Sunday, January 05, 2014

How Should We Grade Our Students?

As the grading period comes to a close, I am faced with the challenge of entering grades into report cards. What makes this process particularly challenging for me has a lot to do with the fact that we are still using a traditional grading tool in my district, where we assign letter grades to students to demonstrate their performance in each class. While this grading tool works well for many teachers, it is not very meaningful once educators begin delivering a standards-based education to students.

I have a couple of choices when it comes to student grades:

  • Option A: I can give a grade showing whether or not students have mastered the learning targets being taught.  Keep in mind that mastery of most of these targets is not expected until the end of the school year, so earlier in the year, the grades may look alarmingly low to students and parents.
  • Option B: I can give students higher grades, and then explain that the grade is a reflection of student performance at that particular point in the school year, and expectations for students will continue to rise. Essentially, Optional B is saying that earning an A later in the school year is harder to do than earning an A earlier in the school year.

Here's the problem with both options...what do these grades even mean!?  So, Johnny got an A and Susie got a B this quarter. Great. What can Johnny do that Susie can't do? 

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer about how this should be handled. I want to accurately report what my students can or cannot do at a particular point in the school year, but right now, I am stuck assigning a series of point values that are automatically calculated into a percentage value which then gets converted into a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F.  

So, when Susie gets 8 points on a 10-point rubric showing mastery of certain skills while others still need development, Susie's grade gets calculated into an 80%, which is a B- to most people. Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could just report that "Susie is progressing at an appropriate rate for a 6th grade student and is still developing the skills taught in class. She has shown mastery of  __________ and will continue to work on __________ as the year progresses." 

As I wait for a standards-based grading tool to make its appearance in my district (which I suspect will happen in the very near future), I have decided to pilot a standards-based report card in addition to using the report card already in place.  Although it is a lot of extra work, I want to be as transparent as possible about student performance in my class.  

What do you think? Are you in favor of keeping traditional grades or ditching them? Share your thoughts!



I have been researching SBG. I like your idea of providing 2 report cards. What do you teach? Are you willing to share your SBG version of your report card? I am the only teacher in my district researching and considering SBG and I think your idea could be helpful to me.

Marcie Faust said...

I teach language arts to 6th graders, so I basically pulled out the ELA standards that I explicitly taught and assessed and created a report card showcasing student progress toward those standards. Using a 4,3,2,1 scoring system, I explained in the report card that a 4 was exceeding (which few students will ever show evidence of), a 3 is meets (not expected until the end of the school year), a 2 is developing (most of my students), and a 1 is emerging/needs improvement. It's not perfect, but it's a start. :)

Chase McCulloch said...

Marcie! Elementary goes SBG next year, and you will be next! Good read and topic!

Marcie Faust said...

That's good news, Chase! The sooner the better!