Standards-Based Grading Continued

Jim Van Pelt, an excellent blogger, has contributed quite a bit to the conversation surrounding standards-based grading, and he reposted part of my post detailing what I was told standards-based grading should be. I decided to post JVP’s comment from my previous post.

The ideas of refiguring zeros so they are proportionately fair, and taking late work with minimal or no penalty came up last year in one or our last faculty meetings. Would you say these ideas are progressive? If so, our principal, who is a hard as nails administrator, is also a progressive.

The hurdle on grading, I think, is a firmly established mind set that an “A” grade is not just a measure or a student’s understanding, but also a labeling of the student’s work ethic. “He was an ‘A’ student in school” doesn’t just mean to most folks that he has a full grasp of the course’s subject matter; it means that he’s hard working, a rule follower, and an example of the way we hope other students would behave.

The other arguments deal with the school as being a place where students learn to be responsible, and that the school prepares students for the “real world.” In these arguments, the point seems to be that if students are allowed do-overs, or can turn in late work without consequence, that they will be ill prepared for the work world that charges them for paying bills late, fires them for not being the best they can be the first time, and generally makes their life miserable for failing to follow standards to the letter.

The best argument I have for these folks is that the grade should only be a reflection of the student’s academic achievement. Giving a student an “F” for a class because he hasn’t learned the material is very different from giving a student an “F” for not turning work in, even if his final summative assessment indicated he understood an “A” amount of the material. Also, we can hardly claim to be teaching responsibility if our only teaching tool is the draconian “no credit” or “so little credit it’s not worth doing.” We teach responsibility by making them do it. I have a lot more power on my side to get a student to do work if I will give them the full credit for doing it. The “penalty” for late work in my class is that it’s very hard to get away with it. I conference with students, sometimes daily, e-mail and phone parents, and, if I have to, contact the FLEX team for help with other interventions. Teaching this way is fully embracing one of our mantras of the last few years: “Time is the variable.”

The problem becomes, then, is that we have no way currently of showing how a student is performing in the non-academic areas, which I think any employer or admissions officer would like to know. I would like to know if a student has a “C” because he only has grasped a “C” amount of the material, but he made every deadline and turned everything in, or if the student has a “C” because he can’t make deadlines. And in the same sense, I think there is a difference between a student who makes an “A” and makes all the deadlines, and one who gets an “A” by turning in good quality work late.

I think the objections to a pure academic grade have some validity if there is no way to show how a student is performing in timeliness and responsibility. What we need is a “citizenship” grade along with the academic one. A kid with a 4.0 GPA but with a 2.0 in citizenship has a problem that is evident and can be worked on.

But I think if we did a citizenship grade, that it should be a rolling one that only reflects the student’s last semester or year. We’re trying to teach citizenship, not just measure it. So, a kid who has a 1.0 in citizenship his freshman year, but by the time he’s a senior is a 4.0 citizen, his total grade should not be an average of the freshman 1.0, the sophomore 2.0, and the junior 3.0 combined with his senior year 4.0, when he finally matured enough to recognize he needed to be responsible. If his last semester is 4.0, I’d give it to him. He’s demonstrated a mastery of citizenship. One way to look at it is that his first three years were formative, while his senior year was summative.

Oh, here’s an issue you haven’t brought up, extra credit. Many teachers offer extra credit for non-academic activities. We have teachers who will raise a student’s academic grade for bringing in food for the Christmas food drive, or for helping to assemble a homecoming float. I offer extra credit if a student will go to a play and write a critical analysis. Although my extra credit may foster improved understanding, I don’t have a way to measure it with a summative tool. I just give them extra points.

How we assign extra credit needs to be looked at also.

Has your school had this conversation as well? What do you think?

8 thoughts on “Standards-Based Grading Continued

  1. Hugh ODonnell

    I happily stand behind your assertions, Dr Pezz, and I’m heartened by the conversations you’ve provoked.

    Rather than repeat myself, a lot of what I think about standards-based grading can be found by indexing “grading” on my blog, and by attending the 3rd Annual Conference on Sound Grading sponsored by Educational Testing Service in Portland, Oregon this December. I’ll be giving two breakout sessions. See you there?

  2. notinparis

    I’m a student in a UK secondary school. While much of our marking system is different to that in the US (and while much of it is ridiculous in many ways), one system that we have (only in humanities subjects, though, at my school, oddly enough) is a mark for effort AND a mark for attainment. Admittedly, this isn’t a perfect system (anyone who gets the highest mark for attainment is practically always given the highest mark for effort, for example), but it does offer something towards a solution to the problem.

  3. Anonymous

    Hi, Doc. I’m flattered you reposted this! At my high school right now all of this is definitely NOT a theoretical subject. We are taking a real, hard look at how we evaluate students. If the momentum continues, we may have made changes as early as second semester this year.

    Our principal, who is pushing for a change, is justifiably worried about how to implement it. Any kind of change has a much better chance of succeeding if everyone is on board, but how do you get the entire faculty to agree? Remember the “cat herding” video you had up earlier? Teachers are much worse.

    I’ll keep you posted.

  4. drpezz Post author

    Hugh, I will look into the grading conference. Thanks for the tip.

    JVP, I love your thought-provoking comments and posts. You provide so much food-for-thought. Thank you.

    NotinParis, I don’t know that a perfect system is out there, but I’m liking my changes more and more.

  5. Pingback: Standards-Based Grading « The Doc Is In

  6. bodog博狗

    I want to pursue a major in creative writing, and eventually become a fiction writer, but my question is, besides teaching english (which I NEVER picture myself doing), what is there for someone with a creative writing degree to do before they have written any books. My mom says a degree in creative writing is like signing up to work at Starbuck’s until i get published, is this the case?.


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