Even Gifted Students Need to Make the Grade

(By Julie Zhu -- Montgomery Blair High School)
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By Jay Mathews
Thursday, May 1, 2008

A ll responses today deal with the column "Do Grades or Standardized Test Scores Make the Student?" that appeared April 10 in the Extras.

Dear Extra Credit:

Regarding the column about a high-scoring student marked down for not doing all his assignments, good teachers inspire -- instilling in each student a thirst for knowledge that seeks more than facts and their regurgitation. Teachers ultimately strive to develop critical thinking skills that permit each of us to challenge assumptions, question beliefs and test the facts upon which they are based.

While I abhor busywork, there is a time and a place for students to demonstrate a mastery of certain bodies of knowledge -- the facts. This dominates the grading and evaluation in the early years of education, and the balance shifts as students mature and embrace individual lines of inquiry.

Your article raises the central challenge of that shifting balance, particularly aggravated in group environments (classrooms), where keeping everyone at the same pace and evaluated under the same set of requirements and grading metrics is the norm. It is far more difficult to develop individual education plans for every pupil, but that is what is needed.

Then there is the issue of managing fairness and everyone's perception of fairness when students are off "doing their own things." Still, even one talented (or less talented, but for different reasons) student who receives a lot of zeros for the work not accomplished -- or even late -- troubles me.

Yes, stick-to-itiveness and perseverance are important. Ideally a teacher should be able to persuade the "gifted and talented ones" why the "useless drudgeries" need to be completed, if only from the pure mathematical logic of averaging grades from multiple assignments. However, the practical reality is that such logic is rarely compelling, to the sixth- or ninth-grader or to me.

I believe it is incumbent upon teachers to challenge their students and to build learning environments that encourage and reward those whose interests we spark. As much as good teachers, we also need administrators who recognize this and systems that are structured to reward multiple paths and evaluation measurements in their grading systems.

Teachers (and school systems) have central roles in shaping the next generation's minds. It is a sad day every time we undermine and perhaps destroy those critical relationships through excessive reliance on the routine and mundane. Saddest of all is that good teachers know when they connect with a student, and when they are not connecting. Let's allow them to excite and inspire and not feel straitjacketed by rigid evaluation and grading systems.

James M. Keagle

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