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One relatively simple and cheap change can be made to schooling to reduce opt out and drop out rates.

the majority of school systems use a model for reporting on achievement that is of the form A, B, C, D, E or 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 which denotes the performance in that year of learning. Where A (or 1) is high performing and E (or 7) is low performing. This system has the effect of telling students that they are passing (good) or failing (bad). Students who are slower learners or who start school with any form of deficit are more likely to categorise themselves as failures fom an early age. When this happens too often, they opt out or disengage, then eventually drop out. A better system is to describe achievment in terms of a fixed continuum that is continuous through the grades, at least for the early stages of schooling. What this means is that we describe signposts of learning at different stages that students 'move' through as they demonstrate success. This sends a different message to all students. It says 'here is where you are in your learning and now i can help you move to the next stage'. Instead of a message of pass fail good bad, of personal quality and position in school, the message is neutral and merely descriptive. The message implies that learning is a journey to be travelled in different ways and different speeds by individuals. Each report on a student would simply be that they were say 5.5 in Science, which means they are working at level 5 and have a 50% probability of working at level 6 in the next learning stage. It helps to personalise learning because teachers know were each student is in each field of learning and can create individual learning paths from that knowledge. It helps to retain students interest in continuing their schooling and so increase their chance of future successes. It helps minimise self attribution of negatives such as 'I can't do school'; 'I suck at science'; etc. This system has been used in Australia and seen to have the social benefits descibed. It is doable and meets all demands of the system.

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  • Nov 1 2013: We need more and better teachers that take a personal interest in their students. We need students to grow together and learn to collaborate. We need to make schools a safe place for our children to grow up in. Solutions should address the quality of education and worry less about soothing the effects of failure. It seems to many people that performance must constantly be evaluated and I disagree. Performance is personal for all people. A good teacher gains the respect of their community by the smile on their children's faces but 40 students to one person is a bit of a stretch if he/she is doing the job properly.
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      Nov 1 2013: Not only do we need better teachers, also better parents. It is a fact that the more parents are engaged into their kids academics the better the kid will do in the long run. An example will be how different races react to certain parts of the childs education. You might want to look into Laurence Steinberg talk in BIGTHINK about why some races outperform others. The difference in the reaction between a black or hispanic parent to an Asian or Jewish parent are polar opposites. It does not mean that one race is better than the other, it just means the expectations are different. There are a few exceptions to this Idea, but in general this in the norm.
      • Nov 2 2013: Could not agree more. Take a look at those individuals who succeed that are black or hispanic. You will find usually that the parent's have set high expectations. Ben Carson and Vivien Thomas are 2 examples.
    • Nov 2 2013: This is a response to all 3 comments.
      In my 30 years of teaching and 20 years of being a head of svience in public high schools in Australia, I haven't seen many teachers who didn't want the best for their students. Teachers are positioned to do whatever they do by the system they work under.
      As far as getting better parents is concerned, this is irrelevant. The parents are the parents and it is no point blaming the children for the parents. Race us likewise irrelevant. An unskilled parent is unskilled in any colour or race. What we need is a system where the weaknesses of the parents are minimised by the system. At the moment the system exacerbates any weaknesses. NOTE that I do not advocate equal outcomes for all. This will never happen. What I am advocating is a system that gives all kids equal access to at least 15 years of quality education regardless of their background by not positioning them too early to think of themselves as failures at school.
  • Kepu Li

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    Nov 7 2013: This is a amazing idea, in this way, students will have more passion in seeking knowledge and "climb to the final stage." I mean it can be a huge motive for me! But just for noticing, there are few problems that can be happen through this grading system. Because each student has a different path of learning, it's hard for teachers to schedule classes; students might have a huge gap of stages in learning. Also, when some students finish the course earlier, it can also deal pressure on other students to doubt themselves which might cause other mental problem than only a feeling for failure. Plus, Because each student has a individualized learning path, there will be much more effort paid, in another word, this idea might met challenges while normalizing.
    • Nov 7 2013: Hello Kepu Li,
      I have run these courses and it is not so hard. I design tasks for the students to do like 'design a mouse trap vehicle that can travel as far as possible' and student learn the physics tha goes with that then design, build and report on their car. Different students work at different stages and so it is not so difficult for me. Sometimes student can do different tasks of their own design, eg 1 student did a research project on 'becomin a midwife' because she was interested in that. She learned about biology and other things, while other students were working on diferent tasks. Each task can take from 4 to 8 weeks so I can sit with different groups at different times to help them. It is a little bit hard but not impossible. Most of each class actually ends up doing much the same thing with only a few doing different things. The main point is that as long as they engage in the work, they MUST improve, so they feel succesful, and the more they try the more successful they will be. Each student is always only competing with themselves to improve their position, not competing with anyone else.
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    Nov 4 2013: There are a few principles I would like to share:
    - the purpose of all evaluation must be to assist the students become able to evaluate himself/herself.
    - understanding is multidimensional. It has breadth and depth. There are indicators that might help us know if someone is advancing in their understanding but it is impossible to grade or put a number to evaluate the degree of the depth of understanding. Only the student can have some understanding of whether he is advancing. And it is for this reason that evaluation but something that the student does for himself/herself.
    - each student advance at their own pace and everyone must be allowed to advance at their own pace. Pitting two students with different pace against each other is destructive.
    - education must focus more on advancing the understanding of concepts rather than assimilating information.
    • Nov 4 2013: Shahzad, I couldn't agree more. The problem for me as apracticing teacher is that bureaucrats want some measure of student performance, and I don't see any change to that any time soon. That's exactoy the reason I have experimented with different ways that cause less harm, while meeting the needs of the student, teacher and bureaucrats.
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        Nov 5 2013: I totally agree and that is why I am currently working in an organization where we are learning about informal education system that does not need much funding and allows a lot of flexibility.
  • Nov 2 2013: Some people have mentioned teachers and parents. The best of all worlds would be a partnership of parents and teachers to aid students to achieve the best that they can do. Unfortunately, this partnership is very evident in the elementary level but seems to disappear in the middle school to the point where some teachers do not want to see or communicate with the parents.

