07 September 2007

One Is the Loneliest Number

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.


Athena said...

Ms. Science Goddess:

Could you elaborate on the statement "Grades are very much about power in many classrooms?" That statement interested me very much.

Are you talking about teachers holding power over students with grades?

Or something else?


The Science Goddess said...

I do believe that many teachers use grades to wield power over students in the classroom. This is because they use grades to punish behavior (not doing work, turning in work late, copying from another student or source) rather than just using them to specifically communicate student learning.

Those students who need certain grades for currency (e.g. college admissions) will definitely be more threatened by this.

I feel like this is not the best attitude to take. Shouldn't we motivating kids to learn---rather than telling them all the things we'll do to them if they don't?

P.S. I grew up in Alpine (I was there less than a month ago.) Are you working with Patt Simms? I used to babysit her son long ago and far away. Perhaps she's retired by now. :)

Anonymous said...

I am thrilled to stumble upon another teacher who carries a view on grading that very much aligns with my own philosophy. I struggle with grading practices almost daily (there are some very rigid and absurdly ridiculous grading "rules" in place at my school). As a middle school teacher I am forced to give 1 final "grade" at the end of each quarter, like you are. There is a set translation for turning rubric scores to numerical scores (it is utterly ridiculous and makes no sense). So while I only use rubric scoring in my class and my students can very clearly understand areas of strength/needs for improvement and are not obsessing over a random "number" score, eventually it HAS to be switched into an arbitrary numerical grade to be entered into our grading system. We are "supposed" to enter 0s for homework not turned in, deduct 5 points from an assignment each day it is late and we are not allowed to give alternative assessments on a "failed" test/project. A "quiz" can be made up...oh wait, but only to a grade of a "70. And don't even get me started on the whole honor roll thing.
I find that there are other teachers at my school who recognize the faults in the current grading practices, but none of which ever "do" anything about it (they cave and follow through w/ this archaic method). I am eager to read through your blog and find solace in the fact that I am not alone! Based on some of the things I have read on your blog thus far, I assume you are an Alfie Kohn fan?
Do you ever receive any grief from parents for having a different approach and outlook to grading, or are you fairly well supported? Do you have colleagues who are "with" you on this one?

The Science Goddess said...

My hunch is that at elementary, there are many teachers and schools which are living this kind of philosophy; but as the grade levels increase, there are fewer and fewer teachers who have it.

I don't know that I fully belong in the Alfie Kohn fan club. :) I enjoy his writing because it is "provocative" and makes me think about why I hold the beliefs that I do. Nevertheless, I will definitely be the rebel at my school.

This is my first year back in the classroom---and my first year to jump wholeheartedly into this system. I am committed to making it work, which will definitely mean that I have to get parents on board. I am hoping for a strong turnout at our "Open House."

I don't have any colleagues at my school who are using a standards-based system; however, there are a few of us sprinkled around the district at the secondary level. (Nearly all of our elementary schools are standards-based this year---and the last few will "convert" next fall.) A small support group is better than none. :)

Welcome to my blog. I hope that you'll come back to visit and comment!

Athena said...

Thank you for your response! I will think about that. I struggle with grading a great deal in my classroom.

Yes, I work with her. But how did you figure out where I am? You are kinda freaking me out. LOL


The Science Goddess said...


I use a code in my template from statcounter---it logs visitor information.

If I can find your e-mail address over on your blog, I'll tell you more.

The Science Goddess said...

Okay---just looked and didn't find your e-mail addy.

If you want, e-mail me directly at "the_science_goddess@yahoo.com" and I'll tell you about how I know Patt (and she knows my family and me). I think we've known each other since I was 9 or 10 years old. LOL

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Go for it, SG. You're not alone.

Jim Anderson said...

I definitely agree on the "no zeros" thing. My thoughts on accepting late work aren't settled--but here's where I stand right now.

I specifically tell my high school students that they can have extensions--but they must either have a valid emergency-type excuse, or talk to me in advance. I encourage them to be responsible and communicate.

