Grade Zero

The Czar is on a full-tilt rage this morning, so look out.

The Czar is wont to read local newspapers; as you know, he thinks the entire newspaper industry is a dying business model, but enjoys reading the wit and wisdom sometimes tucked away inside the police blotters.

In his hands now is The Landmark, a local paper that covers the communities well East of Muscovy, including LaGrange, Brookfield, Riverside, and so forth. The Landmark is a pretty good paper, with good photographers, decent writers, and stories of genuine local interest—some of which the local politicians might wish were not shared. It is quite likely that this paper has swung elections in its past, given that these are Cook County suburbs and therefore quite succeptible to corruption from time to time.

But a story on page 7 of the January 30, 2013, edition set us off. Local residents should be grateful the paper covered this because you can bet this is one that probably would have been kept quite confidential until it was too late.

School District 95, which covers Brookfield and LaGrange Park, is eliminating letter grades for the elementary schools in one of the most egregious cases of stupid liberal progressivism. What a cliché! Take an idea from the 1970s that has been repeatedly tried and consistently failed, and try to reimplement it again under the most ridiculous fantasies.

In place of the familiar A–F grades, they will be moving students to the following:

  • AD Advanced
  • PR Proficient
  • BA Basic

And that’s it. Your child will either be advanced, proficient, or basic in a given subject.

You have already noticed that there is no FAILED option, because now…no students will fail.

Why? Because now there will be some flexibility. Some students are not good at a certain subject, but try really hard. This gives the teacher some flexibility to work with a student without necessarily condemning them to a failed grade. Or as the Landmark explained it:

Instead of a teacher adding up the number of points a student has earned and dividing them by the total number possible to achieve a letter grade, a teacher on a standards-based report card can evaluate different aspects of a certain subject.

For example, a reading teacher might evaluate a student’s vocabulary and language fluency and separately evaluate the student’s reading comprehension, ability to analyze materia and writing ability.

Got all that? Because the paper pretty much took that nonsense right off some official explanation from the district. You can tell because it makes no sense to a reasonable person.

But step back: take note that while you can be Advanced, Proficient, or Basic, there still is no capacity to fail. All this system has done, in effect, is lop off D and F grades, right? Because AD, PR, and BA are what is exactly meant by A, B, and C grades today.

Now, doubtless the Czar will be told that this is not the case, because this is moving to reflect how the student performs against the standards—which are what, by the way? State? Local? Who knows.—and not how the student performs the rest of the class.

And that is the whole point: this pretends to pit the student against himself, rather than the rest of the class—but it does not work that way. This is pure liberal bullshit theory, no matter how you rename it. This has been tried repeatedly forty years ago and it blew up every time because you cannot use an individualized grading system if you are teaching students as a class. You can use an individualized grading system if you teach students individually—but localized, private instruction is antithetical to liberal teaching theory which wants students not home-schooled, but militarized into class structures.

So here is the twist: liberals love the class structure, but they hate the effects it produces—students competing against each other. As a result, some students excel and others fail. And about 50%—follow us here—wind up as average.

You put students into a situation where statistics rule absolutely but then pretend the math no longer applies to you. What’s the average of the following amounts: 44,73,93,22, 52, 74, 47, 59? According to Brookfield-LaGrange Park, the answer is “Basic.” Any task which can be performed can be measured: yes, you can measure students’ performance reliably and easily with numbers.

This gets even dumber. Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski—who utterly fails to impress us with his grasp of science—says:

We know A is good and D is bad. But what it doesn’t tell us is exactly what did the student do to achieve the A, and secondly, it doesn’t tell us, in the instance of when a student is a C, if there are certain things that he did extremely well and others that he did really poorly on, and the average of those things makes a C.

