I dropped my grading policy on the kids today. I am surprised at how well things went over.
I started off the discussion by having them talk about the terms fair and equal. I had been concerned about this aspect. Through their talking and my probing, kids seemed able to distinguish between the two. We then looked at my philosophy of grading. I have high school aged students---and they are well aware that they can "buy" things with their grades, like lower car insurance, college admissions, and athletic eligibility.
Then we moved into the specifics. We looked at some examples of using the mean, median, and mode and how these can tell different stories about a grade. (Kids caught on darned quickly how "unfair" an average can be.) We talked about no zeros or other grading penalties for missing or late assignments...and the need to respect everyone's learning needs in creating a grade which truly represents what each student knows. Although we spent some time on the terms formative and summative, I can tell that I'm going to have to reinforce those more.
My informal "check-in" with students following this discussion elicited a lot of positive feedback. For the most part, they seem to get it. They are graded on their learning and that I care more about whether or not they do learn than when they learn (or how many times they don't understand at the beginning). This made me feel good.
What didn't make me feel so good was the question about "How come you're the only teacher who grades like this?" because when I suggested that they open a dialogue with their other teachers, they said "They won't listen to us." I'm not entirely sure how true this is, but considering that sophomores (who are brand new to the school and therefore still figuring out what high school is) were the ones feeling that way, I'm not too surprised. The difficult part is that I'm not sure where to direct them. I can understand why they might feel uncomfortable rocking the grading boat with other teachers. Grades are very much about power in many classrooms. So then what is the appropriate route for their concerns? I can certainly advocate for students at staff meetings from the standpoint that we teachers need to talk about our grading practices---I'm just not sure how to empower the kids to advocate for themselves and help them feel less lonely in their assessment needs.