I tell them that I won't accept late work otherwise. Several reasons:

1. I don't want to encourage procrastination. Positively framed, a deadline helps provide focus and motivation.

2. Most of the time, we will be using the assignment that day in class. If students write a paper, they'll be sharing it with others and getting feedback. I'm not the only assessor in the classroom. Coming unprepared takes away from valuable learning.

3. My assessment time is already stretched thin--and now parents want instant online grades.

4. The world is unkind about such things.

I'll really be looking forward to seeing how your system works, TSG--whether it's hunky-dory, or whether you're swamped with a stack of late papers on the last day of school.

I completely agree that teachers too often don't share "best practices" for grading--and that students need to be part of the conversation. Thanks for sharing yours.

The Science Goddess said...

I have some very similar concerns to yours about late work---and I certainly don't know how things will shake out. There's real potential for kids to exploit the system...but maybe that's true of anything. :)

I'll definitely be posting updates (good, bad, and just plain ugly) as things progress. I have a big learning curve ahead.

Anonymous said...

As A student I feel it is my duty to leave some input on this page, though I do belong to the Canadian school system. What the differences there may be between the two systems I’m not quiet sure but I can inform you of the system we have in place at my school in Saint John High. As with most systems there is some variation depending on who is teaching the class and in which class (i.e. Science, English etc) the mark is being given in. For the most part it’s a fair system and you will receive no complaints from me.

Work is penalized for being late with a, on average, ten percent penalty in the mark until either the third or more often fourth day, as that leaves a bare pass of sixty percent. This is without a doubt fair, people should be penalized for late work (though a valid excuse, and I mean valid can grant more time) as it helps, as mentioned prior, discourage procrastination the enemy of all students.

Rewrites are given to all students on most commentaries with only a night or two with which to do them. All minor errors are marked and the teacher always leaves a comment to point the student in the right direction, but it remains general enough that it still requires a deal of effort for the student to correct. This helps us, as students, see where we’ve gone wrong, how to fix our mistakes and more importantly not make them to begin with. The idea of no penalization (i.e. max of seventy percent) is equally important as it gives a student the incentive to work harder and as far as things go here most would have a high seventy or low eighty and be looking to improve upon it. A max of seventy percent s shameful!

As for honor roll as someone mention, yes, yes it pathetic, seventy five percent here for honor, SEVENTY FIVE PERCENT! That’s nothing to be particularly proud of and doesn’t deserve that much credit, a high honors is eighty five or is it eighty’ seven well either way it should be far higher as it is “high” honors, there shouldn’t be a crowd of people receiving it, as there is here every year. It should remain for those who have truly earned the recognition, an average over ninety at the least.

As it stands I can’t really say that these rules now hold true for me as I’m not technically part of the Canadian curriculum anymore, but instead part of the IB curriculum, and as it stands they are much, much, much tougher and that is no hyperbole!

As one last note to you the educators, please try and work together. When assigning homework have some idea of what other teachers are assigning and when their due dates are, it is just the second week of school yet I am buried in work and that leaves me little time for extracurricular. This is fundamental, especially in IB where one needs fifty hours volunteer time, fifty hours sports and fifty arts. So please don’t overload your students.

Anyway I have to return to my Lab on the Randomness of Degeneration (Its work on the random degeneration of Sr-90, where measuring the beta-particles it gives off ) fun stuff eh!

- A Canadian student

The Science Goddess said...

Thank you for the very thoughtful comment!

I am hoping that my students can help me continue to shape my grading practices over time so that they reflect what they need most.

Barry Onishenko said...

Our district is in the process of reforming grading practices. Our school has mandated that zeros not be given nor penalties assessed for late submission of assignments. If you consider that reports on achievement and progress are supposed to be focused on what students can demonstrate they know, a a score that is reduced for lateness doesn't really accurately portray a student's knowledge.
If there are a significant number of assignments not handed in I can record that I have insufficient evidence to assess that particular student's progress and defer a grade/mark to the next reporting period.