I'm failing history because I didn't turn in my homework! Woohoo, I got a 16/20 on my Diary of Anne Frank worksheet! If I bring in three boxes of tissues, I can pull my grade up to a B! All of these statements have been heard in hallways over the years, but how do any reflect student understanding of learning targets and standards? Find the standard that says students must complete all homework assignments; if they can pass/ace a test without it, why should missed homework count against them? Now find the standard that explains what a student has mastered knowing 80% of information about a story or play; was that 20% markdown because they left a few responses blank or because they missed all questions relating to theme? Finally, let's not even try to find a correlation between Kleenex and learning! If we want to communicate an accurate picture of mastery and achievement to all the stakeholders in our student's educational journey, we need to examine exactly what's making the grade.
Until we implement an effective grading system that reflects student performance on valid and reliable assessments, we aren't truly communicating student growth and progress with grades. We need to say good-bye to the days of points for anything and everything and focus on quality assessments that give a sound measure of what students know. An easy way to start this transition is by utilizing the ability to weight categories in a grading program. Categories that carry no weight in a student's grade are a great way of reporting progress on formative assessments and communicating "housekeeping matters" with students and parents. With summative assessments of sound design carrying the weight in the grade, student achievement based on levels of mastery and understanding will be in the spotlight.
What happens behind the scenes as students prepare for that moment in the spotlight may carry no graded weight, but it carries a lot of educational weight. Formative assessments are the fundamental stepping stones for leading students to mastery. By creating quality assessments and checkpoints with clear connections to the standards being presented, students can demonstrate their understanding of the targets and concepts. Our top priority is to ensure the activities and learning opportunities we create for students are measuring the intended standards and not just activities with targeted terms we've pulled from our files. Are we leading students toward mastery or filling time with irrelevant connections to our intended educational goals?
Formative assessments allow us as teachers to identify the level of understanding, determine additional instructional measures, and reinforce skills and concepts being presented. These are still assessments that require feedback, but the purpose of the feedback is not to drive students' averages. It should be thoughtful and timely feedback that gives students confidence in their level of understanding and direction in how to continue toward mastery of the concepts. While these assessments carry a lot of weight in the learning process, they don't carry any weight in the grade!
Speaking of no weight in the grade, it can be a struggle to figure out how to communicate basic "housekeeping" matters to parents. A signature may be required, classroom supplies may be in need of replenishment, fundraisers/donation drives may be underway. Don't even think about offering points for these items as they in no way reflect student learning. Simply create a Housekeeping category with a no weight value in your grading program, input what's needed, and record when and if said items are delivered. Let food drive items be gathered to make a donation rather than earn a point! Formative assessments and housekeeping matters can always be reported, but they should never make the grade.
In order to make the grade, sound summative assessments need to be given that align to the standards and reflect the formative building blocks that have been completed. We can't google a concept, print a worksheet or test, and expect it to match the groundwork we've paved. Only after a clear instructional path has been followed can summative assessments with sound design and clear connections to the intended standards be presented. Students need to have opportunities to work with concepts, process feedback, and build levels of understanding before their performance levels are reported in their grades. Summative assessments that reflect an accurate level of mastery should be the only category to carry any weight in student grades. Devising rubrics that align with the standards, reflect the formative work that preceded them, and capture the key concepts targeted within the assessment will allow a clear picture of student mastery to be reported.
An effective grading system starts with a clear perception of what grades should represent. Packing on the points doesn't contribute to a student's educational journey; it merely creates an abundance of detours and roadblocks that misrepresent student understanding and mastery. Take time to rethink the validity of your current system, and hop back in the driver's seat with an effective system that knows what should make the grade. Our next stop will have you refueling with ideas for creating quality assessments with sound design!