Communication in Grading

I want to preface this post by saying that in my perfect world, we wouldn't grade at all. But currently, that isn't my reality. I will continue to do the best I can with the rules and requirements placed on me.

My ever-present clipboard

We have progress reports coming up this week and as I was sitting and staring at my spreadsheet, I began to think about grading again. Let's get deep.

One thing I love about my teaching is that I'm committed to Standards Based Grading as part of my Flipped Learning implementation. It communicates ideas and progress much more clearly than traditional grading practices do.

Essentially, there are two kinds of students in my class: those with an A and those with an F. Now, without getting too political about grades, I want to say that I really like the way my book plays out. Here's why.

First, I don't have to rationalize all of those middle areas. SBG eliminates point-grubbing because you're marked on your ability to demonstrate your understanding in any way you choose. It is a binary system (for me, at least)...you know it, or you don't. Therefore, any student who can demonstrate their understanding of a concept automatically is marked with a 100%.

Second, as the teacher, I do not feel like I have the right to assign a letter that describes a student's learning other than a simple yes or no. I want my students to be able to explain the nuances of their learning, not hear it from me. This happens with reflection and discussion as we go through the problem-solving and application process in class.

Third, it simplifies my life. I'd rather not focus on grades at all. When I'm constantly hunting for points for students ("Why did I get an 18 instead of a 19?"), I cannot focus on supporting their learning. The student is also not focusing on learning. Grading with a binary system helps keep the conversation on skills and demonstration, not completion for points.

Finally, the conversation about grades changes with parents. We don't discuss which assignments their child can turn in to improve their grade. We can focus on what learning strategies might work best for their son or daughter. School becomes a place where teachers are supporting learning rather than just somewhere to go and work for the day.

How do your grades communicate learning to parents? I'd love to hear more examples in the comments.

6 thoughts on “Communication in Grading

  1. @Andrew418 says:

    Love this! Right now I’m in a traditional letter grade setting, but there is progress. My grades tend to reflect exactly what points-based grades reflect- how much work my students do. This is definitely an area I struggle with. I despise grades that don’t show learning, and I don’t know how to get an A, B, C, D, or F to show a student or their parent what it is the student struggles with. I cringe every time someone asks how to bring their grade up.

  2. chelsea says:

    The only problem I have with this is the set up for college. I teach freshman and I fear that with this style of grading the students will be too optimistic about their abilities in college. What about the C students- you have to have them. The ones that sort of get it- can’t quite grasp some concepts, but understand bits and pieces- where do they fall- are they an F- because they haven’t mastered it? Then, their grade point average is falling simply because that is the grading system. In high school the students don’t need some of these classes- so they may not try as hard in a subject they aren’t interested in- does that automatically mean they fail? What about the students that just want to get done with high school to study something they really enjoy?
    If the C students are getting A’s. Then, they might think they know more than they do and be disapointed when they get to college and realize they didn’t know anything.
    I agree with a not point based system- but I do think there is grey area- not all students fit into 1 of 2 categories.

    • I appreciate the concern, and I’ve thought about that as well. I would also argue, though, that by focusing on the skill rather than the completion of tasks, my students are better prepared to be independent learners. While they may not have as much technical skill in, let’s say Chemistry, they do have the skills to problem solve and find the tools they need. Wouldn’t that help translate into a successful college career?

    • Kris Shaffer says:

      Chelsea (and Brian),
      I teach at a university, mainly freshmen and sophomores. I have found that many of my most successful and best prepared students were homeschooled, actually. Homeschooling is, in many ways, the ideal that standards-based grading, self-pacing, and the flipped classroom try to approximate: lots of individualized attention, no going on to the next unit until you’ve mastered the current one, no waiting for other students to catch up, no grade grubbing, etc.

      The key, as Brian points out, is independent learning. Those that do best in college are often not those that play the game of school well, but those that can manage their own learning when away from 7-hour/day teacher supervision at school and parental supervision at home. Most who fail at college generally can’t handle the increased pace and the large swaths of unstructured time.

      It’s also worth noting that standards-based grading doesn’t take C students and divide them between Fs and As. (You seem to be under the impression that some C students are getting As they don’t deserve.) In my experience, there are two kinds of C students: students who are doing A or B work by the end of the term but took a while to get there and therefore have a lower whole-semester average, and students who are doing F or D level work but got enough points for effort, participation, or easy assignments that their grade is inflated. Standards-based grading gives As to students who get to the A level in the end and keeps the teacher from giving undeserved points to those who didn’t earn them.

  3. Nathan Wear says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your ideas. I think it is a disadvantage to sort students on a A-F continuum. The stakes are too high and we must have all of our kids learning the essential concepts and skills. We are using standards based grading in our high school. https://sites.google.com/a/solon.k12.ia.us/standards-based-grading/

    We need to teach students that effort in the learning process translates to increased knowledge. Unfortunately, most of our instruction has focused on chasing the points game. Instead of letters and numbers, we should communicate proficiencies. A standards based system does more to prepare kids for college because it helps them identify strengths and weaknesses and develop a process for improvement.

  4. […] tend to struggle and wrestle with what grading communicates, even if it’s not something students (or other […]

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