While assessment and grading are two distinct topics, they often intertwine. Occasionally something comes along to remind us that poor grading practices can end up negating effective assessment practices. That's why Allen Iverson is on this site - to remind us that we need to give and assess practice, but to remember that when we do so, we're just talkin' 'bout practice! That's also why we have this video about a player who becomes the best tailback ever but can't start because his poor practices earlier in the season were counted against him. Now the world of sports has brought us another example of how allowing practice grades to average into the overall grade can give a misleading perspective.
Thanks to AFL member, Dr. Keith Perrigan, for sending us this softball story from Tri-Cities.com. It's about Kelsey, a high school softball player, who, after a great season last year, had an almost season-long batting slump this year. However, in the last few weeks of the season her bat came alive. As a result, her team has a great chance to win the state championship. (Read the full article here: http://www2.tricities.com/sports/2011/jun/10/prep-softball-nave-bea...)
At the time of the article, Kelsey's batting average was .265. Not terrible, but not exactly the stuff of all-stars. However, based on her ability - as demonstrated in the past - and based on her incredible run at the end of the season, she would be anybody's pick for a spot on an all-star team. In fact, she'd be a no-brainer all-star except for one thing - her batting average. Softball doesn't allow for a batting average to start over once a player gets hot; therefore, it's not uncommon for a batting average to tell an incomplete, or even incorrect, story. Kelsey is the hottest player in the league, but her batting average is, well, average! Should her coach player her? Should other teams pitch around her? If they're smart, the answer is "yes". If they put all their stock in an average, then the answer is a very foolish "no".
So why do we educators put so much stock in averages? We know they often don't tell accurate stories. We know they rarely indicate the true measure of a student's learning. We know that they also distort the impact of our teaching on students' learning. Yet when push comes to show we will often swear by them. We will cling to the argument that the average produced in our grade book is the absolute truth when it comes to a student's performance. We will be offended and become indignant when someone suggests that a student's grade should something other than the average we derived.
Why is this? Why do we cling to averages?
I suppose that part of the reason is that it's what has always been done. Perhaps using a grading system that doesn't rely on averaging together a bunch of grades might seem too radical to some. I guess there is also a certain amount of comfort and safety in relying on an average. If a student or parent complains about a grade, the teacher can always use the grade book average as a justification.
But what if Kelsey's coach decided to bench her? What if his coaches in the past had always played the players based on batting average? What kind of coach would he be? Probably a fired one. While batting averages are fun for us sports junkies, they aren't a reliable resource upon which to make all coaching decisions. The same is true for grade book averages. They might provide some useful data or feedback, but they are not a reliable enough resource upon which to base our grading decisions. Teachers should feel free to act like Kelsey's coach. Use the batting average as feedback, but assign a grade based on mastery - not solely on the average.
Who is in charge of the team - the coach or the batting average?
Who is in charge of the classroom - the teacher or the grade book average?