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Did Your Grades Reflect What You Learned?

As an organization, we strongly believe in the notion that grades should reflect learning. It’s a matter of best practice and equity. If schools are about learning, then the measurements we use should fit that. In experience however, we know that that isn’t always the case. One moment that sticks with me is one which, ironically, came from one of my classes about equity in schools during my Master of Teaching. The course was an introduction into the various contexts of high-needs schools and the systemic polices which often misrepresent students’ achievement and learning. We’d spent a fair amount of time reading and analyzing arguments against several rigid policies and notions of zero tolerance which can unjustly skew grades from late work and absences. Without going into too much detail, the main points were meant to remind us, as future teachers, to be kind and flexible with our students. We won’t always know if a disruptive life event happens, but when they do, inflexible policies often mean that students’ grades suffer for an event outside of their control, rather than reflect what they learned. It was after that lecture and rousing class discussion that I got to experience all of what we talked about firsthand when my son was born nearly a month early.

According to the course plan I had worked out, I would be at a natural slow point in the term around my son’s anticipated due date. That meant I’d have a short break when he was born and no large assignments due. That plan, however, didn’t exactly keep. Of the three classes I was taking that term, everyone had something due the week my son was born. That class about equity in schools, of course, had a larger paper due. I couldn’t do it, not then anyway, as my son was just born and borderline premature. So, I had to delay turning it in. I had to delay all my course work and miss classes. For two weeks I was out. I did, of course, message my professors about this and they were all congratulatory and dismissive of the disruption, but not in practice.

When I eventually returned to classes and submitted all my missing work, my grade wasn’t updated in that course on equity. At first I was worried, but all of my classmates had a similar issue. Eventually, our professor announced in class that he’d gotten behind on grading, but not to worry, we were all doing great. With bigger things in my life to distract me, I took the statement at face value, like all my classmates, and soldiered on the rest of the term. On the final day of class, our professor opted to meet with students individually to review our grades and let us know some other personal feedback. When we met, he told me how much he’d liked my input during class discussions and the thoroughness of my writing, but he was going to have to dock me points for so many late assignments. I reminded him that my many assignments (one paper and two online discussions) were from when my son was born, and I’d emailed about them being late. He acknowledged that, but then said he had a strict policy on late work and that I should have taken more steps to keep up with my studies.

In hindsight, I know I should have appealed the grade and reported the professor, but we can’t always deal with confrontations when we’re so stressed and tired, so I didn’t. But the lessons stuck with me. That grade, my only B in an otherwise all A’s MA program, were from my son being born early. Not from my learning about equity in schools, and especially not from learning what the impact of strict grade policies can be.

I know I’m not the only person to have a story like this. All of us at College Bridge remember, at least one time, we had a class where we earned a grade that had less to do with what we learned and a lot to do with other things. So, we realized, we really should know, with our ongoing work in grading and learning, what you think?

To that end, did your grades reflect what you learned?

In whatever medium you’re viewing this blog, we do want to know. Please share your story in the comments below, or if you prefer to share anonymously, use our form on stories about grades. We’ll actively monitor the responses for the next week or so and continue to reply.


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