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If growth happens under the best conditions, are the conditions in our middle schools the best they can be for growth? Or do we mortgage adolescent growth in America for false equivalencies based on academic traditions, not research?

Rereading my notes from a presentation at the Pennsylvania Middle Level Educators (PAMLE) conference from June of 2017, the statements by Dave Brown caught my attention.

  • Adolescents are more stressed between twelve and fourteen, naturally, than they ever will be again.

  • The traditional 45-50 class period that meets every day is too narrow--too pressurized--for an adolescent to grow. School may seem fast and efficient, but at what expense?

  • We traditionally make decisions in middle school based on the needs of "the next grade level, content-area level, or getting ready for high school."

The more we can redirect our decisions and structures around where middle school kids are at twelve and thirteen, the better chance they have to growth and maintain growth beyond the next level.

"In 1894, only a decade after Harvard adopted letter grades, a group of professors began complaining that 'grades A and B are sometimes given too readily' (Goodwin, 2011, p. 80). The concept of grade inflation has been with us ever since. Grade inflation is derived from the belief that rigor equals a scarcity of high grades and that the purpose of grading is to sort and rank (13)."

Rethinking Grading: Meaningful Assessment for Standards-Based Learning, by Cathy Vatterott

I remember detention in the high school cafeteria. Father Corrigan sat on a polished, wooden stool behind a tall podium on a raised platform. Beneath a narrow strip of windows covered with iron grating, the permanent structure--a cross between a church lectern and a gallows equipped with a microphone--needed four wooden stairs to be reached.

From our seats at long tables, Father Corrigan (Winston smoke eternally curling around fleshy jowls) looked even higher up. Like a modern William Bradford, Father Corrigan glowered down upon us and growled our names along with the number of days of detention we had left.

Sinner Kelley: two.

Sinner Murphy: zero.

Sinner O'Hara: twen-tee.

My memory of detention is that it was used to punish and threaten. No brainer, right? That is what detention is...a deterrent, discipline. How else would one learn, right? An angry response to an undesired behavior will redirect the sinner towards positive behaviors. But it didn't work. Sinner O'Hara always had dozens of detentions as did many other sinners who didn't quite "get" how to comply.

Sure, we chuckled at being called Sinner Kelley, Sinner Murphy, etc. It was a Catholic all-boys school. It was part of Corrigan's schtick. We knew that. Yet, in my notebook, these memories influenced my sketches of Cathy Vatterott's Rethinking Grading: Meaningful Assessment for Standards-Based the least history of grading being tied to behaviorism and public education's Puritan traditions.

If adolescents react to anything less than an A in the same way that my little cartoon students recoils in the face of a threatened detention, then is that the classroom we want to be facilitating?

Is that classroom best for kids? I hear that statement a lot: what is best for kids.

Has that become just something we say?

Or is it truly something that we practice?

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