Jul 27

Grading to Inform

There’s a lot of discussion around grading and specifically how traditional grading falls short of informing how well students are doing in a class. Letter grades and percentages do not inform students and their parents as to how well they are learning the material. That one final letter or final percentage includes way too much information to be of any real value. And it’s further complicated when behavior is included in that grade not too mention how many teachers still give extra points for kids who bring all their supplies or kids who bring in something that has nothing to do with what they are learning. Those final grades are very convenient, especially for busy parents who don’t have time to read over lengthy narratives but they fall short of what we’d like them to actually do, which is tell what our students are learning and what they have yet to learn.

Typically we wonder about grading when taking into account the following different types of students:
Student A who doesn’t do any work, acts out in class yet can pass tests or shows that he or she can meet standard.

Compared to:
Student B who does all the work, is cooperative in class and even helpful to other students but doesn’t do well on tests or even more doesn’t show that he or she can meet standard. This is more than just a student who doesn’t test well, this student truly needs more time to understand the topics/concepts being studied.

In a traditional grading class both Student A and B might average out to a C final grade. And if that doesn’t seem right, or fair, to the teacher then Student A can get a C- and Student B can get a C+. A fudge in the final grade to account for the difference in behaviors and attitude and work ethic. Maybe the fudging even goes so far as to give Student A a D+ and Student B a B-! That may seem better but is it valid?

The conversation with parents for Student A focuses on the student’s potential because he or she can meet standard but isn’t completing work. Student A isn’t behaving in an appropriate manner for school or in a manner to be successful in school.

While the conversation with Student B’s parents focuses on how hard he or she works, how much he or she tries and what a great person and/or student he or she is but how he or she isn’t meeting standard. The conversation then will need to gravitate to how this student can learn the material.

Both Student A and B need very different interventions and shouldn’t be getting the same letter grade imho but often in traditional grading they will end up with the same grade. On paper they look very similar, average as they say, but in fact they are very different.

Now what about those who say that Student A is rare and there just aren’t that many of them? Then let’s take into account Student C. Now this student, like Student A, doesn’t do work, maybe acts out and also does poorly on tests or doesn’t standard. Only by giving that student extra credit or inflating anything he or she does turn in can that student get a D or a C- if the teacher doesn’t want to fail the student. Typically that student will get an F. For Student C and those like him or her that F will always be a punishment, a reminder that they just can’t succeed in school.

Now let’s look at Students A, B and C in a Standards-Based Graded (SBG) class.

Using a 4-point scale where a 0 means incomplete, no evidence of meeting standard (not a zero in the same way zeroes are used in traditional grading classes so this zero will not be averaged in any way, it just means that the teacher needs more evidence and when the teacher gets more evidence the student will be able to meet standard just like everyone else), a 1 means that even with help the student does not show understanding, a 2 means that the student has a basic understanding of the concept, a 3 means that the child has met standard or shows understanding of the concept, and a 4 means that the child exceeds the standard, which can mean being able to show understanding independently, consistently, and/or is able to teach it to others.

Student A will have a 1 for behavior and a 3 or 4 for the academic concepts.

Student B will have a 4 for behavior and a 1 or a 2 for each academic concept that he or she doesn’t quite get.

Student C will have a 1 for behavior and a 1 or a 2 for each academic concept.

An SBG progress report seems more valid and more informative to me. As the teacher I know what interventions are needed for those students and I can communicate that more easily to their parents.

And let’s not forget students that have been considered average students in traditional classes, or C students (but unlike Students A or B because they do some of their work and they show understanding of some of their concepts), they might get 2’s on their behavior and 2’s or 3’s on specific academic concepts.

Alone those 1’s, 2’s and 3’s provide some information but when they are attached to what are called proficiency scales showing exactly what skills, knowledge, ideas, etc. the student needs to show or learn to meet standard then they become tools students, parents and teachers can use to improve. Proficiency Scales, much like rubrics, provide specific information as to what is needed to learn the material. Those scales can be used by the teacher to provide targeted and individualized feedback to students so they can tell if they are getting the concepts or not. As I wrote in an earlier blog post I would share theses proficiency scales with students only after they’ve had a chance to explore and learn without fear of getting low scores (in other words, the work they do while learning provide me with formative assessment that I wouldn’t necessarily score but that can inform my instruction and my justification of a future score – I won’t say final because I feel students should able to improve if they want to).

With the SBG parents and students can see what they need to work on if they want to improve and it’s much more informative than one letter grade or percentage that combines behavior, and who knows what else, with academic progress.

In the end we as teachers want the data we gather, whether it’s observation, formative assessments, or anything else we get from our students, to help us see whether it is the behavior causing the academic problems or whether it is the academic problems causing the behavior problems. Either way, our interventions have to be different depending on what our students need. I can use SBG more efficiently to tailor interventions to my student’s individual needs.

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