Interview with Carol Cafasso

How do you wish that students viewed grades? What misconceptions do they have about the grading system?

Something important to know about school is that if you’re doing the work, the grade will follow. You shouldn’t be working for the grade. Some people are very quick to pick certain things up and others take time. You have to get some stuff wrong and you have to do the processing. 

In an ideal world, what does grading look like?

I would love no grades. Just doing the tests and seeing how well you do. Maybe in a utopian environment everyone would work to learn, be self driven, motivated, and make classes more exciting.  

How can the system we have better represent with the abstract skills required to complete creative tasks? What are the limitations of “the numbers”? What are we losing when we allow quantification to take center stage?

There are advantages and disadvantages of thinking a number defines you. Underneath the number, there are huge variations in what’s represented. I’m a teacher, not an accountant. If you want me to be an accountant, it won’t always be accurate. 

How has the student work ethic evolved in the past ten years? How have attention span, attention to detail, and work completion rate changed? Is this related to technology?

I do think that I see students less willing to stay for help, and more likely to only learn the rubric, rather than for the value of learning. I think we still have great kids (I think we’ve always had great kids in Gloucester) and I still have wonderful, positive relationships with [many of them]. Expectations are higher now, with kids working, playing sports, and having extracurricular activities. It’s hard to manage; I guess staying after is the first thing to go.  

Do you think today’s distractions make it harder to be a successful student?

I don’t. I think you have more support now. It does seem very competitive, but it always was. Social media also creates a huge pressure on people. 

How has the introduction of an online grade book platform changed the concept of success in education? How has technology in general changed the way students think about school?

Having the facts is different from being creative with them, and using them to solve problems. [We have] advanced. But there are drawbacks to being totally dependent on [external] fact retrieval.

Is there a way to teach work ethic? Is there a way to change this mindset? When a student enters your class what expectations do you want them to have? What do you want them to measure their success by?

I do think you can, but not under the current conditions. And I don’t think it’s possible to get 100% conversion. Brains have plasticity, but I can’t reverse somebody’s mindset. I need willingness and commitment on the part of the student.