Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

Category Archives: Grades


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

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.

Interlude: The Case for Kohn

In our last lesson, we began this quarter’s Kohnian shift; in the next, we will decide on the criteria that will drive your self-assessment. Expect to have a clear understanding of what we are doing, how we are doing it, and what it means for your learning by the end of next week.

First, however, I will show you why we need Kohn at all. Read the following feedback on your current grades. Then visit the Portal to see your scores, noting just how difficult it is for you to separate your actual performance from your printed grades—they are that curved, manipulated, and otherwise inflated.

Part 1: QORAS

Only a few failed to finish, and I’m proud of you for that. In fact, only a few demonstrated a complete lack of preparation; the rest of you obviously used your week well. But to help the  few who weren’t prepared helps all of you. To that end:

  1. QORAS#4 and QORAS#5 were scored individually
  2. Only the higher score was counted

If you failed to finish the exam, a few points were deducted to reflect that. Similarly, if your answers overall were much weaker than your answers to #4 and #5, a few points were deducted to reflect that. But that this does not apply to most of you; with few exceptions, if you didn’t finish the exam and/or your answers overall were weak, your answers on #4 and #5 were limited or ineffective.

I chose #4 and #5, by the way, because they were the two that produced the best responses. You struggled most with #11 and #12, but that is likely because of time and pressure.

Part 2: Synthesis Response

This section featured the biggest changes:

  1. The prompts were not counted after being scored
  2. Only your essay was counted toward your average

The biggest reason for this was the poor quality of a handful of the prompts. Building a prompt is difficult, however; to fall short in presentation, arrangement, and general succinctness is to be expected. That you still wrote, in most cases, compelling arguments means more in our course. And the prompts can be considered outlines, anyway; the better they were, the better the essays were.

There was more to my decision: Factoring in a value of effectiveness for the prompts hurt more of you than it helped, and that score might prevent us from focusing on the goal of the exercise: to connect sources to each other as part of your own argument. Better to give a score for the essay only as as independent exercises in synthesis argumentation. Only when your focus was so unclear as to render the argument incoherent did I fold in a consideration of your prompt, and then, only if it helped your score.

Notice how many times the logic behind these decisions returns to your scores and your reaction to those scores. That is why we are doing what we can within the confines of a school system to get rid of grades.

The Case Against Grades

Read Alfie Kohn’s “The Case Against Grades,” which you can load online by clicking here. After you’ve finished reading, complete the following two exercises.

Part 1: One question: In the comment section of this post, ask one specific question that was raised for you about the reading. Is there a concept worth elucidating? Does Kohn raise an issue that you want to explore further? Is there an immediate concern you have about not being graded? Let this question be a sort of preface to the second exercise, which is free writing; keep in mind that we will continue to discuss this process through the beginning of next week, as well.

Part 2: Free writing: Open your Google account and load a blank document. Spend the rest of today’s period writing an answer to the following essential question:

  • To what extent are grades and learning connected in your education?

Use your reading of Kohn to inform your response. Be specific and thorough; this is not going to be shared with me or anyone else unless you want to do that, so there’s no reason to hold back. Get your thoughts down, letting Kohn’s theories and examples guide you.