The End of Marking Periods

In many schools, including the one in which I work, teachers have adopted great practices such as ongoing formative assessment, re-teaching, re-testing and allowing students to re-do assignments. However, even with the implementation of these successful grading and instructional practices, the old “learning clock” still counts down to the end of the marking period. It’s like trying to beat the sand timer in a board game. All learning must be complete before all the sand gets to the bottom on the hour glass, or it’s too late. So, why?

Why do we have a system that encourages teachers to race against the clock to jam in one last project or test before the end of the marking period. I would argue, we no longer need these arbitrary time limits for learning in our current system.

With instructional approaches such as standards-based grading, grading for mastery, objective-aligned assessments, re-takes, and re-do’s; Do marking periods create arbitrary time constraints on opportunities for learning? When marking periods are removed, we promote a growth mindset approach to learning, students can continue to strive toward mastery, being exposed to multiple ways of learning, as well as multiple attempts/methods to demonstrate their learning.

With the ability for parents to check grades online, at any time, the need to periodically update parents via report cards no longer exists. I know some will argue that not all parents have access grades online. However, for the sake of this blogpost, I am focusing on the majority. After all, more people own a cell phone than a toothbrush. Another argument against the removal of marking periods is that a new marking period gives students a fresh-start, or a clean slate. However, by implementing some of the practices I mentioned above (re-testing and re-do’s), students are constantly and continually given a fresh-start, and new chance at learning.

Another flaw in traditional marking periods is their equal weight. In our system, each of the four, 46 day marking periods, ends in a grade that is weighted equally. But any teacher will tell you that not all marking periods are created equally. When ten days in the third marking period (22%) are taken up by standardized-tests, how can teachers and students accomplish the same amount of learning as in the second marking period. However, our current system weights all marking periods the same when calculating a student’s final grade.

There is much more to consider when it comes to evaluating grading and assessment practices, however, the removal of marking periods is something worth more consideration.

What thoughts or ideas do you have about traditional grading practices that should be re-evaluated?

Update: Our school is currently (2015-16 school year) piloting a continual, year-long grading period for all our sixth grade courses. We have removed the traditional four marking periods and have one ongoing grading period. So far, so good! More updates to come in future posts.