Sunday, January 7, 2018

Stop Averaging!

     I remember when I was in high school I did CrossFit.  I was not into it like many of the people who are on TV or other advocates of it are.  I just did it because it was a cheap gym and kept me in good shape.  I loved deadlifting.  Something about lifting all that weight off the ground made me feel super-macho.  At the height of my deadlifting my single rep max was somewhere near 500 pounds.  However, I did not get there the first time.  I had to start small, at first it was just the bar with a ten pound weight on each side.  As time went on I worked my weigh up.  But by the end I was not deadlifting 250, I was deadlifting 500.
 
     I put the emphasis on that because education seems to love averaging.  When it comes to grading, some teachers seem to think that when students take an assessment again they should not be allowed to get the score they earned the second time, it needs to be averaged.  But what did I say I deadlifted at the end?  This weightlifting metaphor is one that my principal, @ERobbPrincipal, uses and I love.

     Why do teachers use grades?  My hope is that we use it to help demonstrate the progress a student is making.  Once, I was in an interview and the principal gave me this scenario: "A student receives a 60% on an assessment and wants to retake it.  When they come in the following week to take the retake they receive an 89%.  What grade does this student get in your gradebook?"

     I replied, "An 89%"

     The principal pushed back and said, "Even if he did zero preparation at home?"

    I replied, "I have no idea what this student's home life is like in this scenario.  Maybe the first time he took the test he was up late taking care of his siblings and so he was exhausted.  Besides, when he took the test the first time he showed me he knew 60% of the content, now he is showing me he knows 89% of the content.  Why should he be punished for improving?"

     The principal thought my answer was the right one.  I was glad.  When we just average test grades we are essentially putting a cap on the amount of growth we will allow a student to show.  Furthermore, it is not an accurate indicator of what that student knows.  We want our students to reach for the stars and find new heights, and when we take the higher score and average it with the lower score that could potentially crush the kid's confidence.  It may make them less inclined to retake an assessment or give their best on an assignment if they believe that their grade will not reflect the work they do.

     So stop averaging!  It is not good for assessing student progress.  It is not good for student learning.  It is not good for student confidence.  Let students grow and flourish!

3 comments:

  1. Great blog post Phil! Averaging often fits in the - it was what I experienced bucket. But not everything from our past is good- use of the average would be a great example of something that may be dear to us but it needs to go-

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    1. I completely agree. If we as educators truly want to do what is best for students, limiting their successes seems to be counter-intuitive to our mission.

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  2. I love this, Phil. Such a treat to be able to learn alongside of you! This is a terrific response to your interviewer: "I have no idea what this student's home life is like in this scenario. Maybe the first time he took the test he was up late taking care of his siblings and so he was exhausted. Besides, when he took the test the first time he showed me he knew 60% of the content, now he is showing me he knows 89% of the content. Why should he be punished for improving?" Your comment makes so much sense. Too often we want to penalize people for attempting to do better. Makes no sense. Thank you, as always, for sharing!

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