As I am writing this, March Madness is ramping up. It is my favorite time of the year, not just because spring is on the horizon, but because of all of the craziness that comes with college basketball’s biggest tournaments. Each year, the NCAA selects 68 teams to participate in their winner take all, national champion crowning, tournament. Some of the teams selected get invitations because of their ability to win their conference tournaments, others are selected because a selection committee simply believes they are worthy based on “the body of their work”.
What makes March truly a month of madness is that nobody really knows who will win it all, let alone any individual game. The committee ranks each team based on their subjective interpretation of who is “better” and then creates a bracket that allows the “best” to play the “rest”…yet there has never been a year where the “best” (aka the higher-ranked teams) have ever unanimously beaten all of “the rest”…not even on a single weekend of the three-week tournament, let alone the duration of the entire event. As some of you are reading this, the end of the school year is approaching. If you are in a high school, students may be fighting for their class rankings, hoping to earn the right to be valedictorian or to earn their spot on stage as one of the “top 10” students. In some schools, these students are selected by what some believe to be a “quantitative” measure. Student g.p.a.’s are stacked against each other and those students with the best grades, get better rankings.
In some schools, a grade is impacted by more than just academic mastery of content. Some teachers embrace a standards-based approach. Some teachers embrace a completion and effort-based approach. Some teachers believe a grade should serve as motivation. Some believe a grade should serve as communication. Some schools weight grades giving bonus points to students who take college prep classes. Some schools subtract grades from elective classes. Some teachers allow retakes and redos. Some calculate the majority of final grade calculation from a final exam. Some students are given a seat on the stage because they started playing the game of school early on, earning points the moment the entered the school, while others are rejected because they began to grow into learners later on once they identified their passions, which may or may not align with a college-bound trajectory. I know of some districts that do this for 5th graders in elementary school and 8th graders in middle school. The students granted the opportunity to be “the best” are given a distinction, while “the rest” despite their potential growth and improvement, are left out.
Right now, some students are beginning to make their plans for college and may begin looking at the annual rankings published by the US News and World Report. Every college and university in America is ranked on this annual list in an attempt to guide students, and their parents, towards making choices to attend the best schools. Included in these annual calculations to determine “the best” from “the rest” are factors such as average incoming student SAT score and percentage of students rejected from admittance. The belief is that “the best” schools have a lot of people wanting to get in, but because they are so good, only a handful are chosen.
Some states have begun ranking their K-12 schools as well. I wonder what it would look like if elementary schools were ranked in the same way colleges and universities are. What would happen if a school’s effectiveness was based not on its ability to actually teach students and measure their growth but instead based on kindergarten readiness and the number of students rejected admittance?
At this time of year, many schools and districts are beginning to recognize their “Teacher of the Year”. In some places, this is a recognition brought on by nomination. In some places, it is awarded provided based on a resume, a portfolio, or an interview. In some places, this award is similar to a popularity contest akin to Homecoming King or Queen…or perhaps even a valedictorian chosen by g.p.a.
The purpose of this post is not to necessarily condemn any of the above-mentioned practices (however if you really want my opinion, send me a message, I’ll’ freely share), but instead to remind us all that the labels, the rankings, the assessments we provide to others are always subjective in nature. As much as we may want to make our judgments objective and free from bias, assessment never is. When we determine what to score, what to grade, what criteria to use in our matrix, we place value on what we deem as important.
As the year comes to a close, remember that every grade, every ranking, every award given to a student, a colleague, or a staff member this year is a public statement of your values. Make sure you know what you value because others are certainly making their judgments of you based on how you judge others. Want to be a part of the ride? Sign up for the Lasting Learners newsletter and be in the running for FREE giveaways every single month: http://eepurl.com/cQwHA1
Want to hear your stories and audio blogs every week? Listen to Lasting Learning:https://anchor.fm/david-schmittou