The largest school district in Maryland, the Montgomery County Public Schools, has unrolled a new grading system for elementary school. The scale now runs from N to ES:
N: Not yet making progress or making minimal progress toward meeting the grade-level standard
I: In progress toward meeting the grade-level standard
P: Meets the grade-level standard by demonstrating proficiency of the content or processes for the measurement topic
ES: Exceptional at the grade-level standardAt one school, officials explained the new system via the following analogy:
N - cannot ride a bike
I - rides a bike with training wheels
P - rides a bike with two wheels
ES - rides a Pogo stick“Ride a Pogo stick? What does that mean?” This was one of many recent reactions on a Listserv for parents of gifted kids. Nor is it this parent's only concern. When the new grading system was first unveiled, she was told that an "ES" was no longer a realistic expectation and that all kids should, in the words of a school flyer proclaimed, “Aim for a P.”
“P” as in proficient, that is; not “P” as in “Pogostick.”
What does it take to propel oneself from “P” to “P”—i.e., to “ES”? It’s not so clear. One parent asked her daughter’s teacher what grade a 73 out of 100 would translate into. “Answer: P.” How about a 93 out of 100? “P” as well. Another teacher said that getting 100 on every math test doesn’t guarantee an “ES.” And one parent whose son's reading measured at an "S" level (end of fourth grade) in the first quarter of third grade received an "I" in Reading.
When one parent asked for examples of what it would take to earn an ES in math, the teacher wrote:
I cannot send home examples of students' work on how to answer an ES opportunity question. Part of demonstrating exceptional understanding of the content is being able to independently apply the content learned and independently develop and explain the math reasoning used to solve the problem. It is through this independence and understanding that a student demonstrates his/her exceptional ability. There isn't direct instruction on how to answer an ES opportunity question.In other words, teachers aren’t teaching to the ES-level; only to "P". It’s entirely on the students to figure out what they need to do to get an ES—or even that there is something out that they need figure out. The ball is in entirely their court, and most of them don’t know it.
Some parents have figured out that writing more than an assignment literally asks for can earn you an ES. But not always. One parent reports that the “payoff” for extra details in writing has recently been a P+.
Results of Montgomery County’s new system include:
--smart kids who hardly ever got ES’s, some of whom, their parents report, aren’t any less intelligent than older siblings who got As under the old system.
-- unmotivated kids who see no reason to try to get more than 73 out of 100—or to “write a paragraph along with every arithmetic problem” for the sake of an ES.
--parents who don’t know how well their kids are doing in school unless they see the raw scores (73 out of 100? 93 out of 100?), and, in particular, if their kids have truly mastered the material or are struggling with it or slacking off.
This last issue strikes me as yet another way in which feedback loops are disappearing from today’s schools. I’ve written here, here, and here about ways in which students are getting hardly any feedback on their work; with this kind of grade compression, in which nearly everyone gets a P, there's even less feedback, not only to students, but also to parents and schools, about what, if anything, is working in public education today.