Thursday, September 24, 2009

This Doesn't Add Up

Okay, I am going to warn you right now... this post involves math. Not differential equations or quantum physics or anything like that. Just some simple math. Oh, and common sense, which some of my kids' teacher seem to be lacking...

Let me start off by saying I am an educator. No, I'm not employed right now but I have taught in the classroom and I have tutored privately and professionally (Sylvan). I have taken classes on Philosophy of Education and Educational Methods and History of Education, etc. So, I think I have a good grasp of what the purpose of education is.

Education is about growing a student. Personal growth, academic growth, emotional growth, GROWTH! And that growth must be measured in order to determine if progress has been made.

Are ya still with me?

Okay, now I'm going to use an example to illustrate my next point. Let's say you want to learn tennis. You've never held a racquet before but you know what one is. You don't know the rules of tennis, where to stand, how to serve, etc. So, at your first lesson, the tennis pro gives you instructions about serving and volleying. He shows you how to serve and volley as you stand there and watch. Maybe you take notes. Then, as he places the fuzzy yellow ball in the palm of your hand, he tells you that you must serve and volley perfectly. On your first try. Because, c'mon. He's told you how. And he's shown you that he can do it. So, really, you should be able to do it too, right?

This is the case with homework. IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE PRACTICE. It bugs me to death when teachers (like the ones at my kids school) take grades on every homework assignment, then allow so many points to accumulate that homework ends up being worth more than the test grades.

Okay, did I go too fast there? See, here's the deal: every assignment my kids do at school is worth 100 points. Tests are worth 200 points (actually they are worth 100 but then the grade is entered twice). So, for example, in a 6-week period, if my kid has 4 tests and 5 homework assignments and 10 classwork assignments, then test points would be 800 (4 tests x 100 x 2) and classwork/homework would be 1500 points (5 x 100 plus 10 x 100).

Here's the math:
Tests = 800
classwork/homework = 1500

So, basically, the numbers above represent that PRACTICE WORK (where kids shouldn't be expected to perform perfectly - after all its usually directly after they have been taught a new skill) is counted TWICE AS MUCH as tests (which is supposed to be the time where a kid is assessed for mastery of a skill that has been practiced.)

Now, when I was a teacher, I taught high school math. Here's how I did my grades, per chapter. Usually one quarter involved 2 or 3 chapters of material:
Homework = 30 pts
1 quiz = 35 pts
1 test = 100 pts

So, the homework and quiz TOGETHER were not worth as many points as the test. This is because, you see, the purpose of assessment is to determine whether the student has made progress. It is the student's opportunity to demonstrate that they have mastered a skill over a period of time. So WHY IN THE WORLD is my kids school putting more emphasis on daily classwork and homework (where kids are more likely to mess up) than on tests (where they can show they've learned from their mistakes and are ready to demonstrate mastery of the skill learned)?

And, on the whole EMOTIONAL GROWTH thing, shouldn't kids feel safe to make mistakes, knowing that they have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes without being penalized? And, shouldn't they be taught to LEARN from their mistakes so that they can CHANGE their skills in order to get the correct result?

Again, when I was a teacher, what I did was this: take your test. When you get it back, you can correct anything you got wrong and earn back 1/2 of the points you missed (assuming your corrections were done correctly!) So, a student who gets an 80% on a test can do corrections and bring up their grade to a 90% (missed 20 points, corrected them, reclaimed 1/2 of the credit, so that's 10 extra points). I felt this taught students to see that making a mistake is not the end of the assessment. IN LIFE, DON'T WE ALWAYS LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES? AND IF WE DON'T, I'D ARGUE THAT WE REALLY SHOULD!!!

I am just shaking my head and wondering, where did the breakdown happen? Why have the teachers at my kids' school gotten so focused on counting up points and assigning a grade without thinking about what that grade means? Now, I have never been one to make a huge deal about the actual grades my kids receive. If they get an A that was no sweat, it's not as important as a B that I know they really worked for. I'm more concerned with them stretching themselves and learning.

Which begs the question: Are the teachers concerned about them learning? Or are they just concerned with punching numbers into the gradebook program on the computer?

Here's another example: my son Charlie Brown did a class assignment where he had to put a group of numbers in order least to greatest (four 3-digit numbers per group). The lines were drawn on the paper in vertical columns. So he put the least number on the bottom and the greatest number on top. There were 8 sets of numbers. He got every set right, but the teacher checked every single answer wrong because he did them bottom to top instead of top to bottom. She circled the instructions "Least To Greatest". I mean, if she stopped to LOOK at his work, she could see that he clearly understood what to do. And the instructions did not say "Put the Least Number At the Top of the Column". So, I don't really see why he would get every problem counted wrong. He got a 38% on that paper. Do you think 38% represents the knowledge he demonstrated? EVEN IF the directions were on the paper (which they weren't), would he really need to get every answer checked wrong? Is that an appropriate penalty? Considering, this assignment will likely end up being about twice as important as a test grade.

All I can say is WHAT. THE. FRACK.

See, if I were still on my Prozac I'd probably be all "whatever" right now. So, maybe it's a good thing.

I am still figuring out how to balance being an advocate for my children's best interests, and at the same time not being an annoying pain in the ass parent. I guess if I have to be a pain in the ass, at least I'm an involved parent, right?


