Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

Category Archives: Grade Abatement


Over the next three days, I am going to reach out to some of you over email. This will happen in waves, starting with Period 4 tonight and continuing as often as I find time to read through your abatement profiles. Check your BHS email address regularly.

I’m going to have to start with the students whose self-assessments are missing, incomplete, or inaccurate. In rare cases, this means telling you that you actually deserve a higher profile score than you’ve thought; in most cases, this means telling you that you deserve a lower score. That’s not going to be easy to read, my Geisterfahrer, not least of all because most of the inflated self-assessments slip into the shade of the Dunning-Kruger effect. You don’t know you deserve a lower score, and that is, at least in part, why you deserve a lower score.

I want you to remember a few things. First, the enemy of accuracy is that Skinner-box desire for a particular number. Call it the curse of the High Honor Roll. Second, this is one of those points where opinion shades off into an error of fact; you might truly and fervently believe you deserve a 92 for a performance that can’t earn above a 72. Yet that comes down to you, as well: It’s you who provides me any missing details I need to make this decision, which is why particularly vague or unsubstantiated reasoning echoes your overall limitations. Third, if you’ve been reading what’s required of you over the last month, you know that you have ample opportunity to be honest with yourself and take home the shiny average you so badly want to slap on the refrigerator.

The answer to your probable cognitive dissonance is to make a choice: You can conference with me or accept my feedback without conferencing. If you choose the latter, you accept the score I’ve indicated; if you choose the former, you must make a second choice between talking with me over email and meeting with me in person.

Once I’ve dealt with the students whose self-assessments are missing, incomplete, or inaccurate, I will use whatever time and energy I have left to respond to the rest of you. And if my time and energy is depleted before the end of school, I make you this promise: I will have read what you’ve written me, and I will be proud and honored by how insightful and honest and effective your work is. You should be proud, too. You’ve done all I’ve asked of you, and you’ve done it to the best of your abilities. In fact, if I can be allowed one moment of sentimentality, you’ve given a very old man a very new kind of hope for what this classroom can be.

Until we reach the foot of the next mountain,

Mr. Eure

Cooking the Books

Before the end of Monday’s class, you must start the grade abatement process by giving me the score you believe you deserve this quarter. If you haven’t already, you will be required to complete the handwritten portion of the rubric. Any other writing you’ve prepared can be submitted tomorrow or over the ensuing week.

Honesty and accuracy are the most important elements of this process.  Many of you are a 6. Some push into a 7, but the particulars are important: 7 indicates an impeccable work ethic, a strong performance in all aspects of the course, a consistent and reliable approach to metacognition, and so on. Did you keep up with regular reflections on what you learned each week? Did you finish your final essay when you needed to? Have you used every single period in class productively? Did you read everything you were told to in the final series of instructional posts? If not, a 7 is hard to justify.

Getting into the 8 and 9 range is obviously even more difficult, yet that’s where most of you want to be. A reliance on scores of 90+ has been bred into you over a decade of formal schooling. We’ve covered the reasons for this—and the deleterious impact of it—enough this semester, but there is one question worth asking again: How do we reconcile honesty and accuracy in grade abatement with a school culture obsessed with grades?

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Water Bear Facts

Tardigrade don't care.

Tardigrade don’t care.

Note: The collective goal outlined in this post has been raised to a 7. More information to follow.

In the first guide I gave you on grade abatement, I said that I’d like you to become a kind of academic polyextremophile. After the AP exam, I sort of launched you into space to see if you had adapted. We’re now in Week 3 of that experiment.

To the right of this post is a section labeled Current U/E Score, where U/E stands for Ursus Ephemeris, the website you are ostensibly redesigning and repopulating as an extension of your autodidactic work this quarter. (It is also the second time you’ve been asked to make your writing authentic in this way; and, in fact, you’ll need that original “Pushing the Message” post to do this work.) The score is based on the rubric being used for the second half of your final exam, and it reflects the most current assessment of the site overall.

Have you clicked on and explored/revisited each of those hyperlinks? Good. Two things:

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Final Salvo, Part 3

The last piece of this puzzle is your final grade abatement justification. This post reviews a few of the changes that have been made. First, there is a rubric now to help you focus your thinking:

You still need to review the guide to grade abatement and then read over everything else I’ve given you, including the more recent additions to the list on the side of this site. This rubric has language for each tier that should help you perform your rhinoceros work, however, and it provides a space for concise writing. More importantly, this rubric sets one number for each tier. You may not suggest a number that is not listed here. If you believe you are a 7, for instance, and I agree, you will receive an 87. Let’s hope this removes the argument over thresholds and the quibbling over points.

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Grade Abatement: Threshold #1

Note: If you received an email last night from me, you must reply to it. It takes a long time to construct that kind of feedback, and you will not benefit from it without a careful consideration of what it says; you must, therefore, send me an email in reply that continues the dialogue and shows me some introspection and understanding.

