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| Volume 69 | Number 3
Table of Contents
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Susan M. Brookhart
As they attempt to make the transition to standards-based grading, many schools go off track or get swamped by side issues, writes Brookhart. They waste energy having hard discussions about grading practice details that, by themselves, cannot accomplish real reform. Instead, schools should focus discussion on major questions: What meaning do we want our grades to convey? and Who are the primary intended audiences for this message? Brookhart describes several ways for schools to start and maintain meaningful staff conversations about grading; she emphasizes the importance of taking educators' concerns seriously and building consensus around the basic purpose of grading.
Thomas R. Guskey
Educators seeking to reform grading must combat five long-held traditions that stand as formidable obstacles to change: (1) Grades should provide the basis for differentiating students; (2) grade distributions should resemble a bell-shaped curve; (3) grades should be based on students' standing among classmates; (4) poor grades prompt students to try harder; and (5) students should receive one grade for each subject or course. Education leaders who challenge these traditions must be armed with thoughtful, research-based alternatives.
Many teachers believe that denying students the opportunity to retake tests and redo assignments teaches them responsibility and prepares them for the working world. In reality, writes Wormeli, this practice has the opposite effect—it retards student achievement and maturation. In the real world, adults learn by repeated practice; they are not judged during the learning process, but only when it's time to demonstrate final proficiency or become fully certified. The logistical challenges of implementing a redo policy should not blind teachers to the importance of requiring that students master content instead of simply receiving a low grade and moving on, writes Wormeli. An experienced teacher, he offers 14 practical guidelines for managing redos in the classroom.
Decades of research shows that grades diminish students' interest in whatever they're learning, discourage students from taking academic risks, and reduce the quality of students' thinking, writes Kohn. Contrary to what many people assume, grades are not necessary to promote achievement. Attempts to "improve" grading—such as standards-based grading—do not address the fundamental problem because these approaches are based on "the simplistic premise that it's always good to have more data," and that "learning can and should be broken down into its components, each to be evaluated separately." Kohn argues that much of the most important learning cannot be measured quantitatively. He provides examples of teachers who have successfully jettisoned grading in favor of narrative assessments and meaningful feedback.
Robert J. Marzano and Tammy Heflebower
In an effort to cure the ills of current grading and reporting systems, many schools and districts across the United States have attempted to implement a standards-based system. The authors recommend four best practices in this area: (1) Get rid of the omnibus grade, which tells teachers little about the content measured or the difficulty level of the content; (2) If you can't get rid of the omnibus grade, provide scores on measurement topics in addition to the grade; (3) Expand the assessment options available to students; and (4) Allow students to continually update their scores on previous measurement topics.
Ken O'Connor and Rick Wormeli
Grades in school have remained notoriously imprecise and lacking in meaning. The authors suggest that grades should, first of all, be accurate. This means they shouldn't include nonacademic factors and grades for group work and they shouldn't be calculated using averages or zeroes. Second, they should be consistent, which schools and districts can ensure through clarity of purpose, the use of performance standards, and clear policies and procedures. Third, they should be meaningful; providing standards-based grades makes grades meaningful because they create a profile of student achievement that shows the student's areas of strength and areas that need improvement. Fourth, they must be supportive of learning. Teachers should only use scores from summative assessments to determine grades. Formative assessment uses narrative commentaries that should not be included in determining grades.
Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey and Ian Pumpian
Teachers and administrators at Health Sciences High and Middle College in San Diego, California, wanted to create a grading system that reflected understanding while still encouraging students to practice. They developed course competencies, or performance assessments, that teachers use to measure what students know and can do with the concepts they've been taught. Competencies comprise such activities as oral presentations, projects, performances, and writing. The faculty voted that practice work would not contribute to students' grades, but rather that grades would be based entirely on students' demonstration of understanding as measured by the performance assessments. As a result, homework completion rates, grade point averages, and the pass rate on the high school exit exam have all substantially improved.
Spencer J. Salend
Creating a fair, reliable, teacher-made test is a challenge. Every year poorly designed tests fail to accurately measure many students' learning—and negatively affect their academic futures. Salend, a well-known writer on assessment for at-risk students who consults with schools on assessment procedures, offers guidelines for creating tests that have greater validity and are more accessible and clearer to students. He gives examples of what makes for a better test in terms of format, readability, legibility, and clarity of directions and prompts. Using actual before-and-after examples, Salend explores the clearest format for specific types of questions: multiple choice, true-false, sentence completion, and essay questions.
