Steinn apparently knows how to get me riled about wrong-headed middle school fundraising initiatives, since he nearly derailed my efforts to push through my stack of grading with his recent post about one such initiative. He quotes from a Raleigh News & Observer story:
Rosewood Middle School in Goldsboro… will sell 20 test points to students in exchange for a $20-dollar donation.
Students can add 10 extra points to each of two tests of their choosing. The extra points could take a student from a “B” to an “A” on a test or from a failing grade to a passing grade.
Rosewood’s principal Susie Shepherd rejected the idea that extra points on two tests could make a difference in a final grade.
Shepherd said she approved the idea when a parent advisory council presented it. “Last year they did chocolates and it didn’t generate anything,” Shepherd said.
However, this cash-for-points fundraiser didn’t last long:
Wayne County school administrators stopped the fundraiser, issuing a statement this morning.
“Yesterday afternoon, the district administration met with [Rosewood Middle School principal] Mrs. Shepherd and directed the the following actions be taken: (1) the fundraiser will be immediately stopped; (2) no extra grade credit will be issued that may have resulted from donations; and (3) beginning Novermber 12, all donations will be returned.”
Steinn despairs at this whole situation. I’m not liking it so much either.
This goes beyond the territory of whether extra credit is fair, since we’re not really talking about giving students extra points in exchange for doing extra school work (i.e., more of the sort of thing that is normally the basis for their grades in the first place). Rather, students were being offered a boost in their grade if they paid some money. I don’t think it matters if the money was to be directed to a worthy cause (whether buying supplies for the school, funding a field trip, or feeding hungry people); this kind of scheme changes the basis of evaluation, at least in part, to who can afford to pay.
Mastering a set of skills or learning a body of knowledge is not interchangeable with being in possession of twenty bucks.
Also, I’m skeptical of the claim that 20 extra points on two tests would make no difference to a student’s final grade. To students on the borderline between two grades, such a bump could well make a difference. And, if it was really the case that two tests made so little difference in a student’s final grade (perhaps because there were so many tests and assignments contributing to that final grade), shouldn’t we be inclined to say that the cash-for-grades fundraiser was ripping the students off, offering them something on the pretext that it would make a difference when it actually would not?
Was the principal’s claim that the extra points couldn’t make a difference innumerate or dishonest?
Granted, school budgets right now are in wretched shape. People probably have less disposable income to buy chocolate, or wrapping paper, or cookie dough, or whatever else schools might be used to selling to raise funds. But when a school raises funds in exchange for better grades, someone at the school has lost track of the central fact that schools are supposed to impart the learning their students need to earn those grades. Ideally, if a school is fulfilling its educational mission, its students are getting such awesome grades because of how much they’ve learned that there will be even less demand for extra points on tests than there is for PTA chocolate.
If you really wanted to set up a situation where students could help raise funds while simultaneously improving their grades, I’d think you’d want to have the students doing some activity that could be evaluated like school work. Maybe you could award extra credit to students who help design a classroom project or write up a persuasive funding request for it to submit to DonorsChoose, or to students who write persuasive letters making the case for more resources to state education officials, or to the op-ed page in the local newspaper. These activities don’t put cash right in the fundraising coffers, but neither do they make good grades something students think they can buy.
Given that Steinn and I are going to be dealing with a lot of former middle school students once they become college students, I think we’d be happier with students who are clear on the concept that grades are not for sale.