Grading: Let’s Start a Discussion

I can recall when I first started my teaching career a heated grading discussion amongst veteran staff in my school. Two professionals were in a hot debate about what to do with a 69.5 when 70 was a passing grade.

Now, I know, and hopefully you do also that such a conversation is not very valuable.

Grading can be subjective. Over the years I have met many who believe their method is the best. Furthermore, I learned that very few staff ever learned about grading in college. Most staff graded based on what they thought was right or based on standard practices in their school. But, what was done was not always fair and often did not measure learning.

There is a lot of research on grading and best practice for grading. We should learn from it and use it. I suggest starting with the work of Rick Wormeli and Doug Reeves to expand your ideas and to help staff take a journey towards using best practice for grading. Rick Wormeli reminds us that grading should preserve hope; using grades as a weapon is not a great motivator for students or adult learners.

Here are some reflection points to start conversation in your school.

What is the purpose of failure when a student cannot recover from it?

What research exists to support a total points method of grading?

Does extra credit belong in your school? I have to comment on this one- My own children brought in many boxes of tissues to classrooms to earn 10 points on a test. If that is the practice of a school, what does the grade mean if bonus points are added for bringing in tissues?

Should retakes be allowed? Well, as Rick Wormeli reminds us, most things we do in life you can do again and you can do them for full credit.

Will students be allowed or required to keep working on an assignment until it is satisfactory?

How much will homework be factored into the final grade? Should it be a part of a final grade?

Or, what is homework?

How much will quizzes, unit tests, and final exams be factored into the final grade? Are the assessments used for grading good assessments?

If a student fails to turn in work on time, does your school have a standard practice?

Here is a great point from Rick Wormeli. If we simply give students a zero and don’t allow them to turn in work after it was due, won’t some students happily take the zero rather than do the work? How does allowing this irresponsible behavior encourage students to act responsibly?

Discussion of mastery learning and use of the average are excellent topics to study as a faculty as part of a plan of using best practice.

Consider this example- I use this in interviews:

I person wants to become a better runner. They go to the track at the local high school and run a mile in 10 minutes. Each day practice occurs and every Friday the mile is run again. Over the course of 8 weeks with diligent practice the person’s mile time goes down 2.5 minutes.

What is the mile time?

Now your quick answer would be 7.5 minutes and that is correct. Now think of this example in a classroom. A bad initial test, intervention(practice opportunities), learning, and then improvement on a culminating assessment demonstrating mastery. Should the initial bad grade be averaged in? Would the mile time of the runner be 7.5 minutes if each week a time was kept and an average was created?

Grading discussions can be challenging. I encourage you to start a dialogue, look at best practice, and honestly reflect on what you do.

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