RFD: Should Test Corrections Policies Be Consistent?

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Tejas Vadali & Robert Igbokwe Anti Corrections — Tejas Vadali We’ve all messed up in school somewhere along the line. Maybe you didn’t study hard enough. Maybe you were just a little sick and feeling out of it. Maybe your dog actually ate your homework, which mine has, unsurprisingly. Regardless, there is no shame in admitting when an assessment or paper doesn’t go as well as it could have. The problem arises in how teachers let students gain some points back. A longstanding issue over the past few years has been how teachers should go about allowing revisions or corrections. Though some teachers offer corrections, others don’t, leading many to think that revisions should be standardized completely. However, this would be a little problematic. To demonstrate how cross-departmental standardization would be problematic, I decided to look into why each of the departments offers corrections. It is no secret that math tests can throw students for curves. Most math teachers employ averaged corrections, meaning they will average a student’s new test score with their old one. I sat down with Ms. Amusin, one of the teachers who does not offer corrections, to discuss why the math department employs these corrections, and why she doesn’t offer them. “I think that a lot of math teachers offer corrections because they see a lot of value in students analyzing their mistakes and correcting them. But whether or not points should be awarded back for that work is where some math teachers differ from others. In a perfect world, I would just allow unlimited corrections and not give grades. There is great value in allowing students to revisit their work, but it just becomes jumbled when a teacher has to decide on point values and reassessment logistics.” Essays can often tank students’ grades in English, leading many to try and revise their scores; however, the English department has the greatest disparity in allowing for corrections. While some teachers allow for major revisions, others do not give students the opportunity to revise at all. I spoke with Mr. Tempone about why this is, and what English teachers want to see out of student revisions. “Students need to worry more about their skills than their grades. They need to focus on where they went wrong and what they have to do in order to fix it. By this time, all students have written at least two major pieces of writing for their English classes, and if a student can identify a pattern in the things they’re consistently making mistakes on, they must pinpoint those mistakes and fix two or three of them in their writing. If students can do this, they will automatically see their grades improve.” This year, the Science department moved to standards-based grading, allowing students to retest on standards until they achieve mastery. This shift has been polarizing, with some lauding it as a much-needed change, but others claiming it has made science classes too easy. Mr. Legendre shared his thoughts on the rationale behind this radical change. “Not all concepts and skills are understood by different students at the same rate. If our number one goal is for students to ultimately grasp all of the standards, within the context of the year, it doesn’t really matter exactly when a student attains mastery so long as they eventually do. For example, if someone finds stoichiometry difficult, the class will still move at its regular pace, we’ll still learn new things, but that student will be given more opportunities to master the skill rather than try to achieve some grade on a test in passing.” Though I don’t personally have experience with any language except Latin, every Latin teacher in the language department does offer corrections. In Latin classes, a student’s grade is based almost entirely off their LBQ grades. LBQ’s, or Long Block Quizzes, are thirty-minute exams taken once per long block, and a student’s final LBQ grade of the quarter, along with an appropriate amount of consistency, determine a student’s grade. However, at least once per quarter, Latin teachers offer R&R, which means many different things, but ultimately is an opportunity for students to add a new LBQ grade to the grade book in an attempt to raise their grade. Ms. Hellenbrand, a Latin-language teacher, says, “since Latin classes do standards-based assessments on reading comprehension skills, students’ skills are always developing. I give students an optional opportunity to show what they know every quarter. I also try to eliminate as much test error as possible — if a student comes in for an assessment late because they were stuck in traffic while having a fight with their sibling, they might not be able to do their best work. Having another chance to assess allows students to have those off days without seriously impacting their progress.” The History department has a wide variety of grading systems. I personally found Mr. Cruz’s revision policy to be one of the most forgiving methods of teaching, so he told me a little more about why he uses it. “The History department doesn’t have one standard system for revisions, but we as a department want to teach thinking and writing as a process. We all offer opportunities for students to evolve in their work. I offer previsions where I will allow students to go through multiple iterations and drafts of their work with me before submitting it so that they can focus on the process and their learning rather than the