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.