Blogbook -- The White Supremacy of Grades in the Literacy Classroom
Brave WorkWrite for 15 minutes.Imagine your classroom without grades on any work. You might still provide a midpoint and final grade, perhaps even periodic progress reports or check-ins with students and parents, but no grades on individual assignments or points on anything.What do you think the benefits in learning for students could be in such an environment? What problems would go away? What evidence of learning might you have at your disposal to show students, parents, and perhaps a principal? What resistance would you likely encounter and what would people be most concerned about? Why do they care about those things?
This period of history happens to also be a period where there was a growing interest in what later would be called psychological measurement. This is the same period that produced the IQ test, the Army Alpha and Beta tests, the psychological classifications of “idiot,” “imbecile,” and “moron,” the SAT, and college entrance exams. It also spawned many statistical studies of grading. Most of them were concerned with understanding and creating reliable systems of marking student papers in schools. Most notable of these were Daniel Starch and Edward C. Elliott’s “Reliability of the Grading of High-School Work in English” (1912), and the numerous articles that identified the Hillegas-Thorndike scales for normalizing the judging of student writing (note 160).
the marks or grades attached to a pupil's work are the tangible measure of the result of his attainments, and constitute the chief basis for the determination of essential administrative problems of the school, such as transfer, promotion, retardation, elimination, and admission to higher institutions; to say nothing of the problem of the influence of these marks or grades upon the moral attitude of the pupil toward the school, education, and even life. (note 161)
Such a scale would obviously be of great value to teachers, civil-service examiners, college-entrance boards, scientific students of education and any others who need to measure the merit of specimens of English writing in order to estimate the abilities of individuals or changes in such abilities as the result of mental maturity, educational effort and other causes. (note 162)
- all spoken language changes over time
- all spoken languages are equal in terms of linguistic potential
- grammaticality and communicative effectiveness are distinct and independent issues
- written language and spoken language are historically, structurally and functionally fundamentally different creatures
- variation is intrinsic to all spoken language at every level, and much of that variation serves an emblematic purpose (note 165)
Brave WorkWrite 10 minutes.Take some time today or tomorrow to notice the various ways that English is used differently around you, perhaps noticing all the ways “non-standard” or non-dominant English is used. Pause and make a note of as many as you can. Try to write down the non-dominant phrases or sentences you hear or see in your daily life.At the end of the day, look at all the non-dominant English you’ve collected. In each case, did you understand the message? Did it seem appropriate for its intended purpose and context? Were you confused by the language? Was your first impulse to correct the language? What racialized aspects of the languaging helped make meaning for you, or others?
Brave WorkWrite for 15 minutes.Hopefully, you have access to your past grade books and grading records. Look at a few years of grades in your classrooms (or as many years and courses as you can). Without making too many assumptions about your past students, do some tabulations by racial group and grade group.How many As did you give and who racially got them? What about the Bs? What about all the students who did poorly (Ds and Fs)? Who were they racially?In each racial group, what are the percentages of poor grades? Do more Black and Latine students do poorly in your class, relatively speaking, than their White peers?How might your past grades be eugenic in outcome?
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