The past few days I've been grading Living Environment (aka biology) exams for NY state graduation requirements. It has been quite the experience as I never realized how subjective grading can be even though the purpose of sending the tests out of house for other school teachers to grade is supposed to eliminate subjectivity.
I personally think there are a lot of things to consider when setting up expectations for grading, like the context the students are coming from. Now since the tests are sent out of house to be graded we have no idea of the background of the students we are grading, which is fine, BUT also created numerous problems for setting expectations. For instance, at the site I was grading we had a mix of teachers from many different types of schools ranging from science teachers at gifted and talented schools to international schools, to struggling high schools - and every single one of those people bring different expectations.
I felt it was my role to consider every single possible scenario that students may be coming from to keep the integrity of the test consistent, however, me thinking this way may indirectly make me an 'easier' grader. Let me explain, the first thing we did when we arrived at the grading site was take the test and then discussed possible answers to 'normalize' the test. This is where we ran into troubles. I can't give exact examples because then I'd have to post the direct question which is not allowed, so I'll do my best to describe the process of sorting issues like this out. As we began normalizing the test, teachers different expectations became very clear. Almost all the issues we ran into were a matter of vocabulary/language for example like whether "color" would be an acceptable answer in addition to "pigment."
What I noticed was that the teachers who have gifted and talented students had much higher expectations (as they should for their kids), but were unwilling to budge on matters of language. They seemed to come from the mentality of "no, there is only one right answer with this specific vocabulary." To an extent I agree with them that yes the best answer would involve more advanced biology vocabulary; however, not every student in NYC will use the best vocabulary to describe biological processes - especially if they have only been learning English for 2ish years. It was getting pretty ridiculous some of the things we were arguing about while normalizing the test because at the end we were all supposed to agree on how to grade the tests in order to be consistent. When things become that difficult over what I consider petty things, I have a really hard time not checking out and I usually end up making my own decisions about what I think is right/fair.
In any case, that was an experience, but it has left me thinking about all sorts of things related to justice in education. For instance, there is this myth you are expected to believe in the education world that every child has the same ability to rise to the same standards. Now, maybe I'm going to sound really harsh as an educator, but I don't believe this is true. Let me explain before I get thrown off the bus as not having high enough expectations, I think in an ideal perfect world were children are cared for in every home, that have begun developing good skills from an early age, where no one has a disability, infinite time, and the motivation then yes every student will be able to rise to whatever standard. However, that is not the world we live in - there are way too many variables.
That being said, I do think there are certain skills children need to have to graduate high school. So, I don't really know how one balances it all. I'm really not a big fan of tracking (an education word where they track students on a high, middle, or low track and set the expectations accordingly), because I do believe that every student can rise to higher expectations, but maybe not the same high expectations as others at least in the same amount of time. Unfortunately there is inequality and I don't understand why we can't say that in the education world and have to pretend that everyone is equal or say things like no one is going to be left behind, because it's lies. All of it! Maybe if we could actually start talking about the inequality in education and what to do about it we might actually get somewhere.
Students should be able to discover for themselves what they are capable of and take responsibility for their learning with the guidance of a teacher who pushes them just a little bit more then the student themselves thinks they are capable of. But perhaps that's just me wanting to treat them too much like adults (I have been accused of this before.) Maybe we should teach students what having high expectations for themselves looks and feels like (because they have no idea.) I guess I'd rather the conversation in standards be "what can I, as a student, accomplish so there is a sense of pride when I succeed which makes me love school" instead of the current "I must accomplish this or I will be punished by failing out of school which makes me hate school."
There really are no answers and I really don't think it is as black and white as we like to think it is sometimes.
What do you think?
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