Here is a clue, since obviously not enough people are spending time in a classroom these days with the kids. If Angela gets an A, her teacher can exactly tell you by looking at the freaking record book. If Timothy gets a D, his teacher can use the same simple resource to check into it. And the District thinks that parents don’t know this? Timothy’s mom and dad ought to know, due to a combination of doing homework together, attending parent-teacher conferences, emails, and reviewing graded papers the student brings home precisely where he or she is heading grade-wise.

And if not, shame on them. If Timothy gets a D and his parents are surprised by it, then they deserve the blame.

Okay, but even so: how does AD, PR, and BA answer this question? My kid got a PR in Reading. So freaking what? Is he able to read? Is he able to follow along? If he reading above a 6th-grade level? All this tells the Czar is that he is proficient—not necessarily better than or even at some unspecified standard.

This grading system tells us even less. And God help your heads’ attachment to your necks if you tell us that we can better determine this through a combination of parental involvement in homework, conferences, emails, and schoolwork review: because that’s what is already happening but with more granularity thanks to A-F grading.

Nothing is more discouraging to a child than a D or failing grade.

Exactly, morons. That is why we try to avoid them! If a child knows he can be a total jackass in class and still be BAsic, then guess what: there is no incentive to avoid bad things. Where have we heard this before? Wait until you see how many students wind up getting BAs.

Looks like someone in that District got a BA in math:

If a student has four perfect test scores and fails one test miserably, what is the best way to evaluate that performance?

Um, the record book: 100, 100, 100, 100, and 32. That tells parents and teachers the student screwed up the last test and winds up with an 86.4, which is a B/B+. That’s pretty good.

But if the student had a medical situation, a death in the family, or some other extenuating circumstance, nearly any teacher will let the student retake the exam. If however the student screwed around and did not ask for help and did not get the material, then the student deserves the 32 and therefore the B.

What the student does not deserve is a PR grade for the year, and a BA for the exam because now the student and parents have no idea what happened. Says the soon-to-be-voted-out School Board President James Landahl:

I think parents appreciate diving in deeper than just the letter grade.

Wow. So giving them a hazier grading system is diving in deeper? How about a letter grade, plus parent-teacher communications? Like we have now?

Standards-based reporting is not a new concept. It’s been around for more than 20 years, but it hasn’t been implemented widely. Part of the reason is cost….And there’s simply the issue of comfort.

No, this concept has been around a lot longer than that; and the reason it is not implemented widely has little to do with cost and comfort—it has everything to do with effectiveness.

Standards-based reporting has been used in Physical Education classes for years, right? No one really fails Gym, but students are lumped into three categories as to whether they are very good, so-so, or putzes. And certainly simpler systems work for K-3 because kids are not cohesively learning performance-based material at that young age. But does anyone think this method is great for math, reading, science, or social studies? Evidently so.

Parents sure disagree that the system provides more information; in fact, parents find they get little useful information out of it. But school districts are indeed looking seriously at this across the country, not realizing that under its new, rebranded name, this was tried before. And something like 100% of the shools who did this in the late 1960s and early 1970s ditched this nonsense and went back to letter grades because they work.

In fact, if you Google standards based reporting, you find no shortage of stories about schools considering this “new” grading system; but Google back to letter grades and you find about as many stories about schools ditching this hippie nonsense. And when you have an equal measure of schools adopting it as dropping it, it tells you that for every school that adopts it, it goes back in a few years to letter grades. All at taxpayer expense.

Want to know who seriously considers this stuff? Let us return to quote of quotes from Mr. Kuzniewski:

To those who argue that the traditional grading system is what students will encounter in high school and college and, therefore, they ought to be exposed to it in grade school, Kuzniewski argued that isn’t the mission of elementary and middle schools.

You read that right. The job of elementary and middle schools is not to prepare students for the rest of their education.

Kuzkiewsky adds:

The zero is the most damning of grades because it’s the lowest and has the most significant impact on a grade.

Verily, then, we assign this school district a grade of 0.

About The Czar of Muscovy

Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia by upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.