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DL schools look at new way to assess learning

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

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.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454