An Apology

In my final reflection, I lied to you. I told you that in this class I learned how to write academically, that I discovered new ways of expression relating to the four outcomes that you put on the syllabus. Yes, I learned these things, but the most important thing I learned wasn’t on the syllabus, because I wrote that entire portfolio in the last two and a half hours, rushing over every section, taking no time to look over my work or put any real meaning into my words. It was a race to the finish, a classic college tale of staying up all night to make it to the deadline. Well, I finished the race alright. Like a distance runner sandbagging the entire race, and then sprinting at the very end just to look fast, I finished the race. I put off the assignment just like I do every assignment, and my punishment was the same as usual; I did a piss poor job.

But this time the consequences are different. This portfolio is 70% of my grade, and it’s going to be a pretty ugly 70%. Failing is different now, because I don’t have the luxury of excuses, or retakes, or trying to trick the teacher with a sob story. All I have is myself, and my will to seek out resources and finish my work. Maybe I’ll pass this class, and maybe I won’t. But I don’t really think I deserve to. I think what I hate more than this habit of mine is that it keeps working. I can waste my time until the end, and then pump out a half-baked essay that gets by because I know big words. Except now, it’s not going to work anymore. I wrote you the tiniest, feeblest paragraph in that final reflection. Like a sick gazelle at the back of the pack, only around to be the one caught by the lion. My essay was that sick gazelle. Manufactured in 45 seconds purely, completely, for the purpose of not failing the class. Just like the herd leaves it behind to live, I left that assignment behind just to pass. And you deserve better.

You, who have been an outstanding teacher to me this quarter. You, who challenged me as a writer in ways I’ve never even thought of before. You called me out on the bullshit parts of my essay that I knew were weak, and praised me for the good ideas I did have. You were insightful and inspiring, and I threw it down the drain. Did my writing improve? Sure. But not in the way it could have. Maybe I think a little bit more when I write an essay, but I still write them at the same time. 11:00 pm, an hour before the deadline. Shaking with adrenaline and energy drinks, beating myself up for not doing it earlier and praising myself for being so productive with it now. You and my classmates deserved better. What is the point of writing an essay that’s supposed to be an expression of my thoughts and beliefs if every damn time I just vomit up word salad to get a passing grade?

I considered editing it after I submitted it. Maybe you wouldn’t catch it, even though it was after the deadline. I could sneak in some more paragraphs, edit the rest a bit more, make it more substantial. But I’m not going to do that. The deadline was midnight, and this is supposed to be an accurate representation of the work I’ve done in this class. So fuck it. This IS an accurate representation of the work I’ve done. It’s incomplete, it’s forced, it’s rushed, and frankly, it’s shitty. How poetic that my final analysis of my work is of the same quality and nature as the work itself. And when I finished it, I screamed into my pillow. Partly because I was so overwhelmed that it was done, but mostly because I was so angry it took this long.

This is where I’m drawing the line. I’m not just changing for myself anymore. I’m going to do it for the teachers I constantly disappointed and the missed opportunities I squandered sleeping in on the weekends. I’m not going to lie to myself anymore, and I’m not going to lie to you either. You, my High School Calculus teacher, for whom I failed your tests despite all the chances you gave me to make it up and I made up stupid excuses for why I couldn’t just do my work. You, my Cross Country coach, who I told I ran over the weekend when I just sat at home and watched netflix. You, my Spanish teacher, for whom I constantly performed poorly in your class, because after 6 years I still can’t say a damn thing in Spanish. And finally, for You, my English 131 teacher, for whom I was so inspired and impressed by; and yet in the ten weeks I spent in your class, I was never able to write a paper I was proud of.

To all of you. I’m sorry. I’m not going to lie anymore. I’m not going to write sick and dying gazelles anymore. I’m going to write fierce, opinionated, well researched lions. I’m going to do my work, because one day, it won’t be just me that depends on me getting my shit together.

Standards Based Grading: Pros and Cons

My school is trying out a new form of grading based on “Power Standards.” As opposed to the usual form most schools use, in which your final grade is based on the average score of tests, classwork, and sometimes homework, the power standards system produces 10 standards for each class that must be met; a certain calculus test, for example, might meet the standard for understand differentiating. If you pass that test, you meet the standard. You get about 3 or 4 chances to meet the standard, and your total amount of standards met over the amount possible determines your grade (so if I met all but one, my grade would be a 90%.) It’s a little more complicated than this, but that’s the gist of it.

Now, before I begin, let me explain; I’m just a student. I’m not in the district board, I wasn’t on any of the committees, so don’t take any of my opinions too seriously. This is merely what I have observed and how I feel about things.

Cons:

Mediocrity is encouraged. Since achieving a standard only requires passing the test, a 70% is functionally identical to a 100%. In both situations, the student passes and meets the standard. There is no reason, other than from inside the student or from external forces like parental desires, to strive to achieve a better grade on tests.

Progress reports are nullified. In the beginning of the year, each student basically has a 0%; they have passed 0 of the standards, after all. So progress reports, checking grades, anything during the year that allows the student to check how they’re doing, is extremely difficult; if I’ve passed 3 of the standards halfway through the semester, should I have a 100% or a 30%? You could simply grade on the curve, but once again this means that there is no definable level to strive towards; if the students are merely ranked against each other, things can deteriorate very quickly.

What counts as something that can actually pass the standard is vague. Tests, of course, can be considered when looking at the standards, however many of my teachers are split over things like homework, quizzes, classwork, etc. What should count as a chance? Should the grade be only defined by tests? While this problem did exist in the earlier system, this new change has intensified it greatly because so much of this program is ambiguous. And while I’m all for allowing the teachers more leeway to teach their own way, not having a unified system can mean people get graded unfairly.

Pros:

Non-textbook curriculum are enriched. Many of the power standards, especially in foreign languages, are for activities outside the class that provide further knowledge of the subject. In Spanish, for instance, there is a standard for doing things like watching plays in Spanish, or writing essays in the language. The fact that these activities don’t adhere to the textbook or yearly lesson plan means that students can accrue outside knowledge and become more familiar with the material.

The system is great for elective-type classes. In music classes, especially, grading can be difficult. Grading on performance can be shaky, and most instructors choose to grade on attendance to concerts. By utilizing the standards system, music classes can put forth basic goals that need to be attained to consider the instrument or skill learned. These are the few situations where I see power standards working well.

Conclusion:

i can’t wait until college where I don’t have to worry about this crap