Letters to the Editor

Lower expectations

September 17, 2011


To the editor:

I hope every  parent in the Lawrence school district reads the Journal-World article “Schools phasing out letter grades” (Sept. 11, page 3A). It really doesn’t matter if the performance ratings are A, B, C, D, F or S, M, T, E. What does matter is at what level the student achieves. 

The new marks are:

S — successfully meets standards

M — making progress

T — targeted for growth

E — excels consistently.

The J-W article continues, “While ‘E’ is the highest rating, it sits at the bottom of the list because the district doesn’t want to foster the expectation that every student should get an ‘E.’” Ms. Kobler, director of curriculum and instruction, states that “S” is the goal.

That statement is absolutely phenomenal! Why wouldn’t you expect the student to excel? Granted, in the “politically correct world,” all students should make an “S,” but, in the real world, there are the “E’s” and the “T’s.” A baseball coach doesn’t say “swing the bat; don’t worry about hitting the ball.” Nor does a basketball coach say “hit the backboard; don’t worry about making a basket.” Coaches expect their players to strive for an “E,” not an “S.” A school district shouldn’t say “make an ‘S’; don’t worry about making an ‘E.’”

It is no wonder that many parents are choosing private schools!


labmonkey 6 years, 6 months ago

When 50 million Aidens hit the workforce in 15 years, they will be alright because they have high self-esteem with their S's for grades and mommy will still pack a juice box for their interview.

weeslicket 6 years, 6 months ago

from the lte: A baseball coach doesn’t say “swing the bat; don’t worry about hitting the ball.” Nor does a basketball coach say “hit the backboard; don’t worry about making a basket.” Coaches expect their players to strive for an “E,” not an “S.”

so following this analogy of "striving" for an E, not an S: what batting average would "earn" a player an "E"? 1.000? .400? what shooting percentage would "earn" a player an "E"? 60% 50%

P Allen Macfarlane 6 years, 6 months ago

I remember in graduate school in the late 1970s and again in the late 1980s that most of us considered a B to be the equivalent of a C and that getting an A meant that you excelled in the course, although these days an A is almost considered to be the normal. This is called grade inflation.

My point is that the traditional A-F system of grading is proving to be meaningless at the graduate school level where you would think it should have meaning, So what does this say about the rest of the educational system using this system for grading?

As a middle school teacher I can tell you that grades are not an entirely objective measure of a student's performance and may in fact be very subjective. Teachers often take into account the vague category of class participation, which more often than not has nothing to do with the subject being taught and is more a reward or punishment for behavior. Furthermore, teachers strapped for time or resources typically base their grades on the poorest of assessments, the multiple-choice or true-false test. These tests have very little bearing on proficiency in the subject. Would you be willing to trust a surgeon to operate on you if the basis for his/her license was a multiple-choice or true false test?

So, what do the grades that an instructor or teacher give a student mean? Sorry to say, not very much!

chootspa 6 years, 6 months ago

Exactly. When I was in grad school, they required everyone to get at least a B in all classes, so getting a C would be the equivalent to an F, and getting a B was like getting a C. I don't think that's unusual these days. While I was an undergrad, I ran into a few teachers that literally never gave anyone an A and were rather proud of the fact. I didn't meat anyone who did that in high school, but that doesn't mean there weren't some arbitrary and subjective graders in the lot.

avoice 6 years, 6 months ago

Very true. And I'm glad to see someone in the education system call out the fact that "behavior" is rewarded or punished. Often, the very types of behavior that demonstrate a freethinker who is more likely to mature into an entrepreneur or problem-solver are the types of behavior that are "punished" in the elementary through middle school grades. So it's no wonder that we have squelched creativity and innovation in an entire generation who are now fully in the workforce. And we continue down this path, training more and more sheep and less and less shepherds.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 6 months ago

Wow! You just knocked the ball out of the ball park.

Unfortunately, people with your insight are not calling the shots.

GardenMomma 6 years, 6 months ago

This is why a hybrid of the A-F and the S, M, T, E system should be adopted. Quantify those grades that can be measured and qualify the more subjective criteria such as class participation.

voevoda 6 years, 6 months ago

Mr. Thomsen is incensed by the new grading system because he doesn't understand it. He thinks that "S" is the equivalent of a "C" or even worse. But to use his own analogy, "S" is the equivalent of hitting the ball and scoring a single or a double. "E" is the equivalent of hitting the ball out of the ballpark and scoring a home run. Because students' talents vary, it's reasonable to set "S" as the standard all students should strive for, while reserving "E" to mark those who are truly talented in a particular subject. Any grading system, whether A-F or the new SMTE or a numerical score on a 100 scale, is simply a shorthand to assess the quality of students' learning. All such shorthands are imperfect. The real questions are different: Are teachers giving students detailed feedback about what they're doing right and wrong, and helping them to learn from their mistakes? Are students focused on learning the material?

