Summer Agenda/Discussion on Grading for Learning

My darling wife is the lead teacher in a small alternative school summer program for at risk high school students, and I don’t have a board meeting until late July. The way I figure, it’s recreation and reflection time sandwiched between some business obligations.

Last December, I had the opportunity to rub shoulders with international education hotshots at the ETS/ATI’s Annual Conference on Grading. I was invited to do two 75 minute breakout sessions that would trace the evolution in assessment and grading philosophy of a career teacher who practiced grading linked to standards before the district got on board with the ideas. (At some point in the future I’ll fill in some backstory about how I arrived in that particular train station, but let’s get the show on the road.)

This fall, I travel to British Columbia to give a refined version of my interactive presentation on how to assess and grade for learning. That invitation came out of the ETS conference. I’ll do some stuff (without pay — conflict of interest) for my own district as well.

So, let’s set a leisurely summer agenda for exploring a controversial topic — “grading for learning” — from a veteran teacher’s point of view (not infallible, just veteran)…

In this post, to get the ball rolling, we’re going to list the three worst things a teacher can do when grading student work. We’ll talk about them at length in subsequent posts. (These are problems a gutsy district can tackle in a year or two.) I’m also going to include my own district approved/building approved grading guidelines for background at the end of this post. (The guidelines were published in 2003 by ASCD in a training manual.)

To place grading in context, in the next post we’ll quickly review the uses of grades, and focus on the use to which teachers should be most sensitive. Then on to the good stuff.

If you want to join the conversation, hop on board. I’m open to disagreement for two reasons: 1) You might enlighten me, and 2) if I don’t agree, I can sharpen my saw! 🙂

What are three biggest mistakes teachers make in grading?

1. Grading formative assessments (those assignments wherein the student should be free to err while getting corrective feedback) and adding these scores to the report card grade.

2. Bad Math — inappropriate number crunching. (To wit, reckless use of the mean average and freely handing out zeros.)

3. Failing to differentiate between academics and behavior (knocking grades down for behavioral issues that have nothing to do with the student’s showing what he or she has learned).

The Guidelines (here’s what kids and parents get at the start of school):

8th Grade Social Studies
Guidelines for Grading, Homework and Discipline that Enhance Learning

Grading Guidelines:

1. All grading procedures relate to “intended learning outcomes” as written in State and School District content and performance standards.

2. Grades will be based on individual achievement of learning goals and will not be affected by issues such as effort, attitude, and participation. These factors will be reported separately. In addition, individual grades will be given for group work.

3. Assessments that are used to monitor student learning in progress and/or adjust teaching, such as in-class practice assignments, discussions, and other forms of descriptive feedback (“formative assessment”) to students about their learning, will not be factored into grades. Only assessments that take place after learning is supposed to have occurred (“summative assessment”) will be used for grading purposes. I will, however, keep a record of formative assessment scores to validate my judgment in grading. (For example, if a student performs poorly in summative assessments and there is a sparse record of participation in the formative assessment process, we can see that little learning took place.)

4. New information showing additional learning about any given standard will replace old information. Grades will reflect the most recent learning. Old scores relating to that standard will be discarded.

5. Where a combination of scores is used to determine a letter grade, I will make sure that they are descriptive of achievement only. For example, I will not include zeros (for late or missing assignments) in achievement statistics because they are both non-descriptive of learning, and extreme as values. I will use the median average (or middle score) as a general indicator of achievement unless there is an unusual circumstance, and then I will consider relative importance of the learning goals achieved and recency of scores. If there is insufficient evidence of achievement, I will assign an incomplete and expect the student to make arrangements to make-up or repeat the learning experiences missed.

6. Students will be graded relative to published standards and not in comparison to each other
7. All assessments, both formative and summative, will match their learning goals. Grades will always be based on quality assessment.

8. Students will always know how their grades are formulated. They will often take part in the assessment process because recent research indicates that student-involved formative assessment is the most powerful innovation in learning that currently exists.

Grading Scales:

If prevailing median scores for learning goals are in the range of 90 to 100 percent, a grade of A will be given. The cutoffs for B, C, and D, respectively will be 80%, 70%, and 60%. Less than 60% will be considered F. Although I will never give a letter grade lower than the median score indicates, I may award a letter grade higher than the numbers indicate if there is sufficient additional non-numerical evidence of greater learning, such as performance rubrics or scoring guides which don’t easily convert to percentages.