    I know that the level of importance of the peer group increases but communication between the teachers and parents is key.
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    Nov 2 2013: How about taking all the numbers out of the game. Make a course map and progress through modules on a competent / non-competent method. Test out of the module to advance. This allows each student to advance at their pace and identifies areas where assistance is needed.

    Thanks Bob.
    • Nov 2 2013: Hi Robert. The numbers aren't actually critical at all. The reason I use the numbers is to meet the exoectations of educational policy makers half way. The main point I want to make is to reduce competition in school so that we reduce the unnecessary sense of failure in young students. Numbers in this form meet the needs of politicians and bureaucrats without imposing a sense of shame on students. I know there has been much talk on the need for students to experience failure so i want to clarify what I mean clearly. There are too sorts of failure, one is good and one is bad for mental health. Failure that you meet while working towards something you want is good failure, as long as you have some successes along the way. They are usually more like small setbacks that with more work you can overcome. It is good for people to develop resilience to cope with this type of failure. The bad type of failure is where a student labels themselves as a complete failure because they never or rarely have success and they decide it isn't worth trying anymore. This type of failure needs to be avoided in schools at all costs because it leafs to opting out and dropping out of school in the long run.
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        Nov 2 2013: Then my submission would work. Along with that ...... We have had the idea implanted that if you do not go to college you are a failure .... The easy solution to that would be to have dual syllabi one for college prep and one for manual/trades arts. To me that would be a win-win-win. The teachers would have students who are engaged and willing on both sides ... the kids would be where they wanted to be ... and the grade averages would soar .... everyone wins.

        See ya. Bob.
        • Nov 2 2013: Your idea can work as long as that decision is not made too early and the syllsbuses have numerous crossover points. In which case my system is useful until the decision is made so that each student get the best general education until then.
  • Nov 1 2013: This kind of arrangement isore like the student learning in at least the college or graduate school. The teachers simply could not manage each and every student according to their micrological difference in the so-called fractional levels of many students, UNLESS STUDENT LEARNING ARE ALL MORE OR LESS IN SELF_LEARNING TRACK. If you still have to group students, say, with 5.6 to 5.9 into a separate group, then this will still be the old system with 0-100 average grades. Even in graduate schools, the tendency is to use S (satisfactory) or U (unsatisfactory) instead of the micromanagement by fractional levels. If you do decide to use mostly self-guidance by the students, it is still not very useful to test/examine every individual student to see whether the student advances from the level of 5.5 to 5.6. in every couple of weeks.
    In other words, if most student learning are self guided, then there is not much value to examine too frequently to evaluate their level of qualification, otherwise, it's a little too much to waste their time of study in the level-certification of their effort.
    • Nov 2 2013: Bart, I have instituted this form of teaching and grading for a few years until politicians told me I had to stop. It can be done and you are cirrect that it becomes more like self guided learning. In practice what happens is that those who are very motivated drive their own learning quite well. Those who are not particularly motivated allow me to negotiate their learning based on their existing level (level 3, 4 etc). The main point is that some become very motivated, some progress more slowly but almost no-one opts out of the learning. In the system I used previously, a reasonably large proportion of students were opting out by 15 years of age. As far as testing goes, I was not testing much at all. I could make reasonable judgements based on the work they were doing for learning. An example of this would be to design and report on a vehicle powered by a mousetrap that could travel as far as possible. The learning was about physics, and their succes was judged by the discussions, the vehicle and the understandings shown in the report
  • Nov 1 2013: Maybe you should argue for programmed learning or more like the military. Some have music skills some math some verbal,etc.
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    Nov 1 2013: This is much easier to implement via some sort of automated online assessment system than in classroom-based instruction. I have seen districts do this. It is very expensive and has been extremely unpopular with both teachers and families.

    If you do attach numbers, as you have in your example, it is pretty unlikely that students will not understand whether they have reached a comparable level of attainment to same age peers or whether they are far behind. By the time kids are old enough that dropping out is an issue, they are much more savvy, I think, than you are giving them credit for.

    I have seen grade school report cards handled this way and have done assessments across a narrow band of skills and competencies this way, without numbers attached.