Table of Contents
Welcome
Awards
Consulting Services
Other
Activities
EBS
Store
Ordering
Modules
and
Kits
Hints
Training
Remote
Sensing
Parent
Letter
What is
EventBased Science?
Special Needs
Students
Skeptic is Won Over
How
Do Schools Use EBS
EventBased
Science meets National Science Education Standards!

Success for
All: The Median is the Key
by Russell G.
Wright
© May,1994, Phi Delta
Kappan, Reprinted with Permission
You are probably good at what you do.
Most of us gravitate to jobs and careers that closely match
our likes and strengths. Once in those jobs, we make choices
that reflect our desire to emphasize our strengths and hide
our weaknesses. We are human, after all.
In the best secondary classrooms in
America, students are asked to perform a wide variety of
tasks. Some students are good at all these tasks, most are
good at some of them, and some are good at none. When
students are good at all schoolrelated tasks, we reward
them with good grades. Those who are good at only some tasks
receive mediocre grades that result from averaging the good
with the bad. And, of course, the students who are good at
nothing  or who long ago quit trying  receive failing
grades.
Did you notice the difference between
the adult work experience and the child's school experience?
In science  I speak as a science teacher, but my message
is for all  we have students who measure accurately, make
careful observations, and are meticulous in following
laboratory procedures but receive a C or D on their report
cards because they can't or won't memorize the vocabulary,
formulas, and metabolic pathways common to science courses.
These students may like "doing" science, but they
understandably refuse to take more than the minimum number
of science courses needed for graduation. By not recognizing
the strengths of our students, we are turning them away. We
are telling them that they don't belong  that science,
mathematics, foreign languages, English, physical education,
art, music, and so on are only for those who can do it
all.
How can we make the classroom
experience more like the work experience? How can we expose
our students to the variety of tasks and activities that
make up the disciplines we know and love and still allow
them to succeed even if they are not good at everything? The
answer lies in the way we average student grades and
determine report card grades; after all, the word "average"
does not require the use of the arithmetic mean. The mean is
only one of three common measures of central tendency. In
addition, there are the median and mode, and each has a
specific application in statistical analysis that should be
considered for use in grade averaging.
In determining a median grade, one
arranges all of a student's grade in descending order. The
median grade is the grade in the center, with an equal
number of grades (or proportion of grades) above and below
it. If there are an even number of grades with no central
grade, the two grades that straddle the central position are
added together and divided by two. The median in this case
is the mean of the two central grades. Using the median, a
student with grades of A, A, B, B, B, C, F, F would receive
a B rather than the C that results from calculating the
mean.
The median is actually the
statistically correct measure of central tendency for
ordinal data. Ordinal data consist of numbers on a scale
whose intervals are uncertain or inconsistent. The numbers
on such a scale carry information only about order. That is,
we know that an A is better than a B, but is it always the
same amount better? We also know that an 85 is better than
an 80. But does an 85 on one test mean the same thing as an
85 on another? Are your tests so precise that a fivepoint
difference at one end of the scale means the same thing as a
fivepoint difference at the other end?
Because of the imprecision of grading
and the absence of uniform intervals between grades, grades
are not interval data. Grades are ordinal! And, since grades
are ordinal, the best summary of grades  and therefore the
grade that should appear on the report card  is the
median, not the mean.
How do students react when their
report card grades are calculated in this way? Well, my
biggest fear never materialized. In the 12 years since I
began using the median, none of my students has ever stopped
working after being assured of getting an A. Straight A
students have continued to get A's on most
things.
When I started using the median in the
middle of a school year, I did notice that a few of my
straight C students began to get A's and B's on some work.
When I asked them why they were working harder this
semester, I got such answers as "My hard work is going to
count more the way you're grading us now." No longer would
one area of weakness pull their grades down. Some D students
who were not interested in working toward a C were forced to
work harder just to keep their D's. Some failing students
began to pass, and my relationship with my students began to
change. I became an advisor on how best to use available
skills and strengths. I found myself telling individual
students which upcoming activities they should spend their
time on and which they should ignore.
