There has been a lot of discussion in education circles lately about grading practices. Mark Barnes has a group of people talking about throwing out grading. Rick Wormeli is among a large group of educators talking about standards-based grading. These are all big initiatives that require school and even district support. They aren’t something that individual teachers can adopt full scale in their own classrooms.
However, those of us who know that traditional grading practices need to change can still do something (or some things) to reform grading in our own classrooms. Having spent four of the last 6 years as a school librarian, I had been out of touch with grading issues. Being back in the classroom has brought me back to the issues I was dealing with before I became a school librarian. I find myself asking questions like, “what do grades really represent?” Are grades an indication of content mastery or of work ethic? Can grades be “muddied” by trivial extra credit or by earning points for bringing in classroom supplies? I’ve already answered NO to those questions for my classroom, but I know I still have a long way to go in the area of grade reforms.
The next reform I’m going to institute is a move away from numerical grading to letter-based grading. With any of the assignments I give, I can’t actually tell a qualitative difference between a grade of 96 and a grade of 97. However, I should absolutely be able to tell a qualitative difference between an A or a B grade.
So my first small step looks looks like this
- Decide the point value of an assignment
- Decide what quality is acceptable evidence for each letter grade
- Assign letter grades for student work
- Convert that letter grade to a number for entry in the district/state mandated grade reporting software. (Use a numeric grade that represents the highest point value available for that letter grade.)
There are still caveats that haven’t been worked out yet, especially ones that deal with averaging grades for progress reports and report cards. I think I can make this more equitable by ensuring that most of my assignments are of equal instructional value so that they can have an equal “value” in the gradebook. Certainly this isn’t perfect, but it is a start. An as Confucius said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Will you commit to taking a single step in 2015 to improve grading practices in your classroom? Let’s take this journey together.