LisaGreenwood 6 years, 6 months ago

I would go one step further and say that "E" is the equivalent of hitting the ball out of the ballpark and scoring a home run on a consistent basis -- not just a one-time event.

Jimo 6 years, 6 months ago

Who knew that assigning a different letter to a grade would completely transform "what level the student achieves"! As if labels altered substance.

Mr. Thomsen, perhaps you didn't achieve all that much on the taxpayer dime yourself but "what level the student achieves" wouldn't change even if you got rid of grading altogether. Most people realized long ago that "gold star" kids aren't really motivated by gold stars. But those gold stars do serve as a powerful discouragement to the kids who can't achieve at that elite level but otherwise do manage to learn, through trial and effort, exactly what we ask them to learn. Stigmatizing them with some "insufficient" grade when they've learned everything they're supposed to because they aren't themselves a genius with eidetic memory doesn't help anyone.

Besides, a healthy and effective education system isn't one obsessed about quantifying and categorizing those performing at the top of the scale but rather those who are lagging behind, even failing. Perhaps your genius observations might be better focused on those students?

rtwngr 6 years, 6 months ago

Well, you're some genius yourself, there, Jimo. There was nothing wrong with the grading system as it existed for decades until social psychologists determined that poor little Jimo's feelings and self esteem would be hurt if we continued this antiquated practice. Perhaps little Jimo didn't achieve so much on the taxpayer dime because he didn't get so many gold stars. People, such as yourself, need to be taught personal accountability as young as possible. This is the only way we can rid ourselves of this ultra liberal, entitlement attitude that is pervasive in our society today. You and others of your ilk are the problem, Jimo, not the solution.

chootspa 6 years, 6 months ago

Actually, we've been questioning the validity of the letter grade system since 1913. Google and you can learn things. http://www.indiana.edu/~educy520/sec6342/week_07/durm93.pdf

rtwngr 6 years, 6 months ago

We question lots of things, chootspa. I've learned lots of things from Google and other sources as well. You should try other sources too. The "length" of time that we have questioned the validity of letter grades has nothing to do with the discussion. Google that.

chopchop1969 6 years, 6 months ago

As quoted in the article from Journal-World article “Schools phasing out letter grades” (Sept. 11, page 3A)

“ ‘S’ is the goal,” Kobler said.

I hope to never see that quote in a classroom in the district where my kids go to school. Imagine that one hanging on a wall....

And what's the deal with standards-based education that says that kids don't have to do their work? I've heard that zeroes in the grade book aren't supposed to count against a kid under this system too. Even if a kid only does like three out of ten assignments, they are only supposed to be marked on the three that they did. How does that prepare a kid for life?

Always tell a kid to shoot for the stars and that work ethic does determine where you end up. Kobler's message and this whole system is shameful.

LisaGreenwood 6 years, 6 months ago

Nothing about standards-based education says that kids don't have to do their work.

Standards-based grading includes the premise that if a student doesn't complete the work, the student is held accountable until the work is completed. In the "traditional" grading system, many teachers try to "teach" students responsibility by automatically scoring zeros for work not completed ( I used to do this), instead of teaching responsibility by holding the student accountable for actually completing the work. By automatically assigning zeros we are not encouraging students to shoot for the stars -- we are enabling them to take the easy way out instead of doing the work and demonstrating the learning, especially among those students who are not motivated by grades. If I let a student off the hook by just assigning a zero, what is the incentive for that student to develop work ethic?

Read Ken O'Connor's work on standards-based grading, especially "Fifteen fixes for broken grades."

chopchop1969 6 years, 6 months ago

My experiences with my student's teachers is that they do work to avoid zeroes in the grade book by assigning after school time, missing recess, or by calling home if a problem arises. The idea of a earning a bad grade or zero if work is not completed with consequences attached teaches responsibility.

I actually have read O'Connor... the guy has some good points about grading responsibly. One of the messages that he sends though is that a teacher only assesses kids on what they actually do turn in. A zero should never count against a student. That idea... it just isn't real-life. If I don't show up for work multiple days, or don't get work my work done on time... I'm judged on that.

You can't separate work ethic behavior and performance, which is what O'Connor suggests teachers do. I would rather my kids learn responsibility at school (at home too) early on, rather than wait until high school. By then, the lack of consequences becomes too costly of a lesson.

