I hope that back-to-school is going smoothly for all of you. I also hope that this post begins the fulfillment of a promise I made a while ago to have a running conversation on the importance of linking grades to standards for the improvement of student achievement.
Some of this dialog will be cross-posted on the Edublogger wiki discussion on standards-based grading.
Any discussion of grading should begin with a common understanding of what grades are for, who needs to know what grades tell about a student, and what grades should and should not describe, and why.
In his book Transforming Classroom Grading, Robert Marzano (2000) cites the work of measurement expert Peter Airasian (1994) who tells us that grades can serve a number of purposes, including administrative (to decide on who moves through the system and who does not); guidance (based on grades, what a student should or should not pursue vocationally – a very suspect use, in my opinion); feedback about student achievement (no surprise here); instructional planning (try to steer clear of tracking — a bad word these days); and motivation (beware, very difficult to substantiate).
Marzano concludes, not surprisingly, that the primary purpose of student grading is to provide feedback (accurate, undistorted, valid, and reliable) about student achievement. All other uses for grades flow from that, whether the consumers of grading information are parents, counselors, administration, admissions officers, or the students themselves.
It’s also interesting to note that when Bob Marzano conducts professional development sessions on grading and asks his audiences of teachers if they have ever received grades that were not indicative of their academic achievement in a course of study, virtually all raise their hands. When he asks about their total school achievement report, 50% or so indicate that the grades they received did not reflect what they learned in school.
If teachers don’t trust grades, why should anyone else?
Marzano, R. (2000). Transforming Classroom Grading. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Airasian, P. (1994). Classroom Assessment, 2nd ed.. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.