In the previous post, I used the song What Does the Fox Say? to frame a discussion about what grades communicate to various stakeholders in education - in particular students and teachers. It is my view that we do not share a common understanding of what a grade means and this impacts learning. I suggested some of the different ways we interpret an A by modifying the song's lyrics. Readers responded in the comments with what an A grade meant to them as a student and what they hope it says to their students as a teacher. Now is the time for me to share my perspectives about what did/does the A say to me.
When I got an A, I thought that I had pleased my teacher. I distinctly remember having a conversation with a friend who was struggling in school about how I achieved success. I tried to find out what the teacher wanted and then went about meeting that vision. The grade I got would tell me how close I came to giving the teacher what he/she had in mind. It did not matter the subject, the teacher was the all-knowing arbiter of my work. For me, school was not so much about learning as it was mind-reading.
As a new teacher, I simply flipped this perspective. An A meant that the student had done at least 90% of what I expected (i.e. what I would do). To my credit, I did not want my students to read my mind so I made my expectations very clear. I got a lot of student-work that looked just like my work. Instead of mind-readers I was fostering mimics.
Now, I see an A as representing what Joyce and Showers (2002) called Executive Use. The student has demonstrated complete content competency (I was uncomfortable with idea that there might be a 10% gap in a teacher's knowledge) and an ability to analyze under what circumstances the learning could be applied appropriately (phronesis) or how to adapt it to new situations. Granted, because I mostly teach teachers, this standard might be easier to implement now than when I taught middle school math. Still, I have applied a similar idea in a College Algebra course with some success - it was a tough sell.
Basically, I want an A to say to students that they have achieved sustainability in the topic being graded. They can apply what they have learned beyond what we talked about in class, and they can learn more on their own if needed. The teacher (me) has become obsolete.