A Repair Kit for Grading. A simple moved toward standards referenced grades appropriate for the 21st century.

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Standards referenced grading pairs extremely well with comprehension based instruction.  The gradebook in my classroom has moved that direction and this year the district I teach in has moved to a standards referenced system.  Please know that these words are my own and do not reflect any school district policy or beliefs nor any beliefs held by my colleagues.

Unfortunately the conversation around grading systems tends to become caught in a tangled web around 2 key concepts.  Reassessment and late work policies.  The old guard continues to fight for teaching students responsibility through deadlines for summative assessments which ought to be done right the first time.  And late work must be penalized to teach responsibility.  In theory I understand the drive and desire to create an educational environment based on this system.  But such a system doesn’t actually teach responsibility.  You see, if I score a missing or late assignment as a 0, most learners will move on from that task.  Think about the kids who have almost begged you to change the missing designation to a 0.  A 0 simply records that a student did not hold themselves accountable for the task.  It simply records that a student did not act responsibly.

An accountability system based on late work penalties needs much follow up from home.  But it seems for many students the world at home is much different.  This has become apparent to me as my now 3rd grader navigates school.  We are a 2 teacher household.  I love teaching.  I love parenting my kids.  I do not love myself as a parent after a hard day of teaching.  There are 2 adults in our house who know the system.  We are energetic.  We hold high expectations for our kids.  There have been a few times we’ve missed following up some kind of homework assignment with our oldest child.  Dance, church choir, play rehearsal and most importantly, doing kid stuff outside with our kids takes up a lot of time.  Sometimes, I don’t want my kid to have to choose a homework assignment over one of those activities.  Granted, most of the time it is okay as we can complete the math facts practice together or we are already reading much more than asked of our children.  My children learn how to be responsible with their time and effort in what they do.

A Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades with DVD (2nd Edition) (Assessment Training Institute, Inc.) offers 15 simple ideas to consider to create a grading system centered around standards.  Yes, reassessment and separating behavior from content grades are 2 of the suggestions, but there are more that I find helpful to consider with any grading system.  Below I will highlight a few of the fixes but don’t forget that the book lays out 15 fixes.

Fix #3:  Don’t give points for extra credit or use bonus points; seek only evidence that more work has resulted in a higher level of achievement.  In my experience, some students are extremely motivated by extra credit.  But an excerpt from page 33 of A Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades sums up why I am uncomfortable with extra credit.  “Extra credit and bonus points stem from the belief that school is about doing the work, accumulating points, and that quantity is key – with more being better.”  The chapter continues to point out that extra evidence should be used when a student has mastered a standard as a way to demonstrate a new level of understanding.  Grades should correspond to that level of understanding.  Extra credit gives students something for nothing.

Fix #7:  Don’t organize information in grading records by assessment methods or simply summarize into a single grade;  organize and report evidence by standards/learning goals.  This fix in Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades was an easy change for me.  Instead of organizing grades by homework, quizzes, tests, project and in class categories I keep it simple with standards like:  I can understand what I read in Latin or I can understand what I hear in Latin.  This way students and parents have better information about what scores mean.  If a student struggles to listen to Latin conversations it becomes clear in the I can understand what I hear in Latin category.  In the past, this skill deficiency might have been overlooked as the listening assessments would be buried in the quiz or test category mixed in with reading or writing of Latin.  If you are just going to change one thing in your grading practice I recommend starting at page 58 in Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades.

The final fix from Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades that I will comment on is fix 15:  Don’t leave students out of the grading process.  Involve students; they can-and should- play key roles in assessment and grading that promote achievement.  This is another fix from O’Conner’s book that most educators can support and relate to their experiences.  Early in the chapter O’Conner says, “Grades-and assessment- are broken if teachers simply ‘run the show.'”  I started to make this shift a few years ago and at first it was hard.  Teachers want control.  Our evaluations center on how we control student interactions, various learning styles and communication with stake holders in our classes.  Articles such as this one from PBS paint a scary picture on the surface but the reality is that the students in our classrooms will not only have different work, but they will change work as they become adults.  We must at least coach and guide students through self reflection, feedback and ways to adapt based on that feedback and reflection.  Students able to do these things will become adults who are able to adapt and create new work in a world that needs them to do so.

A Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades is a simple guide for anyone who wants to adjust grading processes based on research.  The 3 fixes above are the fixes that I found the easiest to start with as I changed my courses to a standards referenced system.  Yes, one of the fixes is to stop giving 0s.  Try it.  You will be surprised how students respond when you present to them that their work is incomplete instead of a 0.  The same goes for late work.  Yes, there are some students who will habitually turn work in late.  But in my experience, those students were turning things in late no matter the specifics of a late work policy.  A focus on learning instead of the accumulation of points has freed me from a lot of record keeping work that always felt like a waste of time to me before.  The transition takes some work, but O’Connor gives a simple guide in Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades to save you time as you transition.  Why wait?  Make positive change in your grading system for students and for you today.

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