In Which Dr. J. Takes Umbridge with The Czar

Dolores Umbridge that is:

Shorter Dolores: If I SAY they’re meeting expectations, they are meeting expectations, even if they aren’t.

Like Columbia J-School students are taught, draw them in with a headline, no matter how inaccurate.

Dr. J. read with great enjoyment The Czar’s post regarding the elimination of letter grades in School District 95, and using a standards based report card system for elementary grade students. Dr. J. read the same article as the Czar, and while he largely agrees with the sentiments, he has a different perspective on what it sounds like they’re trying to do.

Let us think about how the article envisions elementary school, and that is ‘Junior Junior High School.” Kids go to school, are assigned work in school in various subjects, do homework and take tests in various subjects. Each marking period they get a letter grade in the subject based on an aggregate of the mastery of the material (test scores), work ethic (homework) and participation (behavior and discussion in class). That’s all well and good in 4th grade (the seniors of the elementary school) but that is not how things work in kindergarten, or even first or second grade.

As our readers know, the Lil Resident and Lil Medstudent attend the New Atlantis Jedi Academy. The grading system evolves from a standards based approach in pre-kindergarten to a letter grade system in third grade. This is deliberate in that the goals for Pre-K-2 revolve around learning the skills needed to learn (learning to read and count and learn basic arithmetic and geometric concepts so to speak) and in third grade the students begin using the skills developed in Pre-K-2 in order to begin learning subject matter while at the same time mastering those foundational skills developed in the younger years. As a consequence traditional grades in Pre-K-2 are not of as much value to the teachers, or the parents, as getting into the weeds of the specific components of, say, reading, which are vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, analysis, and writing ability. And while this sounds like poppycock, those standardized tests your kids will take to qualify for the magnets, or for private school or take simply as gateway drugs for the PSAT, SAT, SAT II and ACT also break things down, not just by subject matter, but also by the learning elements mentioned above, both so as to identify problems with the individual and with the class or school.

Digression: Dr. J. has a pair of posts coming in the coming days about standardized testing, independent schools and curriculum, but you will have to wait for those installments.

Now it is not clear where the grades of Advanced, Proficient and Basic come from in the article. Are they the whim of the progressive author or the plan of the progressive educators? The Jedi Academy has a similar grading system for the younglings (Pre-K through 2) and the Padawans have letter grades.

This is the grading system for the younglings:

PreK-1 – M for Meeting Expectations, P for Progressing with Support and N Needs improvement. In second grade an E for Excellent is added. In co-curricular classes (Art, Music, PE, etc.) it is E for excellent, S+/S/S- for satisfactory and N for needs improvement.

Furthermore, the children are graded in different cognitive areas such as vocabulary, reading fluency, comprehension, writing skills, behavior, math, motor skills in younger years. In other words rather then getting three grades they get about 15 grades and if there is an area where they need assistance (via getting a P or an N) the teachers and parents partner with the child to provide support in those deficient areas such that by the time they hit 3rd grade, they’re hopefully ready to go. If the child is doing poorly (a legion of N’s) that conversation is happening between the parents, teacher, dean, and ultimately Master Yoda, and sometimes a child have to leave the Jedi Academy and move on to Bounty Hunter school or such).

The big difference between the Jedi Academy and the grading system in the article is that Advanced, Proficient and Basic are meaningless. Those grades, if they are used suck. All of them say the kid is at least doing fine.

This is why The Czar is probably chafing under the collar. These are VERY different from M, P and N (with the carrot of an E added in second grade) that the Jedi Academy uses. Two of the three grades mean ‘we have work to do, and improvements to be made, ‘ in other words, THINGS AREN’T FINE.

Lets take the Lil Medstudent as an example. He is wicked bright and academically he had straight M’s Indeed, if he could get E’s he probably would, but his teacher recognizes this and graduated him from the school’s standard readers and is giving him harder reading work in a stealthy manner. He doesn’t need an E for his teacher to see that he’s smoking his peers academically and needs additional work.

What the Lil Medstudent builds in his free time.

He is getting a couple P’s in behavior dimension, however. He will occasionally blurt out the answer, fidget, and once in a while not listen to the teacher when asked to put away a Japor Snippet brought in to school unbeknownst to mom and dad. He will even sit on the back of his chair while working. He’s working, and working well, but in positions even a Yogi would hurt to watch. Most of it is typical boy behavior. None of it is a big deal, or affects academic performance, but it is an area where he could do a better job and still be his outgoing charismatic self rather than one of the narcotized conformist castrati that represent the public school union ideal for boys.

We are partnering with his teacher to help him work on some of the behavioral skills required to participate in an outstanding manner in the class community. He’s improved greatly over the year, and really it’s all small stuff. His teacher adores him. The kids who get N’s in behavior are truly disruptive and need a lot of work. Dr. J. is amused at some of it, as he was the same way, but Mrs. Dr. J. who attended Catholic School is ready to bust out the ruler for anything less than perfection.

The take home point is that Dr. J. is fine with accountable standards based grades. It worked for him when he was a kid, it works for his kids. It also focuses on the dimensions of learning that Pre-K through second graders should be evaluated upon as a skill set prior to moving on to upper elementary school, junior high and beyond. If any of those foundational skills are weak, it bodes poorly for the future. Dr. J. also believes that they should NOT be used beyond second grade.

The big issue is accountablility and the grades proposed in the article are crap, but they may not represent the plan that the school is implementing and may just be the whim of the author. A system like the Jedi Academy’s is deliberate, purposeful and insures the foundational skills are developed in the early years so that the children have a productive future, rather than pigeon hole the skills in traditional academic disciplines which are more valuable to evaluate when the kids are ‘reading to learn’ as they say.

Dr. J. suspects that the author of the article probably didn’t understand the issues at hand. Furthermore if they go with the grades presented in the article, or use them above second grade they they are truly doing the kids a disservice and The Czar has every right to borrow Mandy’s Boot to the Gut™ to bring over to the school.

About Dr. J.

Dr. J. was born the son of a New Atlantean sharecropper who cornered the market on notoriously delicious seaweed Himanthalia elongata (popularly known as Thongweed). With his newly minted seaweed fortune, Mr. J. the Elder sent his son to attend the Academy of Sorcery, Alchemy and Surgery where the good doctor apprenticed with the finest sorcerer surgeons in New Atlantis. Dr. J.'s areas of expertise grew to include bleeding, cutting for stone, trephination, medical divination with outstanding spatial and temporal resolution, cybernetic sorcery and medicinal alchemy. When King Orin of Atlantis fell ill with the Ick, Dr. J. stepped in with an elixir he devised from a combination of minerals, herbs and saps. Curing the king, Dr. J. gained significant notoriety which afforded him the luxury of time to devote himself to his side hobbies which include porpoise racing, the study of supply-side economics, cooking and raising his lovely merchildren alongside his lovely bride the archconservative Mrs. Dr. J.