Dennis Keeney, my district’s Technology & Data Analysis Director facilitated a presentation/discussion at a principal’s meeting. It was eye-opening and thought provoking. He talked about a book he recently read, by Rick Wormeli, Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessment and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom.
Dennis talked about the reasons we give students grades: to document student progress; to provide feedback to students, parents, and teachers, and to inform instructional decisions. With these reasons in mind, he discussed some common grading pitfalls according to the author:
- Avoid nonacademic factors (behavior, attendance, etc).
- Avoid penalizing for multiple attempts at mastery.
- Avoid grading homework.
- Avoid recording zeros for work not done.
- Avoid group grades. Cooperative learning helps students learn, but is not an indicator of proficiency.
Gulp. Teachers I know are all over the board with deeply ingrained beliefs about grading. I have changed my own thinking about grading over the years. I totally agree with #1, 2, and 4. When I was in the classroom (my last year was in 2001) I was no longer giving zeroes. I get that… I did the math and was convinced that a zero skewed the info, so I gave a 55 instead of a zero. I also believe that students should be given the opportunities to demonstrate mastery of concepts - test retakes (if they are given a different, but equal assessment), I also believe that students should receive the highest grade.
Homework is a toughie. I always graded homework because I thought at the time that the feedback would help students master the concepts, and I thought that students wouldn’t do the work if it wasn’t graded. I have no idea if I’m right or wrong about that. This would make a nice question for an action research project. Will students do homework if it isn’t graded? What factors make homework more meaningful for students to complete?
Giving group grades is also one that I grapple with. I think that an occasional group grade can show mastery, if set up with an evaluation rubric, checkpoints along the way to make sure everyone is doing the work, and clear expectations.
As a parent, I can look at my two children to make some general conclusions about how they learn and what they know. One of them could care less about the grade & didn’t always do homework, but he would ace the test. The other did every single homework and extra credit assignment and also aced the test. GPAs were vastly different. ACTs were very similar.
These important conversations must take place in schools. Mr. Keeney was masterful in facilitating a conversation about this topic. He pulled individual student data out of our student information system (removed names) for discussion purposes. As a group we discussed how they were graded and if the grades were indicative of their mastery of the content. It seems to me that discussing individual situations somehow nudges people to think much differently than talking about generalizations, and is the way to go.