When I was a law student at a fairly prestigious school, I interviewed with a fairly prestigious law firm. One of the interviewers, when he heard I was from the Bay Area (although that’s not where I went to law school), told me that his firm almost never hired people from Boalt law school in Berkeley. I was surprised, because it’s always among the top ten lists of public law schools. He told me that it was the grading system.
It turns out that, in an effort to decrease competition among the students, Boalt had done away with traditional grades. (I don’t know if this is still the case, especially since the absence of grades had not decreased Boalt’s reputation for classmate competition one iota.) Students either failed (although I’m sure the term was more PC), or they passed, with the kids at the very top of the class getting some special commendation.
This system meant that a law firm, unless it got the kids at the very top of the class, had no idea whether it was getting a great student, a good student, or someone who just avoided failing. Considering the cost involved in recruiting and training young attorneys, it turned out that a lot of law firms weren’t willing to take the risk that they might not get one of the academically solid kids.
I keep thinking of this when I get the report card from one of the Bookkids’ schools. As with Boalt, you have your extra special kids, who score at the top in any given subject. That means that, as to that subject, the child “consistently meets 95-100% of the District’s grade level standards with complete understanding and may exceed the standards.” (There’s more, in the same vein.)
It’s the next category that bewilders me, the “proficient” one. The student who is marked proficient on a subject “regularly meets and demonstrates adequate understanding in 70-94% of the District’s grade level standards.” What does this mean? That’s a huge spread — 70-94%. When I went to school, that was a spread that took you from a C or C- all the way up to an A or A- (depending if the school did minuses). To me, this means that kids marked “proficient” range from those doing mediocre work to those doing very good work. That’s a huge difference.
To show how meaningless that “proficient” mark is, consider the different comments from the teachers that went with these marks. Of one child, the teacher said, “he is exceptionally good at math and shows an understanding in advance of his grade level.” Of the other child, the teacher said, “she’s still struggling with certain basic math concepts, but is showing progress.” Since I know my children very well, I agree with the written assessments, assessments that make the bland, sloppy, broad “proficient” seem only more meaningless.
All I can say (or, rather, ask) is I wonder why they bother?