Scaling grades sets dangerous precedent

People seem to be moving on from what was probably the most media coverage grade 11 math has ever received anywhere ever, but can we pause for a moment and consider the (absolutely ludicrous) outcome of all this?

For those that haven’t been following the story, parents began raising concerns in early January about their children’s (mostly failing) high school math grades. Though the teachers’ union normally does not comment on personnel matters, NWTU President Grant Osborne defended the teacher in question, saying that if there are problems, they stem from the (recently revised) curriculum, not the individual “hard marking” teacher. Parents continued to be upset, district administrators tried to diffuse the situation, revisions to the complaints process were presented, and high school students on both sides wrote letters to the local papers.

And then report cards came out and students saw their grades suddenly and inexplicably jump five to 15 per cent.

Why? Because district administrators (though no one  is saying who) scaled their marks.

There are several ways that scaling can be done, but basically students’ grades are compared with each other and students are assigned new grades based on where they fall on a relative scale.

Though I’ll admit that the district’s decision to up students’ math marks rubs me the wrong way (I think it sends a dangerous message to students about the value of grades, and how to go about getting what you want), what I am most concerned about is the doubt it casts on teachers’ abilities to do their jobs.

According to Osborne, members of the high school’s math department weren’t consulted or asked to have any part in the scaling.

I’m not insensitive to the feelings of “demoralization” that these failing students allegedly felt. Math is a hard subject — something, like the girl who spent many nights in tears over her looming final exam, I know from personal experience.

But responding to mass failure by simply elevating marks to passing grades helps no one. It renders grades meaningless and says that teachers know neither how to teach nor evaluate their students.

Instead of fully investigating the problem, administrators have slapped a quick fix on it, potentially rewarding students their for laziness and stripping the teacher of her authority.

Osborne has called the decision to scale “new territory” for the district and says he’s worried about the precedent it has set.

I, for one, have to agree. Is indiscriminately boosting marks by entire letter grades regardless of ability or effort to about become the new norm? It’s a question I’m afraid to learn the answer to.

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6 thoughts on “Scaling grades sets dangerous precedent

  1. Thanks for printing this.
    some clarification and details you may not know. The other (fourth)NWSS class taking the same Math course taught by a different teacher did not have the failing grades and did not have marks scaled.
    The district was notified of this problem in October. After waiting a painful 3 months with no change, investigation, monitoring or follow up to the concerns raised, the parents went public(media) in January. This in itself is disheartening. The district does not respond (action not just words and a pat on the shoulder) to parent and student concerns, spread over several years, regarding the same issue. In regards to comment about “laziness” of the students. These students in the three classes, could not have tried harder. Many had private tutors, others were going to tutorials several times per week and spending most lunch hours reviewing math. These children’s comments are “we could not be trying any harder”. Most of their energy and time this semester was devoted to studying math, and neglecting the other three courses in the semester. It is very insulting and hurtful to print they were not trying hard enough and lazy. Incidentally, that is the first comment most parents told them when they had failing grades. “Try harder”, up to the point it was realizedthat all three classes, taught by the same teacher were failing the exams.
    The ministry of education has not had any other complaints about this math course (FOM 11) from other districts or teachers. This course is presently being taughth in three maritime provinces and Alberta.

    • Thank you for your comment. From the outside, it’s impossible to know what was actually going on, and I definitely sympathize with the frustration of students and their parents. It was not my intention to say that all students in these classes are lazy or not trying hard enough, only that, at least from what I read, there was little investigation into the curriculum or the study habits of students… pretty much all criticism seemed to be directed at the teacher. All I’m trying to say is that I don’t think scaling students’ grades was an appropriate response by the district.

      As for removing your name from your comment, I apologize, but I’m new to this and I don’t think that I am able to do that. I can delete your comment altogether if you’d like. Let me know.

      • sure, just delete the comment. I can rewrite signed concerned parent. I agree scaling is not appropriate. It feels very wrong. I imagine this is what taking a bribe feels like, in exchange for not complaining any further and silence. Agreed, the study habits of 83 students might be investigated, but are they really that different form the other 31 in the other teacher’s class who aren’t failing or getting supplemental help. According to last year’s provincial exam with less than 10% failure rate, these students are not a particularly lazy group of students who don’t have the ability to learn and grasp concepts.

      • I actually figured out how to change the name that appears on your comment so no need to re-post.

        Today I read that administrators are actually going to be reviewing each students’ marks individually, which makes me wonder what happened to the scaled marks. Did they scale the marks as a temporary fix and will be reviewing them later?

  2. The students marked were individually looked at before being raised. I have heard ranges from 0 (no mark adjustment) to increases of 35%.

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