Foundations: My Scale Revisited
As we continue to experience the many ramifications of the pandemic, I have noticed weaker math skills, especially algebra, and a reduced attention to detail. Please know that I am absolutely not blaming anyone for these results. Students and teachers have been working (continuously pivoting!) tirelessly to do their best during these difficult years. I am simply sharing my observations of the shifts in the foundational skills of the students in my room. My physics students, AP and regular alike, are neglecting axis labels, units, and post-solving conceptual checks like never before. This has been so universal that I began shifting how I applied my scale to my students' work, beginning in the early months of last year. For example, where a 6 used to be reserved for students with absolutely everything on point, I began giving these perfect scores to work with missing units and algebra errors, reducing the score to honoring only what I considered the core of the objective. In essence, I lowered my expectations with the hope of raising them as the year progressed. In the end, I never ended up shifting back. Throughout the year, I rewrote assessments, adding prompts, hints, scaffolding, and notes of encouragement on top of shifting my grading approach. The students and I, particularly at the AP level, checked in as a group and individually. I shared my changes and adaptations and solicited their feedback. My primary objective was to ensure the students felt supported in their learning and developed some resilience as they tackled the hardest concepts they had seen in their high school careers. This past year, more than any other, was about mental health first, and everything else second.
As I look to next year, I want to reprioritize foundational skills (algebra) and best practices (units, labels, sanity checks) in a manageable way. After years of using my 3-4-5-6 scale, I am adding a category to highlight the importance of these skills.
Outside of adding some physics puns to the titles (I am a huge fan of puns, and, happily for me, physics is delightfully rife with them!), you can see I have adjusted the descriptions of each score and added in the 5.5 level. I realize this could open a can of worms by not having a 4.5, but I am confident/hopeful I can justify the leap between the 4 and 5, and the smaller, but very important, distinction between the 5.5 and 6. I did consider having 5 categories with the same numerical gap in between (something like 3,4,5,6,7). However, the percentages didn't feel aligned with the descriptions, and I didn't want my lowest score to dip below 50%.
For consistency, I also updated my homework scale (see previous scale here) to match. Below is an example of one of my new cover pages. An additional adjustment I made here was to address lateness. This may seem like a step backward in terms of flexibility. But please know that if a student communicates with me about needing a few more days, the policy changes to accommodate their needs as is clearly stipulated in my course policies. Like my new scale, this change arose as a result of my experiences this past year. Students submitted assignments and lab reports weeks late without penalty. Often my assignments were put to the side as the students, by their own admission, knew I would be infinitely flexible. Every assessment, I had multiple students rescheduling for another day. The lateness was so pervasive that it felt like I was being taken advantage of. Yet, I always allowed it because that was my policy. I added this lateness detail to this new scale to honor those students who do submit their work on time and those who communicate with me.