Your first self-assessment of this quarter was the QORAS assignment for Francine Prose. Your second is the synthesis essay and attached scoring work that we will finish tomorrow. You should, therefore, already have a sense of your progress—or lack thereof, as the case may be. Continue to follow the same protocol this quarter for grade abatement. Monitor your learning; be reflective and metacognitive regularly; ask questions whenever necessary; and make yourself be honest and accurate about how you perform with every lesson, exercise, or assignment.

About Q3: Many of you will get typed feedback tonight, but not all. If you were close to the right score, or if you were only a few shades off, you might not have been written. That is because of how long it takes to draft and revise that kind of feedback; it is not because I have nothing to say to you. If I could, I would devote an hour to each of you, either in writing or in person, discussing your thoughts on this process and how you have performed. Unfortunately, I do not have an extra 70 hours.

Here’s what I can do: I will set aside the next three days for conferencing in class, which will give you—if you keep it short and focused—a chance to ask questions and speak to me in person. We can continue these conferences even into Friday’s writing exercise. (Like last week’s, the goal is to approximate a timed exam setting; if you lose a few minutes to conference with me, and that requires you to extend your writing into the afternoon or weekend, that is your choice.)

Watch your email, and remember this comforting fact: We don’t have to talk about grades—numerical, draconian, awful grades—again until the end of the quarter.

Grade Abatement Redux

Before you do anything else, check your email.

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Grade Abatement: Q3

Note: Based on a few conversations I’ve had with you, I’d like to expand the soft cap of these grade abatement responses to 500 words. Aim for between 250 and 500; if you go a bit over, that’s okay, too. Just honor the intentions of the exercise: Be succinct and selective in your insights.

Another note: Joey Blasco in ninth period pointed me in the direction of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which gives a name to one of the phenomena I’ve been describing to you. That entry is worth your time, especially as we continue our conversation beyond Tuesday’s writing; it neatly summarizes why some of you can’t help but overrate your ability and performance.

Read the post before this one again. The document on grade abatement has been updated; you also can load it by clicking here. The student profiles (and only the student profiles) have been posted after the jump.

Wait until Tuesday before sharing your Q3 scores and justifications with me; in the meantime, keep reviewing all of this information. The more thought and time you put into this, the easier and more rewarding this process will be. Remember two things:

  1. This is about helping you to be honest and accurate about your hard work and progress (or lack thereof); as long as you are honest, specific, and thorough, you will learn a lot from the self-assessment process.
  2. It is a process, and it is a carefully controlled and regulated one. I will be monitoring and helping you; if you have any questions, get them to me right away.

Spend some more time reflecting first, write a lengthy draft second, and then distill those notes and that general thinking to a 500-word (or so; there is no hard cap) justification. Then we’ll talk.

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Occam’s Razor and the Rhinoceros Test

Dürer's Rhinoceros

Dürer’s Rhinoceros (1515)

The third quarter ends on April 12. Until that day, you will be working individually and silently on a series of assignments. There are two reasons for this:

  1. You are turning your focus inward in order to determine your effectiveness this quarter, and that requires patience, time, and quiet.
  2. You have stopped being productive during your collaborative time.

#2 will come up again as we discuss grade abatement and the end of the quarter. Just keep in mind that even when I’m working myself—when I’m engineering and building the things you use in here—I’m aware of who spends the period chatting about unrelated things; I know who reads ESPN instead of this website; and I can tell—through body language alone—who is on-task and who isn’t. And that, Kinder, is just the time wasted in class.

You’ll start the grade abatement process on 4/5/13 by grabbing an index card and writing your name on it. Then you’ll consider the entire third quarter, from the first day until now, through the lens of the important skills, traits, and goals of this course. Then you’ll assign yourself a category by writing the bolded portion beneath your name:

  • A | Effective | Exemplary, exceptional, exhaustive, extraordinary | 90-100
  • B | Adequate | Expected, methodical, complete, better than average | 80-89
  • C | Limited | Desultory, incomplete, imprecise, average | 70-79
  • D | Inadequate | Perfunctory, erroneous, severely lacking, well below average | 60-69
  • F | Ineffective | Limited success in most categories | 50-59

Finally, you’ll give yourself a two-digit score from that category, write it clearly on the index card, and hand that card in. If you happen to miss class when we do this, do it on your own and put the card aside until you’re back in school.

Now you can read these:

You will receive another two pages from the second document on Monday. We will read the whole thing together very carefully, so that you are prepared for Tuesday, when you will again propose a score for your quarter. At that point, you’ll also justify the score in writing. After that, I’ll be in contact with those of you who need individual help.

Note: Don’t start writing your 250-word justification yet. Plan it, draft it, fill a bunch of pages with thoughts and notes, but don’t write anything or share it with me. You will have the entire period on Tuesday to finish and share these.