A+ Forget it! A’s are a Thing of the Past!

Earlier this year, I wrote an entry about the differences between coaching and teaching. I wished that teaching could be more like coaching in some aspects. I now see that there are too many differences between the two jobs.

First off is the commitment. If students want to join a team or learn a sport, they do so because of what they get out of it. It is fun to compete on a team. It feels good to push yourself athletically. Do students get this same feeling of accomplishment out of their schoolwork? I doubt it.

A’s are a thing of the past. I used to get A’s in school and I felt great about each and every one that I got. It meant I accomplished something.

Nowadays A’s are ever elusive. An A in the Ontario curriculum means that a student has demonstrated knowledge above and beyond the content covered. It means that a student had shown independent thinking. This is sometimes described as the “Wow Factor.” The truth is most of the work I get from my students doesn’t measure up to this new standard of an A. I think I have given out less than a dozen A’s in my entire teaching career thus far. Most of those have been in the arts as well.

We have documents called Exemplars that give us examples of A work in each subject area. I like the fact that A’s aren’t subjective anymore. If a teacher gives an A they can explain exactly why the work deserves such a mark.

The thing is, I think this new system (I say new but it has been around for years, before I even started teaching) is really confusing. Parents and students alike don’t know why they don’t see A’s on report cards. I try to explain it every term but it seems like it still is a mystery to most.

And what motivates a kid who tries hard, does a good job on a paper, and gets a B? A B means that the work meets the provincial standard, in other words they did the work correctly. So a student who gets done early and has a perfect paper is often only capable of getting a B. A student who takes longer, had sloppier work, but manages to get it done correctly also gets a B.

I like this system of marking. It makes it really easy for me. I know what an A, B, C, and D paper should look like in every subject. I can easily defend my marks with the ministry documents. I am doing my job. My marks mean something across the entire province. It is standardized.

The only thing I don’t like is that these marks don’t seem to matter to the kids anymore. Most kids think A’s are impossible and don’t try as hard as they should. Some kids settle for doing as little work as possible, knowing that they will slide by. There doesn’t seem to be an incentive for working hard. I’ve noticed this in my class that past couple of years but I am not sure what to do about it.

5 Comments on A+ Forget it! A’s are a Thing of the Past!

  1. Anonymous // March 3, 2008 at 7:05 pm //

    Thank, you, Dave for your post on exemplars. I sometimes think I give A’s too easily, forgetting that I do have this model to reference! Glad for the reminder. We do not have a systematic or school-wide policy with our exemplars, but your post has me wanting to bring it up for discussion for mine!

    No Blog Yet…

  2. Ugh you were one of them jerky teachers who wouldn’t give out As. Yes, yes, we all know that it’s regulated and you have to follow it but still, I’d suggest throwing a curve ball once in awhile to a really promising student.

    Honestly, I was about to give up during high school. I was a brilliant sciences and literature student but I was bad at my second language. The school was about to make me drop both literature and sciences so that I could cope with it but my biology teacher fought tooth and nail for me.

    When I admitted that I was going to give up, she changed my paper mark to a grade higher. It’s bad, I know but she took a chance and gave it to me anyway so that I would feel more confident. In the end, I got through all my problems at home and at school and am one of the 4% of my high school science class to actually go into and excel in science.

  3. Anonymous, my name is written in huge letters at the top of the page and the bottom of my post. It is Chase! Please get it write if you are going to use it in a reply.

    Where do you teach? Many provinces have this marking system in place here in Canada. I’m not sure if they have anything like this in the States.

  4. Chipazoid, I don’t want to be a jerky teacher. I don’t think I am one. I think it would actually be jerkier to give kids high marks now and when they get to high school they realize that marks don’t work this way. Besides, this standard of marking is a province wide thing here. If other teachers are using it correctly, it is a fair and workable system.

    I hear your comments though. I know that I find the whole thing a bit frustrating. Many students probably feel the same way. I can see why we mark like this. I just wish school wasn’t all about the marks.

  5. Heh, it mostly is though. It’s really frustrating since I really was a brilliant student. *Cough, however there were other things going on in my life at the time as well that were not conducive to my development as a genius. *Cough Out of all the teachers I had, there was only one who truly believed that I had anything to offer.

    I guess things are different in Canada, in Singapore we were streamed at age 9 to different classes purely based on marks. We were screened again at age 12 and again at age 15. If you screwed up once, your chances of getting into university are 0.

    It didn’t really help us at all, there are always other factors that affect a student’s marks. I kind of wish there were another way to determine a child’s brilliance but that does not seem to be happening for awhile.

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