Friday, August 3, 2007

Manipulation of Marks

After reading the New York Times about mark manipulation referred to in the previous posting, I started feeling a little guilty about thus far not discussing my own acquaintance with such practices. Let me preface what is about to follow by saying that while administrators have the legal authority to overrule a teacher’s judgment, the circumstances under which they do so are more often motivated by political expedience than they are by any stretch of pedagogical justification. In these instances, the effect of this poor leadership is to breed cynicism amongst the staff, underscoring the “unseen but highly contagious disease” metaphor of Hamlet discussed earlier.

One instance from the past I can personally attest to arose when the Grade 10 science class went on a fieldtrip as their culminating activity. The tasks were fairly involved, but because all did rather poorly on it, retroactively the criteria for the activity were changed to, as I recall, ‘data collection’, so that each participant got at least 80%. The teachers of the students who did not go on the fieldtrip were instructed to alter their culminating tasks so that each would achieve at least the same mark. Now, I can’t honestly say whether the administration was aware that this was done; however, the fact that such a dereliction of academic responsibility occurred has to be, even indirectly, an indictment of the kind of atmosphere established by that administration.

Another instance involved, once again, the science department. A teacher who had been experiencing some health problems failed to mark 2 or 3 student assignments out of about 35. None was a major assignment. After a couple of complaints from parents, the administration, after consulting with the teacher, decided to raise everyone’s mark by 4 percentage points. Now, given the small number of unmarked assignments in this case, probably the most that would have been involved was about 1 percentage point. The effect of the change in marks meant that students who had failed the course now passed; since this was a senior class, conceivably some students gained an unfair advantage in competing for university scholarships; the students, of course, and all their friends became aware of it, so one can imagine the resultant cynicism; and finally, such an act really paved the way for more such ‘compromises’ in the future. Once that kind of precedent is openly established, teachers, especially inexperienced ones, assume this is the ‘way of the world,’ and thus see less reason to remain principled and resolute in the future.

Quite a price to pay in order to placate a couple of disgruntled parents.

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