What, no F ?

Napoleon famously said that, after his educational reforms, he knew, at any given time of day, what subject every child in France was being taught. But the Howard government is giving him a run for his money in micromanagement, with a promise to specify letter grades from A to E for every student. Parents who’ve read the obscure reports commonly handed by schools will have some sympathy with Nelson on this score, but surely this is the kind of thing that ought to dealt with at the school level (if necessary, with some general guidance from state departments of education).

And if we are going to have letter grades, A to E seems an odd choice, more reminiscent of Brave New World than of actual grading systems parents will have experienced. At least in the three-euphemism systems commonly employed at present (‘tackling this topic with ease’, ‘mostly on top of this topic’,’ not quite yet’) it’s reasonably easy to work out if your kid is failing. And the letter systems I’ve experienced use the mnemonically unambiguous F. What would a D mean in the proposed setup?

7 thoughts on “What, no F ?

  1. Eventually, everyone will know that E means F.

    It’s like those stockbroker reports where a “hold” recommendation actually means “sell”.

  2. At my old school (mid-range Catholic, high school + college), we had A-E. Everyone understood that ‘E’ meant “fail” (0-49). ‘D’ was approximately 50-59, ‘C’ 60-70, ‘B’ 71-80, and ‘A’ 81-100.

    It worked pretty well; better than uni, where people are forever asking their tutors “umm… is that a credit or what?”. And then there’s the convenors who make up their own systems: “pretty acceptable”, what the hell does that mean? But I don’t think A-E would work for primary schools.

  3. I think there should be two grades

    A – Meaning excellence; a winner; king of the hill -top of the heap; Nobody does it better – makes me feel sad for the rest.

    Z – the rest; also-ran; loser; bludger

    This will give something for the aspirationals to aspire to. Those whiny indulgent greedy dumb unimaginative gits.

  4. John

    At least with the “system” most commonly used in NT schools, which I understand to have some loose relatioship with the abortive attempts to establish a national curriculum framework, the grading (outcome) terms used include things like “consolidating”, which seems to mean a D or thereabouts, and “emerging”, which seems to mean a complete dud or F. The other accepted terms are equally opaque. And, at least at primary school level, the report format is further complicated by a range of other meaningless jargon categories that make them almost completely incomprehensible even to someone like me with fairly reasonable reading and comprehension skills.

    I suspect it isn’t quite as bad in some other states, but bad enough. I vaguely recall your arguing some time ago that there was no need for a national curriculum framework in education, and that it should be left wholly with the states. I strongly disagree. It’s an issue that comes into sharp relief in a place like the NT, where people are very mobile, almost everyone comes from somewhere interstate, and many will go back interstate again while their children are still at school. Major disruption is caused by the drastic lack of uniformity between states. Children may transfer to the NT and find themselves way behind in some subject areas and lacking in basic knowledge that inhibits their further progress, but way ahead in other areas and bored to death. Then, when they go back interstate, the process is reversed.

    There is no logical reason why education should be a solely state responsibility. The knowledge and skills a child needs to survive and thrive in the modern world are no different in Queensland than in NSW or the NT. So why do they have such divergent curricula and reporting frameworks? It’s parochialism of the worst kind, because it’s our children who suffer from the inability or unwillingness of state ministers and education bureaucrats to agree on a national curriculum (and reporting framework). Moreover, I also suspect it has something to do with the resistance of teachers’ unions to facilitate a system that might permit teachers’ performance to be assessed in any meaningful way. I think Nelson is right. It isn’t “micromanagement” to require a a broadly uniform national curriculum or common reporting framework so that parents an understand how their kids are progressing, both individually and by comparison with other students and schools. If someone doesn’t do it, the inept petty bureaucrats who inhabit the education departments of every state and territory will keep stuffing around and disadvantaging our children for ever more.

  5. It’s like the bloody railways half a century ago. Woe betide if you’re in year 12 and your parents have to move – say a prayer to all the gods of the Teacher’s Union that there’ll be some overlap between the novels you’re reading in one state versus another etc. etc. Jeez, I had this problem back in 1969. Nothing’s changed!

  6. Hmm there’s something wrong with 0-100?
    Then again, the mathematician in me is somehow calling out for a 0-1 interval..

  7. As the parent of 4 kids across primary and high school I have to say that I am able to easily understand the modern report cards.

    I have a great deal of sympathy for not going with that meaningless “you got 59.25%” bullshit (per cent of what?). Spurious digital accuracy may comfort those parents of enfeebled intellect with an unhealthy need to proclaim their own child as 13.8% better than the Jones kid but who the heck is it going to help.

    If you are really really stuck, try being involved with your child’s learning and strike up a relationship with their teacher. They’ll tell you what you need to know and what to do about it.

    I do wish you technocrats would grow out this schoolyard competitive streak.

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