How football can explain standards-based learning

Most teachers continue to issue overall letter grades based on a student’s overall average; the teacher takes the average of every score on every assignment over the course of an entire semester then issues a single letter grade to show the student’s accomplishments. The letter grade becomes the goal of going to school, not how much a student learns or how much a student grows.

One of my biggest issues with traditional grading (I have many) is that averages, in my opinion, are meaningless. It’s the results at the end that matter more to me. My usual argument uses a sports reference from when I ran the 100m dash in track in high school, and it goes as follows:

  1. I never earned a medal based on my average times from all my practices; practice helps me prepare but practice itself is not counted
  2. I never earned a medal based on my average times from all my races; each race was a chance to earn a medal
  3. If I lost a race on Monday it had no bearing on my next race on Friday
  4. My times got better throughout the year; my coach really only looked at the last race or two to decide if I would be entered in the next meet but he never took the average of my times to make that decision
  5. I qualified for the state finals because of my time in the final qualifying race of the season; no other previous times mattered

Don’t take my word for it, though. I will turn to Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots and winner of four Super Bowls in the last 15 years. At the halfway point of the 2015 season, a reporter told Belichick that his quarterback is the mid-season MVP. Belichick’s reply was,

“That’s great, but honestly I don’t think anyone is really focused on that… Some midseason report card, who cares? What difference does it make? Give me an F. Give me a C+. Right now we’re focused on the Giants [their next opponent]. That’s all I really care about.”

The reporter then asked the coach what grade he would give his quarterback. Belichick’s response was, “I don’t give grades… We’re trying to beat the Giants. I don’t really care about some midseason midterm grades. Give me whatever you want.”

In football, nothing really matters except winning the Super Bowl at the end of the season. It doesn’t matter where you stand at any point during the season except for the fact that you need to make the playoffs and win the championship. Let’s look at the 2007 NFL season as an example of whether or not a team met the standard. The Patriots were 18-0 going into the Super Bowl; their average was 100%. But they lost the Super Bowl, dropping their average to 95%. Yes, they performed well all year, but they did not meet the standard of winning the Super Bowl. A teacher would still give them an overall grade of 95%, which is an A, yet they didn’t prove they knew what they needed to know.

patriots lose super bowl the catch 2
David Tyree of the New York Giants trapped the pass against his helmet and held on to get the first down. The Giants scored on that last drive and beat the 18-0 New England Patriots to win Super Bowl 42.

Their opponent was the Giants, who entered the playoffs at 10-6 for an average of 63%. They won the next four playoff games to win the title. What was their new average? 70%. For a teacher issuing traditional grades, the Giants would get a C-. But if you look at the STANDARD, which is winning the Super Bowl, they met the goal that everyone is striving for.

Averaging scores for an entire semester just doesn’t make sense to me. It penalizes every student if they do not understand a concept during the week it was taught, even if the student learns later in the year and remembers it forever. Is the point of grades to measure learning at the exact moment that something appears in the curriculum, or is it more important to fully understand the concept before the course ends? Providing students with meaningful feedback throughout the semester – telling them where their strengths and weaknesses lie on a continuous basis – is far more valuable in helping a student meet the standards by the end of the year than issuing a final, single letter grade based on the average of how their scores from assignment.

feedback

References

Curran, Tom E. “Belichick’s Report Card? ‘Who Cares? Give Me an F'” Comcast SportsNet New England. Comcast SportsNet New England, 11 Nov. 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. <http://www.csnne.com/new-england-patriots/belichick-report-card-who-cares-give-me-f>.