02 Jul Experience Shapes Attitudes and Beliefs
Educators today struggle in their efforts to change parents’ and students’ attitudes about grading. They want parents to see grades as a means of communication between teachers and families, and not as the currency students need to advance in school and life. They want students to focus more on learning and less on simply what it takes to get a high grade.
To achieve this change, some educators use logic and reason. They expect parents to be moved by quotes from informed authorities and the results of selected research studies. Others rely on emotional appeals, hoping to persuade parents with sincere “I believe” statements about new approaches to grading and reporting. Unfortunately, neither of these approaches consistently yields significant change in parents’ or students’ attitudes about grading.
The reason these approaches don’t work is they run counter to many parents’ and students’ personal experiences with grading. These personal experiences shape their attitudes and beliefs. To change attitudes, therefore, we must first change the experience.
Most parents’ experiences with grading were in classrooms where their performance was judged in comparison to classmates. Grades were not determined by how well they mastered clearly articulated learning targets or standards, but on how their performance compared to other students. A grade of ‘C’ didn’t mean you are at step 3 in a 5-step process to mastery. It meant your performance is “average” or “ranks in the middle of the class.” Grades communicated little about what students actually learned or were able to do.
In our programs, we don’t try to change directly the attitudes shaped by these experiences. Instead, we change the experience. We introduce new standards-based report cards by sending home two report cards. The first is a traditional report card that lists a single grade for every subject area or course. It looks much like the report card most parents received when they were in school. The second is the new, standards-based report card that includes grades based on how well students have achieved specific learning standards. It offers separate grades for performance in different aspects of each subject or course. Instead of a single grade for language arts, for example, students receive separate grades for reading, writing, listening, speaking, and language. Important student behaviors related to homework completion, cooperation, respect, punctuality, participation, etc. are reported separately as well.
After comparing the report cards, side-by-side, for at least two grading periods, we survey parents to ask which report card they prefer. Invariably, nearly all parents prefer the standards-based report card. Why? It’s simply better. It gives parents the detailed information they need to follow and help improve their child’s performance in school. It offers students valuable feedback regarding their progress on explicit learning targets. As a result, parents and students often become our strongest advocates for change.
Experience shapes attitudes and beliefs. If you focus on changing the experience so both parents and student see clearly the advantages of new grading and reporting procedures, change in their attitudes will almost certainly follow.