I’ve been doing a ton of thinking about grading and feedback and assessment over the last few weeks. It’s not a new conversation, right? Teachers have been wrestling with grading for decades.
If I’m being honest, I hate grades. I think they are ruining learners. I see that in my own classroom AND with my own daughter.
While I won’t pretend to have all of the answers to the great grading debate, I do have a ton of questions that are worth considering.
Here’s just a few:
Do your students care more about their grades than the learning those grades are supposed to represent?
Figuring out the answer to this question is easy. Think about what kids say to you when they earn a score they aren’t proud of.
If grades are more important than learning in your building, you hear, “How can I raise my grade?” about a thousand times a year — particularly in the last week of a marking period.
If learning matters most, your kids are asking, “I’m struggling with this content. Can you help me figure out what I still need to know?” all quarter long.
Are the grades given in your building an accurate representation of what students know?
The simple truth is that grades are oftentimes really poor reflections of what a kid actually knows.
Need some examples?
Think of the student who loses points because work was turned in late. Or of the student who corrects every mistake on a unit test perfectly but is only given a 70 in the grade book because of a school’s rework policy.
In both cases, grades are NOT accurate reflections of what a kid knows and is able to do. Are we OK with that? Are we OK with sharing inaccurate information with parents and students and other teachers about a student’s ability in a particular subject area?
Are grades in your building a better indicator of student COMPLIANCE than they are of student PERFORMANCE?
I’m raising an awesome, amazing, wonderfully intelligent third grader named Reece. What I love the most about her is that she’s stubborn times ten. That determination to live her own life regardless of what others think and feel is going to pay off as she grows older.
But as an eight year old, that same determination is having an impact on her grades.
Here’s how: When she’s given a task to complete, she immediately decides whether or not she’s interested in it. If the answer is no, she does just enough to squeak by. The result is a task that isn’t a great indicator of what she’s really capable of.
In other words, teachers rarely see what my kid CAN do. Instead, they see what she’s WILLING to do.
The result: Her grades are rarely an accurate reflection of her ability.
My favorite example: As a kindergartner, she ended up in the lowest reading group in her class because she hadn’t demonstrated mastery of her letter sounds. That surprised me because I was pretty sure she had letter sounds down pat.
When I asked her teacher about the placement, I found out that on a screening test, Reece had refused to participate. The teacher would point to a letter or a blend and Reece would say, “Nope!” over and over again.
“Do you know what the A says, Reece?”
“How about the B?”
“We’ve been working on the CK sound lately. Do you remember that one?”
(She’s DEFINITELY my kid, y’all!)
Would I have loved it if Reece had just cooperated and shown what she knew?
But that story also reminds me to dig deeper with the stubborn kids in my own class. I need to work hard to make sure that my scores are a representation of ability and performance, not simply compliance.
Do grades REALLY motivate learners?
Before you answer this question, spend a minute thinking beyond the high performing students in your class who thrive on making As on every assignment and making the honor roll every quarter.
Instead, think about the average student. Are they working harder because they know that their performance will be graded? Or think about the struggling student. Does knowing that a grade is coming change their overall investment in a task?
I’d argue that the answer in both of those circumstances is a resounding “nope.”
Think about the kids who are asking for extra credit or completing reworks in order to raise their grades. Most of the time, aren’t those students ALREADY making good scores?
And then think about the students who struggle in your classes. If all you did was offer a rework or extra credit to raise scores — instead of requiring that a student to participate in an intervention — would struggling students take you up on your offer?
If grades motivated kids, wouldn’t every student jump at the chance to raise their scores on every assignment?
Hope these questions make you think.
And if you want to learn more about steps you can take to move from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback in your school, check out my newest book: Creating a Culture of Feedback.
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