November 19th, 2019

storyteller doll

Grading My Generation

This is mostly triggered by a recent entry from daphnep re: standardized testing and generational differences. For background, I am a late boomer and grew up on Long Island. I’m not going to attempt to generalize about generations, though. I’m just going to provide some anecdotal experience.

My somewhat vague recollection is that we were given standardized tests at least twice in elementary school in the 1960’s. I am not sure whether these were the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills or the California Tests of Basic Skills, though California sounds vaguely familiar. I know we also used SRA (apparently, this stands for Science Research Associates) for reading, which involved a box with cards labeled with different colors for the reading levels, but I don’t think we used an associated all-day test from them. My impression is that the major purpose of the tests had to do with assigning students to tracks. Essentially, we were sorted as smart, average, or dumb, though this was never said explicitly until high school where there were honors classes.

Of course, high school included the PSAT (which was important, because it was used to determine who got National Merit Scholarships) and the SAT (which was viewed as a big part of college admissions). I don’t think SAT prep was really a big thing back then. However, we did have vocabulary practice in English class that focused on Greek and Latin roots, enabling us to figure out words from those roots.

The more important standardized tests were the New York State Regents Exams. They were given in several subjects, which have changed over the years. English, American History, World History, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and German were the ones I took. There were prep books with sample tests for these. Typically, they were used as a final exam for a particular course. For those of us in honors classes, that was considered a good thing, as they were typically easier than what our own teachers would have devised. Passing a certain number of Regents exams (5 I think, but I could be misremembering) got you an extra gold seal on your high school diploma. By the way, I also earned money tutoring other kids for Regents exams in math and science subjects.

My most interesting experience with grading came during the summer biochemistry program I attended the summer before my senior year of high school. The instructors graded our lab write-ups, but each of them used a system of their own that meant something to them but was undecipherable to us. I particularly remember one teacher using pieces of classical music as grades. I know I got "Summer Nights in Madrid by Glinka" as a grade on one report. To this day I have absolutely no idea what that meant, but I did think of it when I saw Glinka’s grave in the Tikhvin Cemetery attached to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St, Petersburg, Russia in 2000. (By the way, pretty much all of the great 19th century Russian composers are buried in that section of the cemetery.) It was the opposite of the method used by my 10th grade Social Studies teacher, who had an elaborate system for grading essays that started with a letter grade and added plus and minus signs and check marks that could be used to calculate an actual number grade.

We get annual performance reviews at work that grade us in several categories, like productivity, leadership skills, interpersonal skills, and so on. But that is more like a report card than a standardized test. The dirty little secret is that the total score gets figured out first and then one’s boss adjusts the grades so that the total matches your position on the ladder ranking for your organization. Or, at least that’s how it worked back when I was a line manager.

Okay, one contribution to the generation gap:
Dear millennial women,
If it is cold enough out to wear boots, it is too cold to go bare-legged. I don’t care whether you wear nylons or tights or slacks, but put something on your legs.
Sincerely,
a boomer.

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