One of my goals this year was to implement standards-based grading practices. I won't claim that it was always simple, but I have to admit that it wasn't that big of a shift, either. The biggest changes have to occur in your philosophy. Once you've made peace with the fact that you're not going to use grades as rewards and punishments or reflections of student behavior, other things fall into place. Yes, I did have to bite my tongue several times this year. How often in the past have I taken points off a grade because students didn't clean up a lab station? Or were noisy after finishing a test (while others were still working)? How many times have I exasperatedly explained to a dejected kid that even though they got half credit for their late work, it only raised their average a couple of points? Embarrassingly enough---I've done this a lot in the past. But not this year. A few incidences near the end of the year have served as interesting cases-in-point about my changes to grading practices.
For example, I had a student who missed a lot of class not that long ago. It turned out that he was skipping school and by the time all that caught up to him, well, he had been gone a lot of days. He served a week of in-school suspension for his truancies. Five of his teachers told his parents that there was no way he could pass their classes---all those zeros in their gradebooks couldn't be made up due to unexcused absences. It is their right to have such a policy, but I didn't follow suit. The kid made some bad choices, to be sure. But he had a school applied punishment for that. Why should I kick him with a grade, too? I can't imagine having to come to school for the last month knowing that nothing you would do would matter...that because of something stupid, others were going to make a mess of your transcript and condemn you to summer school for summers to come. Now, it remains to be seen whether or not he will pass my class. He is still missing several assessments, but he has the choice to show me that he has learned the material. It is definitely one of those "lead a horse to water" sorts of deals; however, in the event that an "F" shows up on his report card for my class, it won't be because I destined him to fail. I sleep a lot better that way.
School has been out for seniors for several days, but I have one who is still coming to class. He didn't graduate, due to missing credit for my class and another one. Here again, the other teacher said that no matter what the kid did, he couldn't get credit. I told mom that if he could show me that he'd learned the material before school was out, he didn't need to do summer school (or come back for a year of super-senior work) for science. As with the first case, it is the kid's choice as to what to do...and interestingly enough, he is choosing to get out of bed and come to school for one class while most of his peers are still in bed.
I also have a young lady who plagiarized all the text for a project. She is smart enough to know better and we (as a class) had talked about my expectations for their performance and disapproval of copying the work of another. I know that in college or the workplace, she would be booted out for her poor efforts...but this is not college nor a workplace. My job is to get them ready for those environments. So, I talked to her about what she'd done and why it wasn't acceptable---either for my class or elsewhere. I didn't give her a zero or send her to the office. I did make sure that she understood what her responsibilities were and gave her an "incomplete" in the gradebook until things are properly done. I hope that I've helped her reflect on things and learn a lesson she can apply to future assignments. The result is the same as the more negative approach of giving her a zero and telling her "too bad," it's just that in my newer approach, I haven't excused her from doing the learning. She still has to do the project...and do it right.
There are still some things I need to work out with this grading system. Communication with all stakeholders is a continuing challenge because it is a different way of approaching grades. I think, however, that I finally have a system which is congruent with my beliefs as an educator: what happens in the classroom is about students and their learning.
Update: If you've reached this post from a search engine, you can access all standards-based grading information for this blog (and there's quite a bit) by clicking on the grading label. It's greatly appreciated if you would leave a comment as you look around! Also, I am available for presentations and workshops if you need more resources and information on best practices in grading. Contact me for more information.