Saturday, March 29, 2008

Why Left-Brainers Don't Get High Grades, Part I: "Grading to the Standard"

In an accidental bipartisan collaboration, the liberal brainchild known as the Standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the conservative brainchild known as No Child Left Behind have drastically diluted and diminished the math standards against which our children are graded.

NCTM Standards tell educators that communicating problem-solving strategies is key to learning math. NCLB tells states to devise tests to hold schools accountable to student achievement. The resulting state tests, following the standards, only award full credit to explained answers, and, so that not too many schools will "fail," dumb down the actual content.

The risk of failure has also pressured school districts to make teachers both teach to the test and “grade to the standard.”

Accordingly, the guidelines for the standards-based report cards now used by the Montgomery County District in Maryland say that grades must reflect “what students know in relation to the standards.” Or, in the words of the Christina School District in Newark, Delaware, “their progress towards meeting the state standards.”

All this discourages teachers from assessing skills that extend above and beyond what are now the official benchmarks for particular grades. Indeed, the Montgomery guidelines explicitly rule out “extra credit.”

The upshot: children who once would have been assessed for, and rated with, above grade-level math skills--e.g., a 3rd grader who rates at a 6th grade level--now merely “meet expectations.”

And many of these children, as we’ll see in my next post, end up receiving lower grades than their less mathematically apt peers.

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