U.S. teachers grade homework far more than teachers in other countries, yet at least one study shows a negative correlation between grading homework and student achievement. More important, Vatterott notes, grading homework sends students unhelpful signals about the purpose and value of homework. By focusing on the grade, students view homework scores as "rewards" rather than useful feedback, and they fail to connect doing homework to mastering content and doing well on assessments. Vatterott, a noted author on homework issues, probes three reasons that U.S. teachers cling to grading homework. She describes four practices characteristic of more helpful homework policies that encourage students to do homework but avoid grades: (1) Stop grading homework, but maintain accountability; (2) Evaluate each assignment to determine whether to grade it; (3) Tie homework to assessments; and (4) Focus on demonstrations of learning, not task completion.
Jeffrey A. Erickson
In the early 2000s, Minnetonka High School decided that it needed to develop a more consistent, transparent system of grading. The school focused its grading reform efforts on one principle: Grades should reflect only what a student knows and is able to do. As the school staff analyzed their policies and practices, they discovered many practices that were either inflating grades (such as awarding extra credit points or grading on the curve) or deflating grades (such as averaging or penalizing students for misbehavior). In this article, assistant principal Erickson describes how a focus on grading only academic achievement of standards has transformed the school's culture.
Dueck recounts how, as a high school history teacher, he began to allow students to retake all or part of their end-of-unit tests. Influenced by the work of Rick Stiggins, Dueck prepared students for tests better by focusing on three questions Stiggins says students should be able to answer for themselves: Where am I going in this unit?, Where am I now? (after formative assessments), and How do I close the gap? In a senior history class, Dueck broke required content in all units down into knowledge targets, reasoning targets, skill targets, and product targets. He used the unit plan focusing on these targets as a review for each unit test. However, when it came to allowing students to retest and try to improve their grades, his standard format for tests made it difficult to tell which specific knowledge struggling students were weak on. Dueck recounts how he learned to structure tests differently, easily create a "sister test" that he could easily use for retests, and provide each student a tracking sheet that showed which test sections and items they were weak on and gave directions for study strategies they should try before taking a second test.
Douglas B. Reeves
To manage effective grading reform, education leaders must engage teachers, parents, communities, and policymakers in a rational discussion about grading. Doug Reeves suggests that leaders start the conversation with a discussion of the principles on which all stakeholders can agree; make clear what will not change under the new grading policy; be accurate in their risk analysis; and engage in systems thinking to reframe the grading debate from "my grading policies for my classroom" to a collegial responsibility for the decisions of every teacher and administrator in the system.
Robert J. Marzano
Thomas R. Hoerr
Carol Ann Tomlinson
Abbi Roehrborn, Rhonda Opelt and Chad Hanson
Three teachers in a small rural high school transformed their grading system so that it better reflected student learning. They began by defining letter grades as indicators of particular levels of mastery, rather than the number of points earned. Then, they revamped their tests so that each section reflected a particular level of mastery. They also began allowing students to redo assessments. Finally, they changed the way they calculated final grades so that most of the grade related to mastery, instead of completion of work. As they implemented the new system, they made adjustments in response to students' reactions. For instance, when students stopped preparing for tests because they knew they could redo them, the teachers started requiring students to show evidence of preparation and write a study plan to qualify for the redo.
When leaders at Forsyth County Schools in Georgia realized that their grading system did not reflect student learning, they decided to make a change. Over the course of 10 years, they studied grading and got teachers involved in developing a new system. As a result, student work habits and behavior are now reported separately from academic achievement, report cards have been revamped to focus on summative assessments that teachers have developed together, and students have opportunities to retake assessments.
Like many teachers, Amundson had doubts about how well her grades reflected students' true knowledge and abilities when she used traditional practices as a middle school math teacher. Her switch to standards-based grading has helped her students take more ownership of their learning and enabled Amundson to differentiate instruction so students get remediation help (or enrichment) in the areas they most need it. As Amundson describes her grading process, pretests on specific learning objectives at the beginning of each unit show her which students have already mastered the proficiencies of that unit, which students have partial knowledge, and which need full instruction. She differentiates classroom instruction accordingly. Amundson uses end-of-unit assessments in a formative way, guiding students to see in what areas they are falling short of proficiency and pointing them toward remedial work to help them get there. She describes how she handles retests, homework grading, and communicating with students and families about her nontraditional procedures.
Teresa K. Preston
Copyright © 2012 by ASCD
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