There are plenty of community colleges that welcome students with C's on their transcript. And a student will have more one-on-one attention and smaller classes at a community college and a greater chance at success.

    Don't blame colleges for having admission standards. Those admission standards help ensure the students admitted have the skills necessary to succeed in college.

    ~palla
     
  20. Mrs. K.

    Mrs. K. Enthusiast

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    For California community colleges, you don't even need C's - in fact, you don't even need a HS diploma.
     
  21. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Not me.

    A normal distribution is fine for some things, but not for my math class.

    I'm not content to have 66% of my population get a C. That's a bell curve, and it's not my aim. I'm hoping that far more than 2/3 of the class will master the material beyond that point. And I'm not happy with the number of A's a normal distribution would give me. Again, my aim as a teacher is to provide far more kids with mastery of the material.

    It's rare that I do more than score their tests. On each test I type the number of points per problem-- there's no "fudge factor." I don't curve my tests.

    I do determine the medians at report card time; my honors classes typically have a median in the upper 80s, my average kids tend to have a median in the lower 80's, and my below-average classes tend to have a median in the upper 70's.

    But if 2/3 of my class earns a C, I still have some re-teaching to do.
     
  22. Soccer Dad

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    There is nothing wrong in expecting more than what they're used to. In my personal opinion, giving them an "A" because they tried hard is crap (sorry RockguyKev). For example, a colleague of mine believes that if a student does MOST (not even ALL) of their HW, then they will earn nothing less than an 75. That's complete crap; he doesn't even check HW assignments in terms of accuracy. A student's grade should not be inflated like that simply because they did 10 lousy HW assingment they easily could have copied.

    In addition, it's better they have lowered grades now than in college when they're unprepared and have to retake classes because they failed due to their lack of past practice & knowledge--thus "wasting" their money.

    Also, I get that many kids come from families who are less than fortunate, but in all honesty, if teachers teach them properly and keep motivating them, they have no reason why they can't at least pull off a C --- which is good enough for community colleges like someone else mentioned.

    So to answer your question, no you're not being unreasonable, you're being a good teacher.
     
  23. Rockguykev

    Rockguykev Connoisseur

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    The transfer rate from a community college to a 4 year university is under 10%. I've seen far too many kids and personal friends waste time in CCs to ever recommend them.

    I don't blame the college for having standards in the least. I am simply saying I'm not going to be the teacher who feels I have to grade harder than everyone else when I know it can be harmful to a kid's future.
     
  24. Doug_HSTeach_07

    Doug_HSTeach_07 Comrade

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    I was just thinking of this the other day as I looked at my grade stratification. Probably 15% of my kids are getting A's in my classes, and that's how I feel it should be. These are the kids that know the material up and down, can recall it without notes or textbook, can identify trends, consequences, and causes of events that we learned, etc.

    Sorry, but a kid who cannot do that should not be getting an A just because they have all their work turned in on time. What's that teaching the student as they prepare for college? Yes, the material is difficult and it's hard to get an A, but study up!
     
  25. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Yay, CandleLight!! Good for you for teaching critical thinking and assessing higher order thinking skills!!:2up::clap:
    Have you read the thread on the forums where a student got the highest grade on a test by using a 'Cliffs Notes' type of website to study instead of reading the book? The teacher wants to punish the student for cheating...my thought is the teacher CHEATED the students by giving a test which could earn the highest marks if one simply did not read the book but relied on the general knowlege gleaned from a webpage... You, CandleLight, are doing right by your students...:thumb::2cents:
     
  26. Mamacita

    Mamacita Aficionado

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    C is average. Which is, of course, just as close to the bottom as it is to the top. (one of my favorite quotes) B is better than average, but not excellent.

    A is reserved for the student who meets ALL of the criteria for excellence, which includes attitude. I average a citizenship grade in with the scholastic grades. IF the student meets the point criteria, he/she gets that EARNED A.

    No gifts. It's not fair, and it's not helpful. ALL grades are earned, and some kids earn zeroes. Whatever they earn, that is what they should get. EARN. And that generally requires effort.
     
  27. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    My son is just finishing up his first semester of his first year at university. If he didn't have the requisite skills in his final year of high school to allow him to be successful at university, I would have appreciated knowing that before spending the $17 000 we are spending this year on his education.
     
  28. deserttrumpet

    deserttrumpet Comrade

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    As progress reports were passed out today I found myself mulling over the grades my students have earned so far. My first teaching experience was a long term sub gig for a semester science class. The teacher’s grades for the previous semester were available on her computer and I found them towards the end of the year. Her classes had averaged a 98%. I was floored! My first thoughts were that I was not doing a good enough job teaching. It took me a while to realize that not only was this not normal, but also, not a goal for me to aim for. If I should ever have a class of all A students it will be because the students are an exceptionally bright group.

    My school offers 2 different levels of life science (life science & biology). The life science class is for the “bottom feeders.” This class does not count as a science class for college applications. If the kid does their work they do well in the class. The class is insultingly easy.

    Some of the brighter kids (A and B students) go on to take biology (while most go onto another grunt work class). These students who were earning high grades in life science struggle with the harder class where there is a much higher expectation. It is not surprising for the A students of the lower class to struggle to maintain a C in biology.
     

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