Homework Guidelines:

Please see attached School Board Policy on homework for a comprehensive view.

We will not have homework every day. Most of our formative assessment activities will take place in the classroom with my coaching. I will expect students to work on “big” assignments with extended deadlines at home on occasion. My homework hotline message will inform you of what we have covered in class for the day and our plans for the week. It may vary from our actual schedule because I must submit the entire week’s plan on Monday and I must be flexible covering our course goals. I welcome your calls regarding makeup opportunities. My phone numbers and email addresses appear at the end of this document.

Makeup Work:

The District policy for makeup work is to give students the “number of days absent plus one” as time to make up work. I regard this as a guideline, not an inflexible rule. If a student is well enough to work at home, it is to their benefit to stay current from home. (I will never require less time than the District guideline, in any case.) If the student is too ill to stay current, even the stated amount of time may not be sufficient and may generate great stress for the student. We will agree, parents and students both, on mutually acceptable target dates for completion of work. If a student is indisposed up to and beyond a grading period, we shall make arrangements with the principal for a fair opportunity to make up work.

Late Work:

I expect a student to be timely because it benefits them in their achievement of learning goals, and it helps me. Chronic lateness of work will be dealt with as a behavioral problem — not a grade reduction — with a variety of remedies, including parental notification, a record of missed assignments in my formative assessment log, and staying after school (with parental permission and transportation support from the school) to complete assignments. I do not anticipate much of a problem with this since most of our assignments will be completed during class.

Behavioral Guidelines:

Please consult the student handbook for details on school rules. I promote the concept of mutual respect and students are able to relate this to their conduct. Additionally, I clarify my expectations by reference to the Golden Rule, which states that we should treat others as we would like to be treated. Students understand these references and apply them to their classroom behavior, my expectations and procedures. In rare cases where disciplinary action is required, I follow the Discipline Plan outlined in the student handbook.

Progress Reports:

In addition to scheduled school-wide progress reports, I will notify parents when a grade of D or F appears to be forthcoming, and/or when there is a marked or sudden change in a student’s performance or attitude.

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6 thoughts on “Summer Agenda/Discussion on Grading for Learning

  1. Hello again!! School is still going for this semester, I have 4 weeks left. I’m hanging in there, although 4 classes in 8 weeks is causing a bit of burnout. Thank you for the link to the edublogger – I will look into it. I will also be back to make a comment about the monster blog you have typed – I’m interested in what it says. Keep checking in when you have a chance to see what I have to say about information I know nothing about!!

  2. Thanks for dropping by, Stephanie. Learning gets easier as you go along through life, cuz the more you learn, the more you CAN learn!

    I think you’ll do well, especially since you are venturing out in the edusphere. This didn’t exist when I was in my formative teaching days. Wish it had. What an opportunity to explore different points of view!

    Today I put up a link to Teacher Magazine’s blog on edublogs. Check it out.

    Oh, and the above post really isn’t such a monster if you subtract my classroom guidelines. Those are there just for reference. If you want to use them, feel free. I was heavily influence by common sense and Ken O’Connor! 😉

  3. Where do teachers give out zeros if they’re not grading formative assessments? Most zeros (in my admittedly limited experience) are from uncompleted classwork or homework. Do those kind of fit together, or am I missing something?

  4. Clix, Some teachers have rigid turn-in deadlines for summative assessments such as projects, performances, or written work, like term papers. The penalty for late turn-in is a zero or other significant point docking.

    This is a hugely counter-productive policy that distorts any report of learning that a final grade is supposed to represent.

  5. I just found this post, and I;m struck by how similar your philosophy is to an article by Tony Winger I read last spring–how do you deal with those “behavior grades” like late work–you mention that they are reported elsewhere. Winger suggests that a portion of each student’s grade be “work habits.” I’m still struggling with the issue myself.

  6. Thanks for stopping by, TwiLightLi.

    I kept the records I needed to back my grading decisions, and always made sure that no behavior notations found their way into the academic grade calculation.

    Some secondary report cards (most, in fact) don’t allow for “conduct” or behavior reports. It still behooves us to keep the grade purely academic in that case.

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