Grading — One teacher’s perspective

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I dislike grades. I am very upfront with my students about this fact. Some think, “this is great, I won’t have to do anything this year.” They quickly learn what I am into to is student learning and mastery. Grades are one common language parents, students and teachers all speak and of course, I am required to use them. I have some conventions that make it possible for me to use grades that actually give parents, students and me valuable information.

I only score assessments. Quizzes are given at least weekly. They carry a weight of 1 or three depending on the size. Tests usually happen at the end of each unit and carry a weight of ten. Homework and class work are part of the learning process and the learning process is not scored in my classes.

Some assessments are for information (I give students feedback and no score) and some are scored. Many times, I don’t know if a quiz will be for a score or not ahead of time. I always hope an assessment will be scored, but sometimes, I find that I need information about student learning (and my teaching) more than students need a score. When some students are ready and others are not, I have also allowed students to purchase their notes for 5 points if done so before the assessment begins, or ten points if purchased after the assessment begins. This encourages students to take better notes. It is also a way of helping me differentiate and give students boosts that need support while challenging students who are ready.

Because I insist on mastery, I allow students to retest or even re-quiz after they have remediated. They don’t just get another at-bat without remediation. To keep track of reassessments, I record a student’s new score as a replacement of the original score with a modification. (Say the student gets 62 out of 100 and then 85 on the retest.) I put in 85.62. The 85 reflects the new score, and the .62 keeps track of the fact that the student did retest as well as the earlier score. All of this is accomplished without materially affecting the average grade for the student.

If students do not make up a quiz for some reason, I give the student the same score as they lowest score in the class for that particular assessment. I then put a .1 on the score to let me know that the grade entered was fabricated by me. If the low score was 55, a student with a missing score would get 55.1. I do this because exempting the grade is too generous. I also do not believe in zeros since students cannot recover from zeros.

My grading system is not perfect, but it is understandable by administrators, parents and students. I do not define students by their grades and they should never let themselves be defined by grades either. I really want students to succeed. I was in graduate school before I realized that instructors were actually on my side. I do not want students to wait that long to come to that realization.

Late Breaking News: grades are the devil. I was at the Honda service garage yesterday. As I was leaving, the service consultant told me I could be contacted with a customer service survey. He said that he would appreciate it if I could rate him as excellent on each point. He actually said, “any rating of Very Good is a D.” Seriously? No wonder parents freak out when their kids make their first B. According to Honda, B is the new D.

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