De-emphasizing grades to increase learning
Jason Cowley, NBCT, Woodland High School
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Problems with Grades:
- Grades do not measure learning well
- Late work and behavior often affect a student’s grade
- So do effort and participation
- If grades are measures of learning, and/or meeting standards, these factors should not affect grades
- Also, grades attempt to quantify something that is primarily unquantifiable
- Learning is a story, not a number
- Averaging dilutes the usefulness of information
- F’s as 0s mess up accuracy of grades (one “F” affects overall percentage much more than one C or one A)
- Averaged assignments mean that information about specific knowledge or abilities gets reported in a way that will not be informative to parents (especially analytical 1-4 rubrics!) Does a 23/28 mean perfect writing but poor grammar, or the opposite?
- Averaged grades cannot accurately tell a student’s story over time. Poor work at the beginning or end of the semester will result in a similar grade.
- Grades and mistakes
- Mistakes are punished… therefore, avoid mistakes, even though real learning and invention requires failure (Wright Brothers, Edison, Space X,)
- Avoidance of mistakes engenders unethical behavior!
- Grades decrease student motivation
- Extrinsic rewards only work over the short term and decrease intrinsic motivation
- Student attitudes towards school trend negative because of this. Think of first grade vs eleventh grade student views on school
- Grades > Learning
- Ultimately students care more about grades than learning. When grades are present, grades become the focus
- Essential Standards
- Grades are not based on classwork at all. Classwork is for practice, not for points!
- Instead, students must meet essential standards over the course of the semester. (Generally 4-6 standards per semester.)
- All CCSS standards are addressed, but only some are deemed essential. Essential standards were determined at the building/department level with district approval.
- When students meet these standards, they earn credit for the course.
- Students can revise assignments and turn them in at any time. A student could be done in November, January, or July two years from now.
- Grade for the semester
- Students earn a final grade at the semester only.
- Grade is determined by student based on evidence. Student must address 3 questions:
- What evidence do you have that you have met ALL the essential standards?
- What evidence do you have of growth throughout the semester?
- What evidence do you have that you can apply the same skill in multiple contexts? (Can students demonstrate the same standard on both student created assignments and teacher created assignments?)
- After a student meets essential standards, we switch to a personalized paradigm, where student growth and mastery of skills in different contexts can be honored and assessed
- Students reflect on their own learning and propose the grade they should receive
- Students share/have power
- Students always tell me how they think they did before I give my opinion (if I give it at all)
- When students reflect on their learning, they are more likely to see the value in it
- Students can also explain their grades well to parents and guardians
- The report card contains no surprises- it was the student and not the teacher that proposed the grade
- I will veto grades if I feel that there is not enough evidence to support a high grade, OR if I feel the students are being too hard on themselves.
- More students propose grades that are too low than propose grades that are too high.
- Rubrics are also problematic
- Analytical (numbers based, usually 1-4) rubrics suffer from many of the same problems as grades. (Averages dilute useful information- see above)
- Rubrics most often justify grades instead of offering meaningful feedback
- In fact, on most rubrics, it is impossible to talk about elements of a student’s paper that do not appear on that rubric
- Rubrics I use will be checklists, or three column rubrics, where the middle column is the standards, the left column is things to improve, and the right column is things a student did well. (Single point rubrics)
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