Thursday, May 26, 2011

Academic Damage

I have to thank the Crazy Teacher Lady for this term. It's something I have been trying to pin down and couldn't seem to put into words. Even though I recognize it for what it is, I'm still trying to put words to it.

Katie is a student in my chemistry class this trimester. She is what most would consider a "good" student, which means that she knows the Rules to the Game and plays it very well. She gets good grades because she can read and can figure out what it is that makes the teacher happy.

She got an A in Chemistry.

And I am simply sick about it.

Katie is a Grade Junkie, make no mistake about it. She struggled early on to find the rhythm of my class, but once she figured out which buttons to press, she flew with it.

The problem was that I had to hold her hand the entire way. I had her in my seminar (30 minute study period) and about three days a week, she would sit down with me to review chemistry. She retook more quizzes than all the others put together and in so doing raised her grade.

Now, I am certainly not going to tell a student that she can't come in and study for my class, and I don't want to sound like I don't want my kids to work hard, but at the same time, it has never been about the learning for Katie.

I think what really hit home for me in this situation was the last quiz she took. She raised her hand eleven time on a three question quiz. Seriously.

"Did I set this up right?"

"Um, do you think you did?"

"Well, I just want to make sure."

Katie has retaken quiz after quiz. I have no idea how many hours she has put into adding points to her total, but she second guesses every single thing she writes down. Her second guessing doesn't stem from wanting to learn, it stems from not wanting to lose points.

What really bothers me is that I don't even think it's that she's not confident in her answers.

I don't think she knows the answers.

This trimester has built on itself. We started with naming and formulas. We used those formulas to balance equations. Those equations showed us mole relationships, that we used to find limiting reactant and percent yield. If you didn't know your naming, you were without a paddle.

Katie didn't know how to name compounds. She would study, pass the quiz and apparently reformat overnight. The next day she couldn't recognize a polyatomic.

Katie has an A in Chemistry, but I would bet my periodic table that if you asked her any question, right now, today, about the subject she wouldn't be able to answer it.

So I have failed Katie. By posting an A for her grade, I am allowing her to leave and give the impression to everyone who cares to look that she understands Chemistry when she truly doesn't.

And I have allowed her to continue on believing that she is getting an education, when I haven't kept my end of the bargain.


Anonymous said...


I can empathize with you. This student is the exact reason I looked at SBG for this past year. For the 2009-2010 year, I had an Algebra 2 student who ended up with the highest grade in my class for the exact same reasons you posted. I had thought about handing out 5 pennies before quizzes and tests in order to make them "pay" for questions, especially her. I didn't end up doing that...but it was tempting.

I tried very hard to change the all students' opinion of grades and learning, but changing a culture is hard to do solo.

I'm not sure that other than sticking to your guns, and maybe consider throwing in a standard that addresses the student like that (you can at least continue to let them know they are below level for one standard that is a little more subjective), that there is much you can do until the culture changes.

Thanks for posting!

Riley said...

I had this student in my classes too, and it eventually convinced me that student-initiated reassessment is not an appropriate fit in all cases. You've named the reason that I think using a student's "maximum" score for a standard can be damaging.

So, in ActiveGrade, we started recommending a "decaying average" kind of grade calculation, along with multiple teacher-initiated assessments that occur *after* the initial test. Getting a 10/10 or whatever max score in October does not necessarily imply that a student really understands a concept - thanks for explaining it so clearly and passionately!

Mr P. said...

This type of student can go really far! I saw plenty during my time at university. Some of the best grades came from students who learnt how to answer every type of question in the exams. Then they got jobs based on their grades. Then they got let go, based on their ability.

That said, it's often easier to see the negative. Are their any students who have benefited from this system?

And a self plug; I've started a graduate teacher blog at

Trying to drum up a following but as you probably know, takes time.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tracie,

I am sorry---that sounds like a painful situation. As other people have said, I have been in that situation, too (although not to the same extreme). My best guess is that this is a structural problem, rather than a problem with the student. In some sense, it is irrational for a student NOT to do this.

My best guess is to minimize/eliminate grades as much as possible (which carries a whole bunch of other benefits with it). I am working on it, although I would love to hear if you have any ideas.

Tracie Schroeder said...

I would LOVE to get rid of grades. I have had that conversation with my administration and it has not gone well. One of the questions on my end of the year survey was whether the student thought it was more important to receive a high grade rather than truly understand the material. About a third of the kids said they worried more about the grade than the learning. While this makes me sad, I also realize these are high school kids and if I had been asked that question at that age, I probably would have answered the same way.

Anonymous said...

SBG does little to eliminate point chasing. You still have to make sure that passing your assessments means that the students know the material. If you assessments are not doing that, then no amount of tweaking what you do with the assessments will help.

Tracie Schroeder said...

Gas Station - This is what I struggle with the most. If I were to pick out my biggest weakness in the classroom I think I would have to go with finding ways to assess (with tests and without) so that my kids can actually tell me whether or not they understand what I'm teaching.

My Menu