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Sun, 22 Jul 2012

Peloton Grading - More

At Diane Ravitch's Blog Duane Swacker objected to part of my Pelton Grading comment. Go read his comment. I expanded the idea.

I'll concede that honoring the best is an element of competition, and I do not think learning/education is competitive. Schools have become hotbeds of competion with grading as a contributing factor. “You do realize, Sally, Harvard won't look at you unless you have a hign GPA.” Sad guidance.

The only valid competition is to improve, to be more effective than before. This is comparison against oneself, not others.

Yet, we love to chase one another around the school yard. At least we used to before recess was elimiated in favor of more time on task. That common, joyful play might be one reason we see grades in schools. They've possibly been institutionalized as a way to capitalize on the joys of running around. I'd say the use of grades has been a dismal failure.

The concept of “peloton grading” is an idea to minimize the damage of grading. Children often are proud to know a “star” and look up to their peers and kids in higher classes. We are comfortable giving applause to the performance of a band and the soloist, almost to the same degree as we cheer for the kid striving to be first across the finish line.

Kids in a class don't mind slapping a friend on the back for a job well done. They just don't want everyone to turn around and jeer as they cross the finish line last. Today, such behavior is called bullying and the nation's schools are developing curricula to try to stamp it out. (I wonder how the grades will be determined for that curriculum?)

Yet, there it is. Tell a kid he got an F. How is that not bullying?

The trouble grading causes is less that it acknowledges outstanding performance. The trouble is that the system, bell curve or not, stigmatizes much more than it highlights exceptional performance. Ask most kids in class who's smart. They know, and it isn't because they have been keeping a rank book during the year.

posted at: 15:29 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Peloton Grading

The 2012 Tour de France bicycle race just finished today. For those who don't know about it, briefly, it is a long race (3,497 kilometers this year) held over three weeks. To call it an endurance race is putting it mildly, as it involves all-out sprints for some days and grueling mountain "stages" in both the Pyranees and the Alps.

Okay, the grading bit. The mass of riders that stay together for the finish each day all get the same time (grade). The outliers in the lead most often become the notable winners of things like the overall fastest (yellow jersey), best in the mountains (polkadot jersey), etc.

NOBODY in the race gets C, D, or F grades. It is possible to not finish and get no credit for the race, but usually that isn't even considered bad because it happens because of sickness or injury.

Schools might want to do something similar. (Diane Ravitch, or another education historian might be able to confirm that it is how school culture once worked). Recognize the excellent performances. Honor the best and brightest. Do not penalize the others. Remember, the students have all gone through the same year of work. Does it matter to their success in life if they were middle of the peloton (pack)? Does it even matter if they were one of the least successful? Will a quiet finish in the tail of the group make a bad citizen? Is it really more effective to apply the letter grades of D or F to these children? Does finishing the year matter so little, and it it better for the students to have a negative label applied to them?

Starting on the journey and finishing it matter far more than being first, and there need be no stigma for finishing last. Just ask Tyler Farrar, one of the American riders in the race. He finished 151st, almost last. He was over three hours back from the winning total time of Bradley Wiggins, the overall race winner.

Tell me it would be fair to say that Tyler deserves an F. Are you kidding me?

posted at: 14:12 | path: | permanent link to this entry