Perfect Grading Practices In An Imperfect Grading World

Perfect grading practices don’t exist!

Through our school’s efforts to improve our grading practices, I have come to a few conclusions. First, there is NO perfect grading system. If you are looking for a grading approach that you cannot poke holes in, stop now. Whether it be a 100 point scale, or a 4.0 scale, there will always be a level of subjectivity. Secondly, it is frustrating that we have not yet come up with a way to consistently improve grading outside of the traditional 100 point scale. Standards-based grading has promises, but still some of the same flaws and subjectivity of the 100 point scale. Third, traditional grading may be the biggest farce in all of education. Grades are like hieroglyphics with no translation guide. From one classroom to the next, they have a different meaning. Our district follows the same grading scale to determine a student’s letter grade (ex:94-100 = A), however, they allow a teacher almost complete autonomy in how they determine what criteria get a student to that grade. The sad part is, this is common in most districts. In our school, we will continue working on improving our grading practices (we just uncovered the flaws in the ‘total points’ method), but I wish all schools would have figured out a better way by now. After all, these flaws aren’t new.

My beliefs on grading have been shaped largely by the likes of Rick Wormeli, Doug Reeves and other well-known educational gurus. My goals for grading are for them to communicate learning in a practical and accurate manner. In our world of Student Management/Online grading systems, this doesn’t always come easy. Lately I’ve been working with teachers on trying to fit a standards/objective-based grading approach into our 100 point scale district grading system This has not been easy. We have toyed with ways to convert a 4.0 scale to the 100 point scale, and vice-versa. We have discussed weighting different objectives based on level of skill required. We’ve debated the number of questions to ask in order to adequately assess a student on an objective. We have evaluated marking period timelines and how they limit an objective-based grading approach. We have evaluated a lot!

In the absence of the option to get rid of grades entirely, here are a few of my beliefs about grading which shape my work with teachers to improve our grading practices.

A student’s grade should accurately communicate what a student knows, understands and is able to do, in alignment with standards, anchors and/or objectives.

Summative Grades v. Formative Grades

Summative – grades in which a student has no additional opportunity to show learning.

  • Traditional Examples: Tests, Quizzes, Essays, Labs, etc…
    • A summative test, quiz or essay can always be made formative with the allowance of a re-take or re-do. If a retake/re-do, the student would then receive the new summative score they earn on the re-take or re-do, and the first score would be dropped. That score now accurately reflects what a student knows, understands and is able to do.

Formative – grades in which a student has additional opportunity to show learning.

  • Traditional Examples: Classwork, Homework, etc…
    • If we grade knowledge and skills formatively (classwork, homework), then again summatively, are we creating “duplicate grading?” Does the grade now accurately reflect what a student knows, understands and is able to do? If they performed the same on both, YES, if not, NO.
      • “Duplicate Grading” – grading the same knowledge or skills more than once. This could be through one or multiple methods. If I want to know if a student can demonstrate an understanding of the first amendment and I quiz them on it and they get it wrong. Then I allow them to do a skit that now shows evidence of their knowledge on the first amendment. I give them the grade from the skit and drop the grade from the quiz. You wouldn’t GRADE both, since that would communicate conflicting information on what that student understands about the first amendment. Multiple methods of, and opportunities for, assessment are good practice. However, the grade should reflect a student’s performance on only one.
    • How much should formative grades weigh on final grade?
      • I personally believe that a report card should reflect ONLY summative grades. However, I appreciate the need for flexibility, and would be okay with all formative assessments (combination of CW, HW, etc.) being worth one point less than a whole letter grade (ex: 8 points).
      • Remember, if a student does NO classwork or homework, but exhibits knowledge of all information and skills on a summative assessment (test), when classwork and homework grades are factored, does the final grade now accurately reflect what a student knows, understands and is able to do? OR, does it now represent something else?

Grading Behavior or Effort

  • Grading student behavior or effort is a tricky and an inappropriate practice. To grade things such as work ethic, effort, participation or behavior, when these things are not part of a curriculum, and usually not explicitly taught, is inappropriate. Teachers often to not present clear criteria for meeting expectations in these areas, which makes grading them very subjective.
  • There are better ways to motivate and encourage work ethic, effort, participation and behavior. Grades are not necessary for these things.

What successes, struggles or challenges have you faced while working to improve grading practices in your classroom or school?