Are all goals created equal?

Below are two report cards for a wide receivers from a football team.  The reports include skills/goals that will help the players in becoming successful wide receivers.

____________________________________________________________

Player A:

YES  I am aware of the quarterback and start my route on the snap of the ball.

NO  I can run an ‘out’ route to the right or left.

YES  I can run a ‘flag’ route.

YES  I can run 40 yards in under 5.5 seconds.

YES  I can bench press 1.5 times my weight.

YES  I show up for practice on time.

YES  I can recite all of the team’s offensive plays from memory.

YES   I can catch a pass thrown to me while I’m running.

____________________________________________________________

Player B:

YES  I am aware of the quarterback and start my route on the snap of the ball.

YES  I can run an ‘out’ route to the right or left.

YES  I can run a ‘flag’ route.

YES  I can run 40 yards in under 5.5 seconds.

YES  I can bench press 1.5 times my weight.

YES  I show up for practice on time.

YES  I can recite all of the team’s offensive plays from memory.

NO   I can catch a pass thrown to me while I’m running.

_____________________________________________________________

Should both players be rated equally as wide receivers?  Should they both get the same ‘grade’?

What does this have to do with teaching physics?  Well, some of my students have beef with the idea of mastering all of the learning goals except one CORE goal and not receiving a high grade in physics.  If you check out my grading policy…a CORE goal is a goal that is a little more important than the rest.

If we’re forced to truncate tons of information about what a student knows into a single alphabetic letter to indicate to that student/parent/college/whoever how well they understand physics…then all goals can’t be treated equal.  Understanding can’t be turned into a percentage.  Some goals are and should be treated as more important than others.  So when it comes to determining letter grades (if we must…) then even missing out on one CORE goal is a big deal. Can you guess which player above is missing a CORE goal?

Which hopefully has us asking…

Why should we even transform this information into a letter grade in the first place? What if we paired the report card above with some actual evidence that indicated the report was accurate?  Channeling some Shawn Cornally (watch his TED talk, please)…How is that not good enough!?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Are all goals created equal?

  1. Love the analogy! Struggling with this now with a few students. I’m going to use this to make my case. Thanks!

    • Sam

      I’ve been thinking about this since I watched ‘Physics Teaching 2.Uh-oh’ (nice work on that by the way!) – I know you mentioned it in your talk. It’s sad that it is so awkward for people in schools to try think about learning without percentages.

      When I started this trimester I called the ‘core’ goals the more ‘basic’ goals…but I’m thinking about changing my language to say they are more ‘important’ goals. Basic implies that they may be easier…but I’m finding out that this is not always the case for every student.

  2. jenn

    Been dealing with this myself. This semester is my first try with sbg. For simplicity i decided to make all standards equal weight. First quarter grades were way too high in my opinion, based on how much they actually knew about the core ideas. Sure they got 90% of the standards, but it was the easiest 90% not the most important 90%. I’m going to use your analogy next semester to justify changing my method. Thanks!

    • Sam

      I thought my grades were a little inflated my first semester too, but then I remembered how much more inflated they were last year when I assigned points for ‘notebook checks’. At least my grades were higher for a legitimate reason this time, students actually had to master things 🙂

      I found that some of my ‘important’ goals were causing students the most difficulty. As a result, they either ended up with a low grade or a high grade…there weren’t many in between grades (like C’s). Essentially…if students could understand the ‘core’ important goals (required to get a C), they were able understand the rest (to get an A,B)

      I guess I’m okay with this…students either understood the important physics concepts or they didn’t. Since I gave them the time and opportunity to do so with reassessments, most of them ended up mastering most of the goals. If they weren’t able to understand the 5 or so ‘core’ important goals, then a low grade would better represent their understanding of physics. I’d rather have a student understand 5 important things than 15 not-as-important things. Deciding what is important is the tough part, something I’m still working on.

      It seems more justifiable to me that a teacher decides what knowledge is important and treats it as important (grade-wise) than to just turn it all into a percentage. “Percentage-izing” all of the concepts takes some of the teacher’s difficult thinking out of the process. I want to decide what’s important and treat it that way. Last year, when I was using a point system, I didn’t have to make these tough decisions. The numbers just took care of everything for me and somehow nobody challenged that! I could say things like “Well, Johnny has an 74% so he has a mid-C” and that seemed completely fair and understandable to those around me. Now if I say “Well Johnny still hasn’t mastered constant velocity. He still doesn’t understand position vs. time graphs or velocity vs. time graphs to the extent that he could really apply this knowledge to a new context, so he isn’t eligible for a ‘C’ or higher yet. He can keep working on this to master it and once he does he will get his ‘C’.” people get confused.

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