Sally Harrell is the parent of two children. As a three-term member of Georgia House of Representatives, she served on the House Education Committee. The DeKalb resident has also served as a co-president of the Emory-LaVista Parent Council.
Harrell sent me an interesting piece on a topic that we have touched on in the past: Grading students on non class-related actions.
In her note, Harrell wrote, “For a few years now I have suspected that teachers knowingly use grades to obtain parental compliance. Graded homework is an example. But never has it been made so obvious to me than through the Georgia Cyber Academy’s grade category, called ‘advisement.’ Worth 5 percent of the student grade in academic subjects, it includes such things as reading parent handbooks, participating in parent/teacher conferences, agreeing to teach your child about Body Mass Index and registration with GA College 411. My burning question is: ‘Is it ethical to use student grades to obtain parental compliance?’”
She tackles that question in this guest column:
By Sally Harrell
For the last four years I’ve graded many papers. I didn’t assign letter grades; I merely marked answers wrong, or wrote comments in the margins when I thought something wasn’t quite right. But I’m not a teacher. I’m a former social worker who decided to teach my kids at home.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the value of checking papers lay in discussing the errors immediately with my children so that they could learn from their mistakes. There was simply no need for letter grades.
Then I remembered something that had troubled me during my children’s three year attendance at a traditional “brick and mortar” public school. They sometimes brought home a piece of paper that contained a test score, but the actual test was not attached. I didn’t get to see which problems my children missed, nor did my children ever see what they did wrong. I was horrified when I realized what a huge opportunity had been missed.
While the missed opportunity was disappointing, I still held out hope that grades indicate mastery. But what if a grade did not indicate mastery? Would it still be a grade?
Enter the state’s largest public, virtual, state-wide, charter school, the Georgia Cyber Academy. Yes, that’s quite a few adjectives. Take them one at a time and you’ll figure out what I’m talking about. I teach my kids at home using curriculum provided by the state, which contracts with a private company to run a state-wide “school” that enrolls approximately 12,000 students. I am provided a remote teacher who teaches some optional on-line classes, assigns grades, and holds phone conferences with me once a quarter.
Last year, along with my children’s report cards, I received the following explanation: “The letter grades shown are not intended to be an indication of your student’s knowledge level or mastery in any given subject area.”
So if grades are not about mastery, just what are they?
The school’s answer was, “They are intended to reflect your student’s progress in the on-line school, submitted writing assignments, blue ribbons earned in Study Island, and completion of Study Island monthly custom assessments.”
In other words, my child’s “A” was merely a reflection of whether or not he did the work. Grades were now detached from learning and mastery. So what’s left in a grade?
Georgia Cyber Academy is the brainchild of the private, for-profit and publicly traded company K12, Inc. As with any publicly traded company, the bottom line is profit. During the last few years K12, Inc. has greatly expanded its market in public education by obtaining contracts with state and local governments to initiate virtual charter schools. Georgia has been one of K12’s most successful states in terms of the number of students enrolled.
In order to protect its state contract, Georgia Cyber Academy must put some effort into compliance. But often, in order for the school to be compliant, the school must ask parents to be compliant. Most important, parents must commit to ensuring that their children take the end-of-the-year state test (CRCT). But then there’s a long list of other tasks, some more necessary than others: conferences, signing off on handbooks, watching on-line orientations, signing disciplinary agreements, teaching students about Body Mass Index (state law), completing career assessments (state law), etc.
Parents must be compliant so that Georgia Cyber Academy can be compliant, so that K12 Inc.’s contract is protected, so that K12 looks good on the New York Stock Exchange.
This circles me back to grades. At Georgia Cyber Academy, five percent of the child’s grade is based on whether or not I, as the parent, complete the list of tasks above. It’s called “advisement,” and it amounts to one-half of a letter grade in academic subjects.
So, if I miss a conference, my child’s grade is marked down in math, reading, grammar, social studies and science. So what’s in a grade? Not mastery of learning, but government contract compliance and the New York Stock Exchange!
Whether your child attends a traditional, public “brick and mortar” school, a public charter school, or even a private school, it is in your best interest to ask what comprises your child’s grade. Although the example of the Georgia Cyber Academy is extreme, I would not be at all surprised to find such tactics being used in other educational institutions.
Grades have become commerce that translates into college entrance, scholarships and, yes, even stock values in the world of for-profit education. And many teachers and administrators have figured out that parents will do anything for a grade.
–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog