Thoughts While Drowning

While I am drowning under piles of paper, I’d like to direct you to an article our principal emailed to us today.

Here is the link:

http://www.naesp.org/resources-principal-marchapril-2012/ten-teen-eliminating-d-2

And the citation:

“Eliminating the D” by Tracey Severns in Principal, March/April 2012 (Vol. 91, #4, p. 44-45), http://www.naesp.org

Now our principal has not fully endorsed the ideas expressed in this article, but he thought they would give us all some things to think about.

I think he is right, and I am very glad he sent it. In fact, although I support most of what the article is claiming, I am now re-thinking some ideas I had previously taken for granted.

But since, while drowning, one has little time to come up with more than desperate fleeting thoughts, I’ll give you my unformed impressions of key parts of the article:

I LOVED this:

My first challenge was to dispel the notion that students had the “right to fail.” Previously, teachers believed that it was their job to teach and the students’ responsibility to learn. This belief needed to be replaced by an uncompromising commitment to student success. (Sevens)

I could relate to this. Any teacher can:

My research suggested that students seemed to fail due to one or a combination of three factors— attitude (students who were able but not willing), ability (students who were willing but unable), and attendance (students who didn’t come to school). We created a plan specifically designed to address each contributing factor and communicated it to parents, students, and teachers by posting it on the website and distributing it to all constituencies. (Ibid)

I wasn’t so sure about this one:

[…] all students have an opportunity to submit missed homework assignments the next day for partial credit and receive up to three days to retake a failed assessment for a maximum score of 70 percent. Teachers initially did not like this idea, but they came to see the benefit of providing students with multiple opportunities to learn and to demonstrate their achievement. They accepted the philosophy that because we want students to learn and the assignments are worthy, then we shouldn’t accept zeros or walk away from students who didn’t learn. (Ibid, emphasis added)

So you have to create even more assessments than usual? Like, at least twice as many so that the kids who fail the first one can take the second one?

Because taking the SAME English test after failing it the first time would not really demonstrate any real learning. It would only demonstrate that the kid is smart enough to ask his friend for the answers.

Moreover, it’s unclear to me whether or not the article is advocating that “zeros” be never given (read: earned) on an assignment that is not an assessment. What does it mean that “we never accept zeros”? Surely, they ought not to be ‘acceptable’ to the students or the teacher in the ethical sense, but sometimes students really do earn them. As in, that is the only just grade to give.

So, at this school, do students have until the end of the semester? So teachers have to accept work that was due back in August in November and December and grade it then? Uh… no way.

Recently, a parent of one of my students became enraged when she realized that her son had earned a zero because I do not accept late minor homework assignments (like, the little 10 point ones I give almost every day). “My son is not a zero!”

No, but a late minor homework assignment is, as I made abundantly clear in the beginning of the year on page two of the syllabus.

Well, anyway. Please read the whole article and tell me what you think. I’m running out of air and I need to save it for grading papers.