letter grade. I think students are too dependent on the extrinsic motivator of the letter grade and they give it a value that it doesn’t have. I’m trying to get students to stop thinking about such small things as grades, which, in the grand scheme of the cosmos, mean next to nothing, and I want them to focus on growth and development over time, which will benefit them throughout their lives.” Clearly, teachers in each of the five departments have their own reasons to offer revisions, or not to offer them, for that matter. At this point, ignoring the differences between the departments’ reasons is next to impossible, and it would be best to keep the system as it is. Perhaps in the future, when we eventually move away from grades and towards more holistic evaluations of merit, cross-departmental standardization of revisions could be a possibility, but presently, there would be conflicting views, differing reasons, and an overwhelming sense that the real pursuit of knowledge would lose its meaning, turning us into students who rely on corrections as a crutch rather than studying hard to learn material consistently. Pro Corrections — Robert Igbokwe The reason students go to school is to learn. Letter grades and GPA calculators may distract students from this point but the goal of any school is to help its students grow both academically and as people. Corrections and revisions are just a couple of the ways that Latin teachers try to accomplish this goal. Now, it would be absurd to claim that all students look at corrections and revisions as purely growth opportunities, especially considering that revising work often comes with recovered credit for the assignment. But whether or not students recognize it, doing some form of corrections can be beneficial in all of their classes. The defense for revisions in humanities classes is clear. As many teachers in Latin’s English and History Departments will tell their students, there is no such thing as a perfect paper or a perfect writer. Learning to write is a life-long journey with no end-destination. Even the greatest writers still make mistakes and an essential part of the writing process is fixing these mistakes. Revisions can be a very helpful way of doing so. Sophomore Valeria Ceron says, “When there aren’t revisions I feel like the feedback from my previous work will be forgotten. But revisions help me practice the new skills I’ve learned.” If students aren’t given the opportunity to improve, they likely won’t— or if they do, at a much slower pace. They’ll continue making the same mistakes that will become more detrimental as their writing career continues. However, some would argue that this same growth cannot be made in STEM classes or is simply not necessary. After all, in STEM classes there is always a right answer and one can’t be more right. If a student has enough right answers to get a good grade, they have mastered the subject and if the student is bothered by their grade, it is their responsibility to seek out help to find out those right answers. Either way, the student will eventually understand the content enough to move on to the next chapter. As logical as this may seem, students rarely act this way. Take, for instance, a student taking a math class with no corrections. They’ve received a 91% on a math test and they are satisfied with this grade (as they deserve to be). But that means that the student did not understand how to do about 9% of that test. So they haven’t mastered the content. This may seem like a trivial number but if the student has no reason to address this gap in their knowledge, the gap will grow bigger and bigger as they continue to only partially grasp what they are learning. This usually results in two students with similar grades in a class having vastly different understandings of the content. And the student with all those gaps in their knowledge may struggle in their future math class because they did not address those issues. The truth is, most students don’t have the initiative to address their mistakes even when they don’t necessarily have to; they require some sort of incentive to attempt to grow. But then wouldn’t students still only be doing it for the grade? Yes and no. Yes, the primary incentive for students would be to improve their grade. No, because a better grade is not all they would gain from doing revisions or corrections. One should also keep in mind that teachers who do offer revisions and corrections are not offering students full points back. Mr. McArthur, for example, only recovers a fourth of the points a student lost on a quiz or test after corrections. And Ms. Hennessy only allows students to boost their grade up by half a letter grade after revisions. The incentive is significant enough that many students choose to do corrections, but not to the extent where assessments lose their purpose. Besides, students who use correction and revision opportunities don’t expect their grades to be meaningfully improved. Sophomore Theo Kokonas says, “Corrections always serve as a way to further your learning, not as a crutch for students to lean on. I’m not saying I need to get full points back, because being able to learn within a timeframe is also a useful skill, but I want some compensation for the effort that I went through to learn from my mistakes and to move on with my learning.” The bottom line is test corrections and revisions are an essential part of Latin’s mission to foster a community of growth and are helpful in Latin classes across all divisions. ]]>