Hot Tub Lizzy said...

Unfortunately, the government mandates about what it considers "successful" makes teachers put too much focus on testing and grades than if the child is actually learning.

I used to be an elementary education back in the early 90's when outcome based education was all the rage. Gosh I miss that. The whole point should be that you LEARNED it, not that you spit it out for a test on Monday and promptly forgot it on Tuesday.

And to your homework rant I will add that just copying definitions from a book word for word is RIDICULOUS and POINTLESS!

April said...

From one Texas mom (that grew up here) to a Texas mom that if I remember right, didn't grow up here. My brother is a teacher in the Ft Worth school district and my son is in the Linden Kildare,TX school district, I have had my brother and my sons teachers tell me it is ALL about the TAKS test. That is all the 'not so great' teachers and the administrators care about. They don't care what the kids learn or what their grades are as long as they do good on the TAKS test (which is a freakin joke if you ask me, I took them all my life). It comes down to finding a teacher that actually cares about the kids and not the government programs.

April said...

Forgot to mention that my brother told me that teachers expect the parents to help with the homework (and fix the wrong ones) so the grades will be higher which is why they would put such a high percentage on the homework. Make sense?

OHmommy said...

That's just insane. And so much math for the teacher to punch into her computer.

That means, a parent COULD help out w/homework at home, and a child that is not so bright can actually get a better grade in the class, no?

Foursons said...

Wow- I think you are right on the money with this one. I'd definitely speak up.

jori-o said...

I hear you on that whole fine-line advocate vs. pain in the @$$ momma thing (former classroom teacher too). I've found that when I approach teachers and principals with a "we're on the same team" attitude, it gets me a lot further. I think you have some legit concerns. Teachers should have to justify their procedures to parents--is it possible that maybe this teacher is a newbie and doesn't realize the ridiculous set-up? Or maybe there is a school-wide policy about grading? (I LOVED it when my principal told me how to grade my papers. Grr.) At any rate, ESPECIALLY if it is affecting your kids' grades adversely, you should say something.

Jennifer said...

Welcome to the state that introduced "no child left behind". Stupid, stupid, stupid. They've made it so much about the grade and not so much about the true learning. And teachers are so locked in that they really can't be creative or do fun things anymore. I think it is sad.

I would talk to the teacher and the prinicpal if needed. Especailly about that homework assignment. That is just insane.

I have a friend that is a teacher and she gave one test every six weeks. She said she had to have one grade so that is what she did, and the rest was like you said, practice work. So it can be done differently. I think people need to learn to step outside the box sometimes. All people, not just teachers.

Emily said...

I definitely think that's bogus. We're new to school this year and I'm trying to figure out the how involved is appropriate/normal. Fortunately, we haven't had to deal w/ homework yet!

Bridgett said...

When I taught school, both 1st grade and later with middle school math, homework was a pass/fail. You did it, you passed. You didn't, you failed, meaning you didn't get the points. We corrected it ourselves in class (we didn't trade papers), I did problems on the board to re-explain, and by the end I had a pretty good idea of which students had done the homework. By OCtober, nobody failed homework. There was no reason to. Homework, for me, was key because it showed me whether I'd made any sense the day before. I almost always did, but occasionally there would be a day when nobody understood the homework at all. So I knew I had to reteach some of it. It was a tool. Not an end in itself.

My 3rd grader's homework is assigned every Monday: read or be read to 15 minutes a day (parent signs off); study spelling words for the test on Friday. Coming in October, math facts with the spelling words. That's it. Because it's practice.

In other words, they're wrong at that school. And so many others. IMHO.

Jen said...

This is so confusing. I don't even know where to start.

Vicki said...

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU AND AN AMEN TO THAT! I saw some comments, and I understand all about the ever invasive government, but really......REALLY. We even get a chance to practice without judgment to drive, but we can't learn math without being judged. Why doesn't the government focus more on those like freaking octomom and those who are on welfare (completely fine for those who aren't abusing the system, but we all know that there are so many that are) instead of these poor kids who need a chance to learn. deep deeep deep intake of breath.

Aunt Crazy said...

First time commenter here! You are so very right, the kids desere the chance to practice. I believe the teachers probably don't have choice as to what percentages are applied to what areas of the assignments. My school district is the same as yours. I have always felt like doing well on homework gives you more chances to do better overall on the overall grade if you're having a bad day and bomb a test. I never really thought about it the way you described, as practice.

stephanie (bad mom) said...

Honestly, most of the practice work I give is graded pass/fail and overall weighted lighter than projects & tests so that the end result stuff is worth the most.

This is not rocket science; you're right and I would not call you a pain-in-the-ass parent. I would kill [figuratively of course] for more people like you advocating for their kids.

Buggys said...

This is a totally valid point. Maybe you need to send a note to your son's teacher directing her to read this post. Maybe it will open a new avenue to her.

Wendy said...

I think teachers who don't "test well" themselves are more likely to weight those less.

My kiddo comes home with homework and has no memory of learning any of it at school and NO idea what to do with it. So we spend HOURS AND HOURS teaching it to her every night. Gah.

And their teachers are so completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of paperwork, online crud, and miscellaneous - that when my daughter pigeon-holed half a dozen homework assignments, her teacher never noticed.

It is beyond asinine.