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DL schools look at new way to assess learning

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news Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

“Cheating” and the consequences of “getting caught” have been a part of academic folklore almost as long as there have been schools of learning.

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But there is a movement afoot at schools across the country that would, if not lessen the impact of “getting caught cheating,” at least make it something from which the student can recover academically — if they are willing to put in the work to do so.

It is a movement that the staff and administration of Detroit Lakes Public Schools has, as a whole, decided to embrace, according to Superintendent Doug Froke.

Froke said the issue of academic integrity — raised at a recent meeting of the Detroit Lakes School Board — is actually part of a much bigger concern: Assessing grades as a measure of student performance.

“There is a movement at hand to take grading back to what it’s supposed to be — a report to both parent and student, telling both parties what they (the student) have learned,” Froke said.

The problem, he added, is that “this movement is challenging an institution that’s a hundred years old” — or more.

Over the decades, schools gradually began moving toward something that Froke terms “toxic grading practices” — or using academic grades as a form of punishment or reward.

For instance, a student who is found to have cribbed his or her answers to a test, whether via the archaic form of writing the answers on various body parts, to the more modern alternative of Googling them on their smart phones, would traditionally be given a grade of “F” or a “zero.”

The problem with this, Froke said, is that a “zero” grade does not accurately reflect what the student has learned.

“Is cheating an academic, or a behavioral issue?” he summarized. “It’s behavioral — it’s a choice.”

Also, Froke added, “it is statistically impossible for a student to recover from a zero grade.” As a punitive measure, that works, but as a true measure of academic achievement, it does not, he said.

One possible way that a “standards-based grading” system might handle a student who is caught cribbing their answers on a test or plagiarizing an essay is to give them an alternative to taking a failing grade.

Simply put, “making the choice to not do your homework is not an option — you will do it,” Froke said.

The student would then have to either rewrite the assignment, or take the test again — and the teacher would also incorporate information on the consequences of cheating or plagiarizing in a “real life” context as part of the lesson.

“They would also learn about why it’s the wrong thing to do,” Froke added.

The student would then get a lowered grade — say, 60 percent of what they would have received if they’d done it right the first time — but would not fail the test outright.

Class participation is another area in which “standards-based grading” comes into play, he said.

Unless a teacher has laid out a clear set of standards for class participation, and applied it equally to all students, then any grade placed on that participation would become a subjective rather than an objective assessment.

“You want uniformity,” Froke said.

While this “standards-based grading” is not yet a district-wide policy, the groundwork is being laid to make it so, he said — though it is admittedly more of an issue at the high school level, when post-secondary academic and employment opportunities come into play.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in this area, but we’re building a system that takes us back to what a grade is supposed to do,” Froke said. “It’s happening, it’s going to change — and we are out in front of it.”

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

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