Monday, May 08, 2006

The ups and downs of returning graded school work

Although it may seem straightforward, returning graded work to students is actually a sensitive issue, and emotions can run high on both sides. Let's take a look at why by thinking about the positives and negatives behind the subject.

On the upside, returning graded work to students -- and allowing them to take it home -- is a good idea because:
  • It can help students prepare for subsequent work/exams;
  • If part of a program that emphasizes formative assessment, it helps students figure out areas of weakness and work toward mastery;
  • It keeps parents in the loop on their children's performance (and helps avoid "bad news" surprises);
  • It helps parents understand the curriculum, and therefore support it better at home.
But there are also downsides to returning graded student work and letting it leave the classroom:
  • It requires teachers to alter quizzes and tests each year to prevent cheating;
  • It opens up teachers to helicopter parents, which can divert efforts away from classroom instruction;
  • If students lose major pieces of work that teachers have returned, it leaves a hole in their portfolios.
Currently, JIS' policy on returning graded work boils down to a statement in the high school Student and Parent Handbook:
"In order to enhance the learning program, assessment is shared with the student in a timely and meaningful manner" (page 24).
That kind of a policy isn't unusual at elementary and high schools. (Universities tend to approach the subject more directly, issuing clear directives on returning work to their instructors. But keep in mind, many university-level courses rely much more on summative, mid-term and end-of-term assessments, where the issue is much more cut and dry.) It acknowledges the importance of giving students feedback on their work, while providing some leeway for teachers to make decisions about how to share assessment results.

But the question for parents always boils down to, "What am I experiencing with my student, and is it the best situation possible?" For the parent who receives little or no graded work at home, the situation can be frustrating.

So is it reasonable for parents to expect that they'll see grade work at times other than parent-teacher conferences? Given the plusses and minuses, it might be worth a larger discussion at JIS.

Here are some resources:
  • (Click here for the Assessment and Evaluation Policy at a Canadian high school -- scroll down to page 5.)
  • (Here's California's Piedmont High School's 2005-2006 WASC "Self Study Report" and its views on feedback and assessments. Scroll down to page 71. WASC -- the Western Association of Schools and Colleges -- is the accrediting organization that JIS uses.)
  • (Speaking of WASC, here's its Focus on Learning Accreditation Manual in PDF format. If you scroll down to page 120, you'll see its guidelines on assessment.)
If you know of other school policies or practices on returning school work, please send it along in a comment. The more, the better!


At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The High School does not seem to do very well on this aspect. Our experience indicates that many teachers will not allow students to bring their tests home. This means that parents (remember the parent/school partnership) are ill equipped to assist their children. The children lose a valuable study tool. Kudos to those teachers who send home tests.

At 2:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find the comment and Washington Post article on "helicopter parents" just plain offensive. Someone must have circulated this at JIS because some teachers are skilled at blowing off parents without addressing their issues, a bad attitude that is fostered by the current (fortunately departing) administration. I'm sorry, teaching school is not brain surgery and we are not going to scar the student for life by being involved hands-on in the process. BTW, our child seldom gets graded school work back, mainly because I think JIS teachers are too comfortable and slack, whereas at previous schools the teachers diligently returned graded work the next day, which worked much better for us.

At 9:29 PM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

You both echo the results of the informal blog poll on parent perceptions of the amount of graded work returned home (and I'm assuming you both voted!) So the question becomes how do we have a discussion between parents, teachers, students and administrators on what makes the most sense?

I'm guessing the Parent Advisory Forums (PAFs) on each campus could play a role in facilitating a conversation....

In terms of the "helicopter parent" issue, I agree that the WaPo article bordered on hysterical. (But I didn't get it from JIS -- it received a ton of play in the media precisely because it IS sensational and feeds into all they hype on the "me generation"). I know the paper's trying to create some buzz on the issue, but in the process the reporter really exagerated the problem.

However, while a rare bird, the truly smothering, counter-productive "helicopter parent" does exist, and for a teacher, it's a lose-lose situation unless handled really deftly. Those parents strike fear into the heart of even the best teacher. That being said, being a concerned parent DOES NOT qualify someone as an evil helicopter parent.

And to see the flip-side to the WaPo article, check out the bloggers at Kitchen Table Math (look in the "BlogRoll" box on the right of JIS Topic's home page) -- those two very intellegent, very rational, very caring mothers wear the title of "Helicopter Mom" with pride (to the point of wearing t-shirts with a heli-mom logo).


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