I believe that parents should be able to choose their children’s grading system.
The grading system put into place before the full onslaught of Blueprint 2000/OBE curricula was almost immediately effective at changing many students’ attitudes toward academic achievement. The schools removed the familiar ABCDF grades on report cards and replaced them with: E (Extends and applies any knowledge, new or old), S (Satisfactory progress), P (In the process of learning) and U (Unsatisfactory). This was implemented in the elementary schools with plans to move it up into the higher grades - according the state level E’s own written plans - although the middle school administrators I spoke with denied it. And, as it turned out, the parents were able to at least stop it from going any farther. People across the state poured into the schools to protest, and when that had no effect, they started passing out petitions and showing up at school board meetings. Articles appeared in the newspapers – the internet wasn’t very widely used back then. The Pasco County School Board decided to take a survey of the teachers since there were protests from many of them as well. The following is a close copy of a letter I wrote to School Board members at the time of that survey. I have shortened it, but the description of the effect the new system had on my son and many others remains intact. The sad thing is that grading systems similar to this one have been tried many times in the past – and always bring about the same results for many students.
“May 21, 1993
Dear School Board Members,
One of the things you may hear from the teachers as part of the survey will be that students lost their motivation or will to achieve. This was not covered as well as I’d hoped at the school board meeting, mostly because the speakers were so focused on the effect of the E S P U grading system on a student’s chances at higher education. The story of what happened at my house might help illustrate what ‘loss of motivation’ looks like on the home front.
When the new grading system came about, my first ‘gut’ reaction was that this was not a good idea, but I, like many other parents, gave it a year to see how it worked. It did not take a full year to see that something was seriously wrong. My son was in fifth grade and, as always, seemed content and genuinely interested in many of the new things he was learning. He earned mostly S’s, with an occasional E in Art and Spelling. I did not become alarmed until one day I tackled the chore of cleaning out his back pack, which was such a mess I knew there had to be plenty of papers I hadn’t seen yet. I found three Science test papers that had half the answers marked as incorrect. The number grades were in the 70’s; they were C’s. These tests were on topics that Douglas had discussed at the dinner table with some enthusiasm, so I was quite surprised to see he had done so poorly on the tests. I called his teacher.
This is how I found out that ‘S’ had a range of anywhere from A work to C work, and my reaction was extremely negative. I had a wonderful talk with his teacher which gave me a much better idea of what I was going to be dealing with for the rest of the school year. When he got home, I showed him the test papers and asked him if he was having trouble with any of the material covered on them. He said no, he wasn’t. Then he told me it was okay, it was still an ‘S’. The bottom line of the rest of the conversation was that he had simply started goofing off. He wasn’t paying as close attention during class, and never bothered reviewing the material before a test. … I explained that his job in school was to do the best work that he could, and that I was sure he could do much better than those tests reflected. The rest of the year, Douglas would fluctuate from good work to lackadaisical work, with us constantly propping him back up. Finally, one day, I got fed up, and I found myself telling him that I didn’t care what his school said; our family did its best no matter what we set out to do. That appeared to do the trick – it became a matter of family pride and accomplishment. But I don’t think I could ever express to you how thoroughly disgusted I was that that is what I had to tell him.”
As a result of all the ruckus, each school took a vote on either going back to the old grading system or continuing with the new. Some schools continued with the ESPU system despite how the parents felt about it, and despite what it was doing to so many students. For the large majority of parents, this is how things still stand on all too many issues concerning education. Let me emphasize – the grading system was not the experiment. The effect of the new grading system was known in advance.