I mentioned yesterday in my post about the system that grading can help students be more successful. Now, I’m not talking about lowering standards or making grading less stringent; I’m saying we can help kids by not dooming them with our grading practices.
Here are a few things to consider:
1. What does a grade represent?
I’ve heard teachers say “I never accept late work” or “I only give half-credit for late work” and I think to myself that I’ve never seen timeliness as one of our benchmarks or grading standards. When points are deducted for lateness, the grade no longer represents student achievement. Standards cannot be arbitrary and must be linked to what we decide a grade means.
I at one point had decided to award an ‘A’ grade if a student turned in every assignment on time, if I deemed the student did his/her best on every assignment, and if the student participated fully in every activity. The Science Goddess made me rethink this policy when she discussed how the grade would no longer represent student achievement with this change. She’s right.
Every grade I give must be linked to student achievement, not arbitrary or personal standards.
2. Paperwork should not doom a student’s grade.
If a student does not complete two of five practices but gets a ‘B’ on the culminating quiz, do the two practices count against him? I would excuse the two assignments because the student did not need them to show competency/mastery of the skill or knowledge.
A single zero requires nine perfect scores just to get a grade back to an A-. How can that be viewed as an equal representation of a student’s achievement? Sometimes I think a teacher’s pride may get in the way when grading, wanting a student to do everything he/she assigns, necessary or not.
3. Deals can be made.
If a student finishes a semester having only failed to pass a single course requirement, whether it be a mastery test or a major paper, does this mean the student should spend 18 more weeks taking the same course? Maybe we can make a deal which saves the student time and still allows the student to show mastery.
Working with the student one on one for a short period of time and helping the student master that one skill or gain the required knowledge would help. I can sit with a student during independent time in class, or I can make time before or after school to help. Then I can simply put in a grade change later. This saves the student 18 weeks of work.
I could also make a different deal. If a student is with me the next semester after missing a passing grade by just one or two skills or a small amount of content knowledge, I could change a grade later if the student shows me those skills or knowledge in the next semester. Maybe another assignment or two uses the same skills, so the student can finish up first semester work in the second semester. Again, a late grade change can help the student.
4. A zero may be an unfair grade anyway.
I alluded to my point about the unfairness of the zero above, but I decided to include this anyway. The idea of a zero may be wholly unfair when looked at mathematically or statistically (see case_against_zero for an in-depth explanation). Basically, the article shows how a zero may be unfair to a student because of the way it destroys a student’s average and how difficult it is for a student to recover.
Missing assignments, according to the linked statistical analysis, reveals that a 50% for a missing assignment may be more fair to a student. I changed the value of a missing assignment from 0% to 50% after I had finished grades in June, and—because I weight grades—only one grade actually changed (from a C- to a C). For me, making this change in a missing assignment value has a minimal effect, but for others this could have a drastic effect. In any case, eliminating the zero could be more fair to students and help them excel.
5. Report grade meanings may need to be changed.
At my school the report grade lists an ‘A’ grade as exceptional, a ‘B’ grade as above average, a ‘C’ grade as average, a ‘D’ grade as below average, and an ‘F’ grade as a failure. This seems to imply that our grades are an old way of measuring student achievement in a competitive way. This would require teachers to assess students by measuring them against one another. I don’t view education as a means of competition but of collaboration.
I think that it’s time to reassess what our grades mean.
6. If more kids pass classes, teachers are helped.
Imagine having more classes without students repeating the course with you. Could this mean smaller class sizes? It’s quite possible.
Fewer students requiring extra attention while moving towards graduation could also mean fewer extra programs and specially hired positions, which in turn could mean more resources directed towards the classroom.
How often have you seen discipline problems being the result of students taking classes without hope? They know their success or failure in the classroom means little when looking at their futures. We may be able to help students be successful because we have not taken away their hope and their dreams.
I looked at the number of failures in my department and discovered that 1.4 positions in English are needed each year because of students who fail classes. Potentially, we could use that FTE to lower class size for other students.
Overall, changing grading practices could help the student and teacher alike.