I went to “Meet The Teachers” night at our kids’ school this evening, and during the introductory presentation the school’s principal outlined the new marking strategy they have implemented for “measuring” students’ learning performance. I put measuring in quotes because the entire process appears highly subjective, allowing scores of 1-4, representing “Does not meet expectations”, “Basic”, “Good”, and “Excellent.”
No More Percentages!
While meeting the math teacher, I asked him, “How do you mark exams? Suppose a test has ten questions on it and a student gets 7 of those questions correct, what score does he or she get?” The math teacher replied “We don’t add up the number of right or wrong answers, we circle the mistakes made on the test and then evaluate what level of understanding the student has of the material.”
While contemplating this new approach, several thoughts emerged from the brain soup. The first was that this new system appears to encourage students to do a good enough job. After all, without actually quantifying performance, there can be no competition. Two students in the hall discussing the evaluation they both received on a recent test might compare their two papers. Suppose one student had three mistakes circled while the other had five. If they both achieved a “Good” mark on the test, what motivation is there for the student who got five mistakes to improve his or her understanding, attention to detail, or investment level in the material since the outcome of his test was identical to that of a student who got fewer mistakes? What satisfaction is there for the student who got fewer answers wrong when the outcome “mark” was identical to a student who performed worse on the same test?
The second thought which emerged, was more a question I should have asked the math teacher but did not think of it at the time, “Are you going to teach the math students about percentages?” 😉
If I were a student in this new system, My first order of business would be to find the lines – test the boundaries of each of those new grade points. Then, I would apply myself only as much as I needed to obtain a satisfactory grade. After all, without the ability to fail students any more, regardless of whether or not I learn the material, I cannot be held back a grade. Whether I excel or get dragged through the years, there are no consequences for my actions while I am still in school. What this new system fails to do is to prepare students to enter the real world, the world that cares about performance, accuracy, precision, motivation. Imagine if the world of sport stopped keeping score and measured both teams’ performance based on Not acceptable, Good, or Excellent. It doesn’t work that way. Or imagine the CEO of a large company asking one of the sales representatives how much he sold that month. The sales rep informs the CEO that he sold “enough” and they high-five in the hallway. That’s not the real world, but I suspect if they haven’t already stopped keeping score in school sporting events, it’s being considered in board rooms as we speak. After all, having a score makes winners and losers, and losing is bad for self esteem. I disagree. Losing is part of life – you do not always win. In fact, I would submit that most people will experience “losing” far more frequently they experience “winning.” Consider a race where many people run but only one contestant wins. Or consider the Olympics and how many people compete in each event, where there is only one gold medal awarded. One winner, dozens of losers. By not preparing our children for inevitable losses, we are not preparing them for real life.
Lessons From Losing
Losing teaches valuable lessons, and I would argue that it teaches far more than does winning. First of all, when you lose, you evaluate what you did wrong and could have done better, motivating you to improve in specific areas. That process gives birth to goals, and spawns the desire to improve. Secondly, losing keeps you humble, a character trait in decline among society. Thirdly, being familiar with the sensation of losing makes the times when you win that much sweeter. Fourthly, those who are familiar with losing ought to be more gracious when they win to those who have not.
The student who fails a test, goes home and studies, and then gets a high score on his next test has a much higher sense of accomplishment because he’s first had the experience of failing that test. This “can do no wrong” approach will ruin our children.