Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Why is Jason P. Becker Afraid of My Wife?

Jason P. Becker:

Over the last six months I have been working with the Providence Public School District to develop a new grading policy to be presented to the school board in September.  As I begin the actual writing phase of this policy, I came up with a great way to understand formative assessment versus summative assessments or longer form performance-based tasks.*

The overall goal of the policy I am writing is to transform grades from an unreliable amalgamation of behavior and various kinds of performance indicators to a metric which accurately presents a students progress on academic course goals.  It’s a herculean task in a district that has been devoid of a broader grading policy for some time and has only recently embarked on a more systematic set of professional development workshops to help teachers develop a powerful assessment framework within a standards-based curriculum.

One area I expect to get significant push-back is my planned restriction of the amount activities like quizzes, homework, and classwork can contribute to overall grades.  The rationale should be familiar to formative assessment gurus but can be hard to explain to teachers who have been using grades for purposes other than pure monitory of academic progress.  Here’s my crack at it:

Measuring student performance in the classroom is like running a long-distance race.  It takes months of practice to prepare for that final run.  Runners and coaches keep track of times during practice, and use several activities which improve the ability to run over a long distance that does not include simply running around the city.  On race day, lap times provide essential information to runners and coaches about pacing and required adjustments, but what matters most is the time it takes to finish the entire race.  All of that rehearsal is not how we judge a runner’s success.  It informs us about effort, whether the runner was willing to do what it takes to be successful.  It informs us about progress over time; did the runner see significant improvement right away, after a few weeks, toward the end, or at a slow and steady pace?  But in the end, what matters most is how long does it take to complete the race.  Our students should be judged on their ability to learn all of the material in an academic unit before the class must proceed to the next unit, not on their learning process to achieve that goal.

*At least I think I came up with this one.  To be fair, I’ve been reading so much on this topic I may have “borrowed” this from a book or article I read months ago only to have it resurface, seemingly a product of my own invention.

You can't read that on Jason Becker's blog, because after my wife left a rather pungent comment, he pulled the entire post after apparently deciding it wasn't such a great idea to announce to the world that an intern with zero experience working in a K-12 school, let alone teaching in one, has a prominent role in developing a new grading policy for the PPSD.

When I got my Master's in Teaching from the Brown Education Department, not so long ago, it instilled a deep respect for the knowledge and experience of the master teachers we worked with daily, most working in the Providence Public Schools. Those folks were the heart and soul of the teacher education program, and I was proud when Jennifer joined their ranks.

It is hard to believe that so quickly we've gotten to a point where teacher expertise is so denigrated by... everyone, the Providence Schools, RIDE, Brown.

I've made my share of idealistic mistakes, but I've never felt the need to hide from teachers while making them.


Dan Meyer said...

What's he guilty of exactly? Not knowing his place? Do you have any particular beef with the grading policy he's laid out in broad strokes?

Tom Hoffman said...

He's guilty of a) being a pussy; b) perpetuating a malignant system.

Unknown said...

I'm interested in why you said part b).

Is there something about the grading policy he was putting forth that you find malignant?

Madame Defarge said...

He's guilty of not doing his homework. He seems to be talking, in the abstract, at least, about a system which would be similar to the system experienced professionals developed over a nine year period at Feinstein High School; this system was terminated last year by the same people who subsequently hired Becker. It is insulting, to say the least.

Tom Hoffman said...

I'm too pisseed off before I get to the end of the first paragraph to really digest the actual proposal, but perhaps you kind of have to know the larger Providence context to understand why.

Tom Hoffman said...

But to be clear, it is the PPSD leadership which is malignant.

Unknown said...

That context helps to make sense.

Jason said...

Wow, I never even saw that you felt the need to repost over here. I sent a long letter to both Mr. Hoffman and his wife about my decision to remove the post. He has made numerous assumptions about me and my beliefs since. I'm happy to be challenged and started writing on this blog when I had the chance because I'm interested in getting push back. My decision to remove the post had nothing to do with "being a pussy" and more to do with a quick realization that my post may have lacked the professionalism that I should be displaying.

My role has been to research other grading policies in districts that were undergoing similar standards-based reform as Providence as well as review the relevant research on grading practices (much of which is published by the ASCD, an organization I doubt Mr. Hoffman objects to). After presenting my findings, I was to draft a policy to go before the board.

If anyone, including Tom, has more questions about what I've found and why Providence is looking to develop a district-wide policy, I'll gladly have that conversation.

Below is the email I sent to Mr. Hoffman and his wife after I decided to pull the post.

Jason said...

Hi Mr. Hoffman and Ms. Geller,
I just wanted to clarify my decision to pull the post as well as repost a response comment that I initially made to Ms. Geller's comment.

First, I'm a bit new to blogging and didn't realize that my participation on other webpages and in social networking media would so quickly draw people to my writing. I expected that for a little while only a few friends and colleagues might find their way to my page. This sense of security that should not have existed for a public webpage led me to be a tad less cautious than is probably prudent. As such, I thought nothing of posting a bit about some of my current work. After receiving Ms. Geller's comment, I was torn between a few ways to respond. Initially I approved the comment and posted a response. I have no fear of discussing the content of the work I am doing right now at PPSD and would actually enjoy the opportunity to engage with another teacher about some of the issues I have been tackling. Though I was somewhat upset that the tone was immediately accusatory and that Ms. Geller's personal situation (which I feel considerable sympathy toward) was a major driving force behind her comments, I felt it was far better to have an open discussion than to sensor comments.

After about two hours past I somewhat lost my nerve. It's not that I don't want to have an open discussion-- in fact, I will gladly meet with Ms. Geller or continue this conversation via email. I have saved the post, her comment, and my reply and plan on re-publishing it once I am done at PPSD. I just felt that I was perhaps being unprofessional by discussing a current project before it's completed, especially if I am airing ideas I had that have not yet been vetted.
I don't want to undermine or short change any efforts because I felt the need to type up a few ideas that I think are neat and I also don't want to subvert what I hope will continue to be a thoughtful process that will engage groups when the work is mature enough and important enough to illicit feedback.

I will not be approving Mr. Hoffman's new comment because it's irrelevant to the particular post. Message received, and that's why I'm replying in this space. I will, however, restore the grading policy post once my engagement with PPSD is completed. I hope you understand that my decision is based on my desire to maintain professionalism and not my attempt to silence any voices. I recognize my part in inviting the discussion and will be more careful in the near future.

My original comment which was up for just a short time was as follows:

Jason said...

I attempted a few times to write a response to this post but it was always too long so I decided to respond on my own blog here: