I tried a new approach to grading this year. In an ideal environment, grading would look very different from traditional school, or not exist at all. However, the pragmatist I am, I thought about how I might work within the current system to more closely align my grading with student understanding rather than completion or compliance.
In a given unit, students might complete homework, work in class, create projects, take quizzes, and complete tests. When students turn in a homework assignment I provide feedback and assign a traditional grade. Later in the unit students might create a project or blog post related to the content which I again assess, provide feedback on, and attach a traditional grade. Along the way, students likely complete quick formative assessments such as quizzes or what I call half sheets (response to a question on a half sheet of paper). For each of these assignments I provide feedback and assign a traditional grade to the assignment. This grade gives students and parents some indication of how the student is doing. I would love to use something more informative than A, B, C, D, F, but the district expectations and the corresponding computerized gradebook does not allow for such subversion. Yet, let me explain how I work to make this seemingly traditional grading system more aligned with authentic assessment of student progress and understanding.
First of all, no single grade is static. If a student wants to redo an assignment, project, or test, I will reassess their new work and replace the grade (not average the two!). Secondly, if a student disagrees with my assessment or believes they understand a topic better than the level at which I assigned their grade, they are free to come talk to me — to either discuss why the grade is what it is, or to verbally demonstrate their level of understanding. Third, if a student does better on a later assessment than a previous assessment, the previous assessment is erased from the gradebook.
Essentially, if a student gets F’s on the homework, but gets an A on the test or project, their grade will be an A. I want to assess what students actually understand, not whether they did homework. In the reverse direction, if a student works very hard on homework and does very well, but does not do well on the end of unit test/project, the homework grades stay.
Finally, if at the end of a unit, if a student disagrees with their grade for that unit, they have the opportunity to come discuss the concepts of the unit with me. During this “interview” I ask students questions about the content and we discuss the ideas and what they have learned. During our discussion, I encourage students to self-assess and consider what pieces of knowledge they are still unsure of and what they feel most confident in. At the end of the discussion, the student and I discuss what grade might be appropriate and why.
I want students to value hard work, while not solely focusing on compliance. I want students to understand that learning is a process and that knowledge is not static. I want students to be reflective. I am not interested in students ability to complete my tests, I am interested in developing students who can think and apply what they know. I want students to learn from their mistakes. While the traditional grading system deserves replacement, we do not always have that option. Through careful consideration of both my goals and the restriction with which I am faced, I have been able to more authentically assess my students’ learning.