Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

Grade Abatement Redux

Before you do anything else, check your email.

Here’s the hard truth: Some of you are going to have to come down from the score you’ve given yourself. It will be easier if that change isn’t forced on you, but we’ve left the realm of opinion; for some of you, your self-assessment has shaded off into an error of fact.

You must know that I could have assigned you these holistic grades. The genesis of the rhinoceros test—and its sister ideas, Occam’s razor and the Dunning-Kruger effect—was my own holistic understanding of who you are. I know your writing and reading ability. I know your communicative ability in class. I know your analytical strengths and weaknesses. I’ve cataloged your submissions to everything from our online discussions to the newspaper. I know what you’ve done and what you haven’t, and, more importantly, I know how you’ve done it.

So… why ask you to generate the score? Because it makes you a partner in this process. It emphasizes the learning, not just the grade, and it treats this necessary evil (that we have to have a grade on the report card) as something you have a stake in. If I simply told you what you’d earned, it would undermine what this course is about. It would  promote the kind of grade obsession that dominates so much of your education. It would mean that you hadn’t arrived at a conclusion on your own—one would have been forced on you.

And there are things that I don’t know about you. This sort of longview—looking back over an entire quarter—brings some of those things to light. I get to read about your metacognitive journaling and see your metacognitive ability in action. You fill in some of the blanks about group work, the symposium, and your outside reading. This grade abatement writing also tells me how closely and insightfully you read these last documents on grade abatement itself.

Those details don’t change which tier you fit, however, except in a few rare cases. That’s the rhinoceros test again: You’re obviously one kind of student or another. But some of you missed that mark. Some of you are way off. You’re using bad logic and defensive, overly general reasoning to argue your way past it. I believe this is partially the Dunning-Kruger effect—a metacognitive inability to recognize your lack of skill and your mistakes—and partially your longstanding desire to receive 90s or higher.

Know that this applies to about a dozen of you. Many of you have done splendid work. If this post does not help you figure out which group you are in, I will have to contact you directly to continue the discussion.

The biggest concern: your reliance on “effort” as a justification for overall effectiveness. Effort matters, but not nearly as much as other elements of your quarter. I read far too many responses saying how hard you work, including a few that suggest (or outright complain) that your efforts are being ignored. But hard work doesn’t tip you into effectiveness all by itself. It doesn’t matter if you work harder in here than in any other class—not if your ability and performance don’t also indicate effectiveness. Ability and performance are a huge part of this, along with collaboration and metacognition and a long, long list of other skills and traits. Some of you have to grapple with that. This is a college-level course in rhetoric and argument, and one of the more challenging courses in terms of the skills taught to you and the traits expected of you.

Which leads to another hard truth: To consider yourself an effective student, you have to write effectively, think effectively, and read effectively, where “effectively” is the standard I’ve set for you all year. Your grades aren’t being curved or boosted by floating standards this time. You have to be one of the most consistently excellent performers in all facets, from writing to analysis to reading quickly and insightfully. Because of that, how hard you work is secondary; if you try and don’t quite equal the performance of an effective student, you aren’t effective. All the effort in the world can’t change that.

Three related things worth isolating:

  1. You might not know that you aren’t the equal of the effective students around you. If that continues, then I will have to email you with and walk you through it. My hope is that after a quarter of constant peer review, editing, and feedback, and after three quarters in this course, you can be honest and show some metacognitive grit. That self-awareness has been stressed more than any other trait, and is far more important than assiduousness ever will be. And I told you this explicitly: If you have to struggle to justify putting yourself in a tier, you probably aren’t talking about the right one.
  2. An 89 or lower means explicitly that you are no longer effective; it’s not about being one point lower, which a couple of you described as a meaningless distinction. This obviously misses the crux of all of our studies since February. It’s an entire tier lower—and numbers are meaningless next to the tiers. If you look at the meaning in any of these things, the distance between each of the tiers—on the rubric, for instance, a 7 to an 8 or an 8 to a 9—is massive. It’s not a series of +1 level gains. It isn’t sequential growth, not really; it’s closer to geometric. An 89 is fundamentally different from a 90.
  3. While many of you are above-average, the middle tier—70-79—refers to the average student in a college-level course like this one. The next tier up actually means that you’ve done well—see the descriptions and profiles I’ve given you for a refresher. So it’s difficult to understand how some of you could tick off the work you didn’t do, the amount of time you wasted, etc., and then say, “But that’s adequate. I deserve an 85.”

This isn’t about acquiescing and giving yourself an 89 instead of that 90 or 92 you wanted, by the way. This not about humility. Humility has nothing to do with accuracy, which is all that matters here. That means recognizing that you may be inflating yourself, and that could be true if you gave yourself a 99, an 89, or a 79. You need to take honest stock of yourself. Look at the tier you’ve chosen. Look at your justification. Are you focused on a number or on yourself? Are you being vague or specific? Are you defensive or introspective? Does your description actually fit the tier you’ve chosen, or do you describe one kind of student and then give a different score?

I’ll give you a day to process this. Then I’ll start emailing individuals. Let me know by email if you have adjustments you want to make before then.

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