This profile is not for flattening

Background: somebody described a small program to combine letter grades into a single mark. I saw red at his final comment, which asked where students should end up with a certain mix of grades.. Now read on . . .

Hopefully with their heads above water. Does your local system demand that you average out the grades in this way? If so, they are on shaky theoretical ground at the very best. If not, why do it? I know it is a common practice, but if being common made things valid, every Year 9 in Australia would be valid -- sorry, I digress.

I wish to call in question this common practice of hurling information away in the quest for mor digestible "data", not your program.

Before you add grades or average them, can you guarantee that the differences between successive grades are ALWAYS the same? Are the grading patterns the same in each criterion? (If so, whatever happened to criterion-referencing?)

The whole point of a profile is that you do NOT throw out the information which is set in the profile grades by generating a single summary statistic for the benefit of those who still move their lips when they read.

It's all just a bit too much like saying "John came twelfth in appreciating the Mona Lisa", or "Sarah got 53% in enjoying quiche" or "Chris got a C- in admiring Badarzewska's Maiden's Prayer".

Personally, I want to know about the tasks involved -- I happen to detest La Gioconda, I'm not a Real Man, but I decline to eat quiche, and I agree with Percy Scholes on the "Maiden's Prayer" (OK, that's an obscure reference, so I shall quote: "...[Badarzewska] provided the piano of absolutely every tasteless sentimental person in the so-called civilized world with a piece of music which that person, however unaccomplished in a dull technical sense, could play.")

Any child rating low on just one of those tasks would be wholly admirable to me, and could well be a suitable choice for a task, yet to be determined. At different times, I might want a La Gioconda-moustacher, a quiche-crusher or a Badarzewska-drowner, and the profile would fill me in on my best choice, most admirably.

Could I choose the best candidate from a single summative grade, an addition of apples, oranges and pears, to make a fruit salad? And can we be sure that one of the fruits is not actually an aardvark? Or the rough end of a recalcitrant pineapple?

My son used to have a friend whose face, said his unkind mates, had been altered by running too fast behind a bus which stopped too suddenly. Proposals to add grades have the same profile-flattening effect, and are about as good for the morale of those profiled as decelerating rapidly while in close facial contact with a stationary bus.

peter


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