The volume of e-mail from parents this year has been unprecedented. Dunno what’s different this year. Actually, I think I just figured it out. PowerCheese. Sorry, PowerGrade. I finally made the switch after being a Making the Grade fan for years. Our school bought a site license years ago, before the current IST dictatorship, and they gave us free upgrades for life! (We also had to take things to the superintendent to keep the right to keep using MtG when the district made the switch to Powerschool/Powergrade. Oh, that was ugly.) Anyway, with MtG, our site has been posting grades online for years.

I made the switch because they finally upgraded the software to a point where it was (barely) good enough. And with IST wiping our computers every year, and then (grudgingly) giving us an outdated version of MtG on the network, and since we can’t download at school, it’s a pain to get everything working again in the fall. So I went to the dark side.

I started last year for the second semester, so this is the first year I have gone with PG from the beginning. It’s a clunky, fairly lame gradebook program, whose main virtue is that it’s tied in with all the other data on PowerSchool. I mean, it doesn’t even have a seating chart feature! I still have to use MtG to generate seating charts to record scores on. And I just discovered my biggest beef with PG. When students and parents look at grades online, it automatically displays a letter grade equivalent for every assignment.  No matter how large or small the value of the assignment. Two out of five on a quick quiz? F city, baby. So when parents who aren’t used to seeing grades posted online (there aren’t a whole lot of elementary school teachers in our district posting grades yet), see that last column with an F in it…well…it isn’t pretty.

“Four hours we worked on that ________ essay, and he gets a C-? That seems unfair”

“I see she got an F on that _______ quiz. She’s never gotten an F before…”

And etc.

Yesterday I talked to the kids about perspective. I wrote the number 528 on the board. After several guesses (Ponyboy’s birthday, my uncle’s birthday, how old you are – nobody quite understood that one), someone from each class would get it. The number of points possible so far in the quarter.

“So, let’s do the math. The Show not Tell essays aren’t real essays yet, with drafts and such. They’re worth how many points? 20. Twenty divided by 528?” I do the long division with my wireless slate. “About 3%.”

“I hear people telling me they spent hours on their Messy Rooms. How many of you spend hours studying for the tests on Friday?” No hands. Except the jokers. “And those tests are worth how much? 40. Hmmmm. KBAR is 40 points per week too! Do your KBAR! Study for tests. Put your time where it matters. The difference between a C- and an A- on one of those essays is 4 points! Four!”

“I don’t put letter grades for many reasons. One of the big ones is that it makes every assignment seem to have the same value. OMG! 2/5? F! 22/40? F! Which one am I going to worry about? You guys will know when we’re doing real essays; they’ll be longer and be worth closer to 75 or 80 points. Those are the ones to spend your time on.”

“Remember, those low grades do add up, or rather don’t, if they keep coming. But that’s why we have a lot of points in here; it gives you more opportunities to rebound. The big enemy is the ZERO. Twenty-three out of forty and zero out of forty might both be F’s, but the zero inflicts much more punishment on your grade.”

“Do the math.”

“I hate math.”  Ah. Another classic three-word phrase.