|Ashley Jones Custer|
The Digital Notebook invites submissions from other candidates as well.
On Wednesday, April 1, I had the opportunity to attend the presentation given by Dr. Thomas Guskey to the teachers and administrators during the staff development day. Dr. Guskey was paid approximately $12,000 including expenses by the district to present his thoughts and research on standards based grading, otherwise known as SBG. I purposely sat with the teachers so I could interact with them during the talk and hear their opinions and views. I am very happy I chose to do that.
I will keep this as short as possible.
Before I attended the lecture, I did some research on Dr. Guskey. I wanted to understand his ideas before hearing him speak. I found a short article he had written for the NASSP (National Association for Secondary School Principals) and I read that a few times. He described 4 steps he felt were necessary in order to achieve successful grading reform. As I read it I found it odd that in the article he cited books and papers he personally had authored. I also found that when he cited research or books not authored by himself, they were most often quite dated. I assumed though, that since the article was short, it was lacking in the detail that a $10,000/day lecturer would most certainly add to his presentation.
Sadly, I was wrong. Dr. Guskey’s presentation began with him pedaling one of the many books he has written and it only went downhill from there. He was a very poor public speaker, I was able to understand only about 80% of what he said and I was not alone, everyone around me was making comments on how they could not understand him. He often spoke quickly, mumbling while not facing his audience. After he was finally done talking about himself and took the picture of his book off the screen, he began describing his ideas for standards based grading. The more he spoke the more I realized that the article I read was basically his presentation without the power point added to it. For the next two hours he tried very hard to convince an auditorium filled with teachers that SBG was the only way to grade. As far as I could tell, he failed. Sprinkled throughout his talk were 1-2 minute ‘breaks’ given so that the teachers could discuss what he had just spoken about. During those breaks I heard very few positives concerning the material he had covered. The sheer fact that he has very little data to back up his philosophy should be a red flag. The only school he mentioned that is somewhat following his principles happens to be located in Canada. Canada is a far cry from Pottsgrove, Pennsylvania.
When Dr. Guskey was finally done talking about how there should be no more ‘zeros’ given for missed work or tests not taken, how the selection of the class valedictorian must be changed and how the bell curve must be abolished (Really Dr. Guskey? The Bell Curve in secondary school? There are few secondary school classes so difficult that they must be graded on a bell curve) I was less than impressed. But when he stated that student’s personal lives should be taken into account when grading I really wondered if this guy was serious.
Dr. Guskey has quite an impressive resume and undoubtedly is a very intelligent person. He has spent years developing a standards based grading scale that essentially nullifies the current grading practices used by most teachers. Some of his ideas have merit and in a perfect world where every teacher has no more than twenty students and a few teaching assistants to help in the classroom, they could be easily followed. In the real world of public school where most secondary teachers are responsible for over 100 students, his ideas are exactly that, ideas. To follow his model and completely change how a student is evaluated, personalize every report card in great detail, and change the grading scale is neither feasible nor plausible.
Dr. Guskey stayed with the MS and HS teachers for the rest of the afternoon and continued to push his SBG philosophy. From what I was told, the teachers were not engaged and less than impressed. Many felt that he was a waste of money and time and hope that the district will not decide that this is the way to move forward.
I will end with this; In my opinion, this was close to $12,000 that was not well spent. When the district first announced that Dr. Guskey would be coming to speak, Ms. Feola stated that his presentation was only to ‘spur conversation.’ If that was the case, about $11,950 could have been saved by merely making copies of Dr. Guskey’s NASSP article and distributing those to the teachers. I realize the money spent was not taxpayer money and it had to be spent or it would be lost but I have no doubt it could have been used in a much more productive way. Maybe in the future the teachers should have some input concerning staff development speakers and/or activities.