Imagine a teacher telling a student
not to study for an upcoming test! If the best a student had
ever done on tests was a Dminus, I actually advised him or
her to use the time that would normally be spent studying
for a test to write a better research paper. This tactic was
especially effective with students whose grades on previous
papers were close to a B or A.
There are at least seven beneficial
byproducts of using the median to average student
grades.
 Many C students are motivated to
work harder. It is primarily students of average ability
who suffer in classrooms in which grades are averaged
using the mean. These are often students whose
testtaking skills are poor or whose recall of facts is
slower than required. Standardized tests show these
students to be of average ability. When teachermade
tests merely confirm this, there is no problem for anyone
but the student. However, when the median is used in
combination with a wide variety of graded activities,
tests recede in importance, and the report card grade for
the student of average ability may turn out to be an A or
a B, thus rewarding successful efforts in some areas
without dwelling on failures in others. Imagine the
motivating effect that this can have on socalled C
students.
 Students with learning
disabilities are able to earn good grades without the
special accommodations that often single them out as
"different."
 Highly motivated, gifted students
are more easily identified, and differentiated
instruction is more easily provided to them.
 The teacher can hold higher
expectations without hurting student grades. I have seen
this effect in my own classes: all who are willing to
work are able to meet the higher standards on enough of
the activities to achieve a C average or better. Most of
my students have achieved better than a C.
 Poorly motivated students are
forced to work harder to receive a passing grade. To pass
a course when the median is used, the student must pass
half the work.
 Students show a lower level of
anxiety and an improved attitude. Anxiety is definitely
lessened when, with 60% of the work remaining in a
marking period, all students are still able to earn A's
on their report cards.
 It's easier to average grades by
picking the middle grade. Not only is the median a time
saver at the end of the marking period, but it also
allows students to keep constantly updated on their
average throughout a marking period.
When I conducted a study of the effect
of grading on students' attitudes toward science in grades 7
through 10, I found that 39% of the variance in science
attitude can be explained by grading factors (last report
card grade, perceived fairness of the grade, range of grades
earned by an individual on a variety of course activities,
and grading awareness). The grade itself had a high
correlation (+ .49) with attitude, as expected, but the
grade alone accounted for only 24% of the
variance.
The other grading factors accounted
for the additional 15% of the variance in attitude. Grade
range contributed about half of that additional variance.
Or, put another way, with a correlation of  .53, grade
range alone accounts for 28% of the variance in attitude
toward science. (Grade range was defined as the difference
between the typical grade for activities on which a student
does best and the typical grade for activities on which a
student does worst.) This finding indicates that students
are frustrated when they do much better on some activities
than they do on others. The median is one method for
addressing both of these factors. It is easier for students
to receive at least a C when the median is used, because bad
grades need not destroy an otherwise good record. (The
median is also very easy for all students to understand, and
constant updating requires little extra time. Grading
awareness was also an independent contributor to the
variance in science attitude.)
The beneficial byproducts that I have
observed may have resulted from the fact that under this
system it is the student, not the teacher, who decides what
activities are important. If a teacher is skillful in
designing options, the student will learn and "do well" in
the course at the same time.
We are often admonished to hold high
expectations for all students. On the other hand, we are
warned that, unless we provide success to these same
students, they will soon feel that they don't belong in a
particular subject or even in school at all. Mary Budd Rowe
tells us of the lack of "fate control" typical of the
atrisk youngster. How can we possibly make sense of these
conflicting demands?
I believe that the median is the key.
It allows a teacher to raise expectations. It provides more
opportunities for success by diminishing the impact of a few
stumbles and by rewarding hard work. In a median classroom,
no student who is working hard should get less than a C, and
the majority should be getting A's and B's. By providing
choices and by using the median to reward success, we can
make "success for all" a reality.
For links to EventBased Science
books and pages, return to the EBS home page:
EventBased
Science Home Page
Last updated on Thursday, June 19, 2008
<webmaster@eventbasedscience.com>