I still cannot stand the idea that "S" is the goal either. Why not let parents be the judge of what is truly satisfactory?

avoice 6 years, 6 months ago

Another very good point. Kids who are intimidated by a particular type of assignment, such as writing an essay, will calculate the damage that punting the assignment might cause to a grade. If they determine they can skip writing the essay and still overall achieve the "C" level, or "S" level, then they may choose not to do the assignment at all. When they get into the workforce, will they be able to keep a job if they have learned to negotiate in this way throughout their school years?

kgrimes 6 years, 6 months ago

My motivation to succeed in school came not from what grades I received, but from my own personal goals and the persuasion of my parents. It seems like those of you who are complaining about this change forget that it's mostly YOUR job to motivate your child, not your school's. Grow up and be the adult.

avoice 6 years, 6 months ago

A good argument for homeschooling, then. Don't forget that parents have no control over the daily influence of the classroom experiences their children receive. As pointed out in several posts above, kids determine how to work a system as they go through their 13 years of k-12 education. By the time they reach the workforce, college or a trade school, they have been heavily influenced by their classroom experiences, which often counteract the values and work ethic that parents would prefer to have instilled in their children.

mr_right_wing 6 years, 6 months ago

Sounds like it could be a 'cost saving measure'. If there are no 'F" there is no 'failure' then no need to repeat that grade or subject. As long as you're in school for 12 years you get your diploma!

teacherspet2 6 years, 6 months ago

Chuck, I appreciate your letter and I would like to encourage any person concerned about this new grading system to contact Angelique Kobler at the district office, 832-5000. This system was sprung on the 6th grade teachers during the first full week of school. Those teachers coming up from the elementary school were told at the end of the last school year that standards based grading would not follow the sixth graders to the middle level. Those teachers agreeing to teach 6th grade that were currently in the junior high setting were not even aware that the standards based grading system was going to be used. The fact that the district did not discuss this decision with the teachers who would be using it should be concerning to the public. The sixth grade teachers were given a one hour training session to answer their questions. This unilateral decision is not acceptable and the training was a joke. I would urge the public to stand on the side of the public teacher, who already has plenty of work on their plate already.

gccs14r 6 years, 6 months ago

The letter grade is supposed to be shorthand for a performance score. The real grade should be a number like 87.4, or 74.2, indicating what percentage of the material has been learned, with a letter grade assigned to make the grades more easily read and to indicate whether the percentage of the material learned is adequate to advance to the next level. Those letter grades are supposed to be further subdivided with plusses and minuses, too, because there is a big difference between a 79.6 and an 89.4, the lesser of which is often rounded up to a B, but one is a B+ and the other is a C+.

ljwhirled 6 years, 6 months ago

Who cares? It is all about what you can do in the real world. Grades are BS. Test scores are BS. Degrees are BS.

Your career will likely be determined by:

  1. Who do you know.
  2. Luck.
  3. Who likes you ( interpersonal skills ).
  4. What you can do.

In that order.

sickofdummies 6 years, 6 months ago

I agree that changing a test based grading system does not encourage the students to strive for excellence. If not for percentage based letter grades, how does a student measure his or her growth. For kgrimes, who claims to be the only self motivated, goal setting teenager I've ever heard of, how would you measure your improvement if there is not a definitive measure of academic learning?
I also must disagree with dowser. The SMTE grading system is much more subjective than standard letter grades. It has more to do with behavior than anything else. At least with traditional grading, grades are based on test scores, percentage correct on homework, etc, and the student is clear on what was done wrong, and how to improve. With performance based grades, it is all opinion.
I remember wondering in kindergarten why my child only received an S on her report card for knows numbers 1-100. The teacher explained that she either knows or doesn't. I wondered, my child had been reciting her numbers since she was 3. By kindergarten she could count 1-100 and then do it in reverse. There were some children who were just learning their numbers. So, what did she have to do to be considered excellent at this skill? I'd been telling her for 2 1/2 years that she was doing an outstanding job, but now her report card says that she's just average? My daughter went to middle school this year, and I thought, "Finally. Some accountability." After years of being babied in elementary, finally everything would count toward her grade. I was thrilled with the prospect of her learning the value of striving for excellence and taking pride in every assignment. Alas, I guess that was just a dream.
I also wonder what will happen when we throw the 8th graders, who will not be used to the traditional grading system into High School. In Middle School, there is still a learning curve. There is room to make mistakes and learn the lessons that are important. What will happen when they have to wait until High School to learn those lessons? By High School, mistakes cause much more damage. Grades are on the transcript that will be received by prospective colleges. There is no room for a learning curve there. I say, lets make sure that kids not only strive for excellence, and learn work ethic, as well as academics, but lets teach them these valuable lessons while they still have the wiggle room to learn them.

sickofdummies 6 years, 6 months ago

But if everyone is just striving for satisfactory, then how does anyone improve? If 75% is good enough for a coach, and he doesn't expect 100%, how is anyone considered any better than anyone else? What about that player who hits 100% of the free throws? Aren't they more appealing to a coach than the player who only hits 75%? This world is competitive, and we have to teach our children to strive for the absolute best that they can do, or lets face it, they'll get left behind at some point. You just used percentages as a measure of skill, but if you took those percentages away, how would you measure?

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