What do grades mean? Separate achievement from behaviors.

Do you want a cardiac surgeon who just tried really hard in medical school and residency or one who actually mastered the skill of heart surgery? Or as I asked in a previous post, do you want to sit in an airplane with a pilot who tried really hard in flight school or one who actually mastered the skill of flying?

Does a company hire an individual because he/she put forth great effort in college,  or because the individual attained a certain skill and knowledge set that will benefit the company?

At what point did we stop expecting the mastery of skills and focus instead on behavior in the classroom?  When did “getting the grade” become  “doing everything the teacher says” instead of “learning the skills and content”?  As soon as we link a student’s grade to behavior we are unfairly skewing grades in the favor of compliant and ‘normal’ students.  Why penalize a student with Asperger’s Syndrome by lowering the overall grade because of angry (and yes, disruptive and annoying) outbursts during class despite the fact that achievement of skills and knowledge is exceptional? Is that accurate reporting?  Is that fair?

If grades include behavior, what do the grades mean?  For example, is a “B” a reflection of below average learning behaviors coupled to excellent achievement or is the “B” illustrating superior compliance paired with mediocre achievement?  When independent factors are consolidated into one grade, the meaning of the grade becomes hazed.

In addition to meeting standards with regard to content and skills, students do need to learn the value of submitting quality work by a deadline, collaborating with others, having good attitude and work ethic, and being respectful.  Personally, I would like to see a separation of grades as a report for academic progress  and grades reflecting learning behaviors.  I think a grade should be recorded to reflect skills and understanding achieved while a separate recording system is included to report on the learning the behaviors of each student in every class.  I would like to literally see an “employability skills”  section on the report card where a grade is given for punctuality, attitude, effort, attendance, work habits, and submitting work on time.  As Ken O’Conner outlined in a seminar I attended in the fall, grades should be a communication of academic achievement and not compensation for behaviors so let's separate out the grades for behaviors.

I challenge you to look at your report cards whether your children’s, nieces’/nephews’, grandchildren’s, or the school you work at.  Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this report card?” “What do these grades mean?”  “Do these grades reflect what this child knows and can do?” You might be surprised by what you discover.