Monday, March 25, 2013

Texas Bill To Fight Inflation (of Grades)

On March 21, 2013, the Texas Senate passed a bill to better define and combat "grade inflation". The bill clarifies how cumulative grades are to be calculated by educational institutions. Furthermore, it forbid the misrepresentation of the grades deserved by a student.

The State House of Representatives has received SB 132 and related it to its respective committees for analysis and recommendation.

Here is the text of the bill as passed by the State Senate:

S.B. No. 132 
relating to the contents and applicability of a school district's grading policy. 
       SECTION 1.  Section 28.0216, Education Code, is amended to read as follows: 
       Sec. 28.0216.  DISTRICT GRADING POLICY.  (a)  Before each school year, a [A] school district shall adopt a grading policy, including provisions for the assignment of grades on class assignments and examinations and the calculation of cumulative averages of grades[, before each school year].  A district grading policy: 
             (1)  must require a [classroom] teacher to assign a grade that reflects the student's relative mastery of the subject without employing grade inflation or misrepresenting a student's deserved grade [an assignment]; 
             (2)  may not require a [classroom] teacher to assign a minimum grade [for an assignment] without regard to the student's quality of work; and 
             (3)  may allow a student a reasonable opportunity to make up or redo a class assignment or examination for which the student received a failing grade. 
       (b)  A district grading policy shall apply to the assignment of a grade for which written notice is required under Section 28.022(a)(2), in addition to any other grade assigned by the district. 
       SECTION 2.  This Act applies beginning with the 2013-2014 school year. 
       SECTION 3.  This Act takes effect immediately if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution.  If this Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this Act takes effect September 1, 2013.

"Grade Inflation" harms students. While some may argue that it "spares" students' "feelings", it actually handicaps their successes later in life.

There are reasons why employers place more value on an applicant with a degree from Harvard, Princeton, or Yale over one from Whatsamatter U. The ivy-league schools have histories of high standards, challenging curricula, and higher quality graduates. It is also why the tuition at those universities are much higher. In addition, their admissions criteria are also higher. If they inflated their grades, the degrees they issue would lose value.

The same concept trickles down to elementary and high schools. Inflated grades give a false perception of ability and achievement. It devalues higher grade point averages which can lead to heart-crushing failing grades at more challenging universities and colleges.

Inflated grades also destroy a valuable metric. They mislead how well a student is doing and hide areas where a student may need to work harder or seek improvement. They also lead to students graduating high school with "B averages" who are illiterate.

Teachers, administrators, and unions support grade inflation. Grade inflation leads to pay bonuses. It leads to higher salaries. It leads to increased funding. It leads to higher union dues. All of this at the cost of them actually doing their jobs in teaching our kids. In short, grade inflation is fraud.

This bill identifies that fraud and holds educators accountable for it.

However, regard the wording of that bill. It states "relative mastery". This begs the question "mastery relative to what constant?".

Many schools set minimum goals by grade level. Those may be at or above state and national standards. They may be lower, though. Many schools are starting to allow students more say in those goals and standards. They are allowing kids to say what they want to achieve in that quarter or year. Their grades are then determined, in part, by how close they come to achieving or surpassing those goals.

That looks great on a Power Point presentation. It does not do so well in practice.

Human Nature teaches us two things. First, it teaches us that human beings, especially Americans, will rise to a challenge. They will fight hard to overcome obstacles as long as the reward is deemed worthy of the effort. The second thing it teaches us is the important one to consider. That is that human beings, in general, are inherently lazy. Most people will do the bare minimum to reach a standard unless there is some motivating factor to do more.

A third grader should not be allowed to have educational goals of reading at a first grade level, spelling monosyllabic words, and writing a 100-word essay with less than 20 grammatical errors. A fourth grader should not aspire to know multiplication tables 0-10 and being able to give change for $1. If those are their "set goals", their "relative mastery" may be high. But their acceptable mastery are failing.

There need to be set minimum standards. Those standards should be the difference between an "F" and a "D". Teachers are supposed to use a tool called Bloom's Taxonomy (or a better one in the Revised Taxonomy) in developing grading rubrics. At the lowest box of that rubric is the "passing standard". That passing standard is a "D" and does not represent "mastery". It represents "familiarity".

Students need to be taught how to understand that a minimum standard is a minimum standard. They need to learn that minimum effort and minimum achievement garner minimum rewards. They need to see that working harder and achieving higher goals yield higher rewards, like getting into better colleges or earning higher salaries. It's how the world works.