Go Back to “Traditional” Grading?

You want to return to the traditional grading system. Is this what you’re wishing for?

10 Reasons to Return to the Traditional Grading System

  1. The teacher puts anything they want into the grade. Test scores, quiz scores, homework, participation, tardies, absences, headings on the right side of the assignment, neatness, responsibility factors, citizenship, miscellaneous behaviors that are important to the teacher, MMPI scores…you name it. (With all that stuff in the mix, what does that “traditional” grade tell you about your child’s achievement?)
  2. The teacher may or may not impose penalties through the grade, such as zeros or 50% off for late/missing assignments/assessment. (And not give feedback to the student, which was the purpose of the assignment/assessment to begin with.)
  3. The teacher is free to ignore the mathematical rules of statistics (measures of central tendency) by putting zeros for missing/late assignments/assessments into grade calculations, thereby having a disproportionate negative effect on the report card grade, and possibly college admissions (This is where the lawsuits could really come from.)
  4. The teacher isn’t concerned that another teacher in the district, the building, or just down the hall, who is teaching the same subject at the same level, has different grading criteria. Your child could get an A in one class, and a C in the other class – for the same level of actual achievement. This could be due to punitive grading (zeros and 50% off) or different grade cut-offs (90%=A in one class, 94%=A in another class). There’s no consistency in the “traditional” system, and your child gets “the luck of the draw.” (And it’s really tough to get the principal to pull your child out of one class and put them in the other. Building politics play a big part in a “traditional” grading system.)
  5. The teacher may collect and give credit for homework without knowing if it was the student, parent, or friend who did the actual assignment. (Check out those busy students in the cafeteria before school starts…lots of homework copying going on there. How does that foster responsibility and character development?)
  6. Your child’s grade can get dragged down by the poorest performing student in a group work assignment. (Not the way it’s supposed to work in group learning situations, but it’s all up to the teacher in the “traditional’ grading system.)
  7. Kids don’t learn from mistakes – they get hammered for mistakes. (The learning environment is tense, conflicted, much less effective, and directs student attention to scheming about acquiring “points” rather than actual learning.)
  8. Grades can be inflated through the addition of “extra credit” for academic or non-academic factors. (Exactly how does bringing a box of Kleenex factor into a grade that’s supposed to indicate level of learning according to standards?)
  9. Grades can be severely deflated if the teacher chooses to use grading as a tool to force compliance by punishing students with zeros or other grade reductions unrelated to actual performance linked to an education standard. (The belief that the threat of punishment through grade reduction has a positive effect on student performance is wishful thinking on the part of some teachers. Can they find some evidence out there – research – that punitive grading is a force for improving student achievement? No, they cannot. There is no evidence to support punitive grading.)
  10. The acquisition of learning – both for the student and the teacher – is compromised in the “traditional” grading system by the inclusion of “practice” (formative assessment — also known as “assessment for learning”) in the report card grade. You can read about this in a report on a 1998 research meta-study by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam titled “Inside the Black Box.” (The saddest aspect of “traditional” grading is that its advocates don’t seem to care that we are shooting ourselves in the foot by ignoring this powerful research. The teacher’s most effective tool – feedback to the student about learning – is compromised by attaching “credit” to everything a student does. That same feedback loop also gives the teacher information about the effectiveness of their instruction and may suggest to the teacher ways to improve their instruction, and your child’s opportunity to learn more effectively.)
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4 thoughts on “Go Back to “Traditional” Grading?

  1. Having taught for 15 years, I have always worried about the mathematical aspect of grades. Heck, as far as I am concerned, grades–and what they represent to students, parents, colleges, insurance companies, etc.–get in the way of learning.

    Contrary to the overall tone of your article, many teachers are sensitive to how grading impacts students. Over the last 10 years, most see homework as practice and adjust grading accordingly (Some make homework optional or few points, some might allow a test retake only if all homework has been completed, and so on.) Also, most teachers are required to follow a school-wide grading scale, including some form of a “no zero” policy or a more balanced scale. This could mean making the lowest possible score 50% (even for missing work) or using something like a GPA scale within the classroom (A=4 points, B=3 points, etc.) AND–most teachers genuinely care about their students and want to help them learn concepts, improve their skills, and think critically. They don’t deviously rub their hands together and cackle, trying to find mistakes to punish.

    It’s not that the things you point out do not happen at all, but in my experience, my colleagues and I do not fit the broad-brush descriptions you use.

    My greatest concern is pressure put on teachers to PROVE the grade is accurate, justifying Every. Single. Point. This results in an over-realiance on the gradebook. I would much rather use a gradebook as a guide and be respected enough to use my professional judgement to determine the final grade–something Ken O’Connor suggests. Unfortunately I don’t see support for that, so teachers try to work within the parementers dealt them.

    • Thanks for taking time to comment, mrscarothers. I’m on your side. This post was written as a reply (more like an apocalyptic rant) to a group of parents who sought to undermine the Hillsboro Schools’ new (March 2010) grading policy that separated reports of academic achievement from evaluations of behaviors related to academic achievement. https://www.facebook.com/RepealHSDGrading?sk=wall&filter=1

      My intent was not to misrepresent my peers, but to condense into one blog post all the unsound grading practices those parents wanted to perpetuate.

      Again, thanks for defending your peers and I hope that the sensitivity grows. I’ve been on this trail throughout my professional life, and it wasn’t until I met Ken O’Connor in 2000 that I was able to openly defend my beliefs with his sensible synthesis of sound grading practices. Our profession has grown more open to these ideas in the last couple of decades, and I look forward to the time that teachers just shrug their shoulders and say, “What was that kerfuffle all about?”

  2. I enjoyed this post. I like to daydream about a system that uses levels to advance learners, much like role-playing games (at the risk of sounding extremely nerdy). Points earned are points earned, and your total always increases, rather than a grade that starts out as an A and slowly diminishes as you perform less-than-perfectly.

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