When students walked through the doors of Carmel on the first day of school, few understood that they would find themselves immersed in a completely different math-learning environment. On the first day of math class, all students were faced with both new curriculum standards and, more importantly, a new grading system that was adopted by the entire math department for middle and high school courses.
While we agree that the spirit of the changes are in the best interest of student learning and best practice, these new changes, particularly in the area of grading, will not get the results both the school board and math department expect.
Last year, Indiana adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics as written by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association for Best Practices. These standards are challenging and designed to “equip students with the mathematical knowledge and skills required to be college or career ready upon graduation from high school.”
As a result of the new standards, there have been several changes. It is now necessary for some mathematical content to be mastered in earlier grades than had been mandated by Indiana standards, and students must have a conceptual understanding of important principles, not just a practical understanding, so that they can apply their understandings to the real world.
However, in addition to these curriculum changes, the math department also adopted a new grading system that weights a student’s test, quiz and in-class work as 90 percent of the final grade and homework as 10 percent.
According to Linda Thompson, Director for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for Carmel Clay Schools, the switch to a 90/10 grading system in math classes is in place to allow teachers to help teach their students better.
“After an extensive study of best-practices in assessment and grading, Carmel Clay math teachers collectively decided to base the majority of students’ quarterly grades on tests, quizzes and other in-class work,” she said in an email distributed to parents of Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II students. “This allows teachers to more accurately evaluate the extent of individual students’ learning, identify misconceptions, diagnose learning errors, and effectively support learning.”
Additionally, according to math department chair Vicki Tribul, the new system was implemented to grade work that students do individually.
“(Your) grade is supposed to show what you know,” she said, “And the only time that we really know what you know would be on some type of assessment. So we think of that as the 90 percent… and we feel that the homework time is part of your practice time so we still feel that that’s part of it but it can’t the biggest part of it because some people will get help (on homework).”
Unfortunately, this system does not completely keep the student body as a whole in mind for the following reasons: First, it does not account for students who struggle with taking tests. Students feel the pressure from big-point tests anyway, but by putting a 90 percent weight on tests, teachers add pressure on the students and therefore limit their room for achievement.
Additionally, since it is possible to earn a solid grade in the class without doing homework, there is little incentive for students to do their homework in the first place. Teachers recognize the fact that students need to do their homework in order to succeed, but do students? Without any reason to do their homework, students may not do it, and they could ultimately suffer more from this grading system than they will benefit.
While we do recognize that this grading system works for some students, we feel that it only helps students in higher-level, college-credit courses. This 90/10 grading policy closely resembles a college-type class in which two or three large test grades determine a student’s final grade, so why should it be applied to all students?
Ultimately, the school board should realize that learning is not one-size fits all. Since each student learns differently, each student, in turn, takes a different class and therefore should be graded differently.
We feel that this grading system should only be applied to students in AP or other college level classes. Since students in these classes are committing to a college-level class, they should get a college-style course. It is simply not fair, however, to place a student in Algebra I or Geometry under this grading scale, as they are not signing up for a class of this academic rigor.
The school board and math department, therefore, need to reevaluate this system before it causes students irreparable damage.
Click here to see the news article on the 90/10 policy.