Teachers flunk lax experimental grading system in Rochester schools

The experimental grading system introduced in Rochester public schools was supposed to level the playing field for students. No more grades based on traditional testing, class participation and other factors, but rather on one overall evaluation known as a summative assessment. The district’s website puts it this way:

Students can show mastery in many ways. Grades will be based on summative assessments of skills. These assessments could take the form of a discussion, a writing assignment, a performance and more. Grades will not only be based on traditional tests.

But almost two years into the experiment, the feel-good gimmick known as Grading for Learning has been dubbed Grading for Apathy by some disillusioned teachers, according to a blunt Post Bulletin account.

Take test-taking. Failing a test is not the black mark it once was. Today’s RPS students, if they fail a test, get multiple bites at the apple until they pass.

Today, homework is no longer called “homework” but “practice.” But whatever the name, it no longer can count toward a student’s grade. Nor can tardiness, behavior or class participation. Students can’t fail. Instead they get “no credit.”

Whatever their aptitude, teachers say students are smart enough to figure out how to take advantage of the lax system, openly flaunting the “anything goes” approach to taking tests and other requirements.

Many teachers say they find the system endlessly frustrating because of the workload it has created for them when students get multiple do-overs.

They say that the system creates an unhealthy chain-reaction in many students. Knowing that homework is not graded, they chose not to do it. And because they haven’t done the homework or other non-grading assignments, they aren’t prepared to take the exam, which they can take multiple times anyway.

As teachers hand out an exam, it is not uncommon to hear students ask, “when is the re-take?”

The built-in incentives that encouraged students to take their school work seriously in the traditional system no longer apply. Teachers feel they’ve lost some of the leverage that drives students to excel in school and the real world.

“There’s a certain feeling of reward,” said one middle school teacher speaking about the value of grading homework. “They don’t have that intrinsic motivation. (When they get an A on their homework), it’s like getting a bonus paycheck.”

John Marshall High School math teacher Jake Johnson said the problems and challenges teachers are confronting with Grading for Learning stem from flawed training and roll-out.

Johnson limits student test re-takes to within two weeks of the first exam. Yet, some teachers are under the impression that they can’t impose deadlines and boundaries within Grading For Learning.

As expected, some Rochester educators praise the new evaluation system for taking a bold, innovative approach to learning and self actualization.

[Mayo High School teacher Scott] Lyke said Grading for Learning has a “pure aspect to it.” It’s an attempt, he said, to move education to a place where “we wish it would be — where everybody’s kind of moving at their own pace and where everybody’s kind of coming to their own discoveries.”

“Part of this is trying to move education to being something where we’re learning for the sake of learning, as opposed to learning for the sake of figuring out where I fit in the ranking,” Lyke said.

Students may no longer be allowed to fail for all practical purposes in Rochester schools, but the district’s new grading system is failing in the eyes of many teachers. No wonder the newly named superintendent acknowledges that the experimental system needs a summative assessment itself.

Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel, who was not the district’s leader when the system went districtwide last year, said Rochester should take a comprehensive look at Grading for Learning, both in terms of implementation and lessons learned, next year.

“We know that grading issues go to the core of education,” he said, “and it’s always a complex conversation.”