To grade or not to grade

That is a big question.

In the past I’ve been all over the map with this one. I’ve graded every little thing and stressed myself out over it. I’ve graded everything with some of those grades being completion grades because I felt if a student completed the assignment they should get some credit for it but then I wonder what that does to their grade, is it an accurate reflection of their work, their abilities?

I’ve thrown stacks of papers away that I would have graded simply for completion for any number of reasons including what’s the point of grading something just for completion. Then again if I would only grade it for completion is it something I should ever have given the students to complete in the first place? Is it an assignment of any value?

Sometimes we complete something together in class and those I feel okay just putting a check mark in my grade book and not a number grade to be sure that students completed it and were paying attention in class.

I’m coming to the realization that I can give assignments of quality that don’t need to be graded, that the value can come from completing it and the class discussions we have while completing them. The only problem is expressing that to the students and them still doing the work, because if it’s not for a grade many of them won’t do it no matter how much it might help them learn the skills. Ah well like all things my grading policy is a work in progress.


Repair Kit Study Guide: grade relativity, how to base grades, peer and self assessment

Today’s post will the last three questions from the agree to disagree section of this pre-assessment.

17: Assessments and marks/grades should demonstrate how well students are doing relative to one another.

Oh yes another statement I highly disagree with.  There things tell me how a student is doing relative to their own previous performance.  Kids are different, like no two snowflakes are alike (and we ought to know this winter) no two kids are alike either.  This has been a big argument since the inception of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  In Missouri (where I live) state tests were taken only every few years, each subject area at different grade levels.  So when looking at test scores for a school one group of students is compared to a previous group.  In a large school with many students this may average out, however in a small school such as the one I was in it just doesn’t work.  We had a group of very high readers one year and the next a large group of struggling readers.  They were achieving well for themselves but comparing their scores to the year before it looked like we had done an awful job teaching.  I know that there are small schools that do well year to year but I happened to be in a building that struggled and I’m not sure why.  We did all sorts of data analysis, attended workshops, tried techniques other schools had used successfully but it just wasn’t working for us.  Really though it comes back to the fact that I worry about each student as an individual.  I know that some parents compare their children, there are kids that here “why can’t you be more like your brother?”  I once had a parent say that at parent teacher conferences to her child while the brother was sitting right there.  I know that there were conferences where having had both or all of the children in a family I said to the parent “Johnny is so different from Bobby,  he’s really good at __________________”  I know parents don’t mean to add additional stress to their child by comparing them but it happens.  I won’t do this in the classroom, I want to look at a student’s score and look at their growth or lack thereof.  Ok I think I’m now talking in circles time to move on to the next question.

18: It’s most accurate to base grades on the mean (average) score rather than the median (middle) or mode (most frequent score).

Ok this takes me back to criterion 5.5, my grades are mean.  I don’t know how you would use median or mode.  I’m not sure about median but I wonder about using mode, the score that occurs most frequently.  I’ll be interested to see how this works.

19: Peer and self-assessment should be limited to formative assessment because only teachers should assign grades/marks.

I’m somewhere in the middle on this one.  While I think self-assessment could be considered, students can be either their own worst critic or their most lenient.  Peer assessment makes me nervous, maybe with some specific training and blind assessment as in no name on the item being assessed.  Several years ago my then partner teacher and I had a writing contest.  We taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade communication arts.  Each grade read and assessed the entries of another grade.  The entries were identified by number only, and only we had the list of names to numbers.  Students readers provided comments and ranked each story or poem.  If there was a way to do this for peer assessment I think it could be possible because let’s face it any teacher, any parent, any PERSON has at some point in their life been the victim of, participated in, or witnessed the judging of others.  Classroom are a melting pot of personalities, personalities that don’t always mesh well.  Even the best of friends fight from time to time.  I can be hard to be objective when assessing others without some strict guidelines and training, which is what I would want before allowing peer assessments to be part of a final grade.

Ok so that’s the last of the agree to disagree statements, what do you think?  Anything strike a chord, leave you wondering how it would work, or why it should be done that way?

Repair Kit study guide: purpose of grades, group grades, and limiting number of A’s given

The next six statement are all on a scale of agree to disagree.  Some I disagree with rather vehemently, just a warning.

14: The ONLY purpose for grades/marks should be to communicate student learning at a point in time.

I somewhat disagree with this statement.  I believe grades/marks should be used to demonstrate progress or lack thereof.  They can be indicators of struggles with a concept or with something else in life.  Years ago we had a gifted student in the middle school where I worked whose grades were suddenly dropping.  We knew she was capable of the work but it wasn’t getting done.  When we sat down with mom to express our concerns we learned the problem was not school or her abilities, rather it was life.  Mom and Dad were getting divorced and Dad had already moved in with someone else whom he was planning to marry as soon as the divorce was final.  This was a major shake-up in the students’ world.  Things like this happen all the time and believe it or not grades/marks can be a good indicator.  It is well publicized that a drop in grades is one indicator of drug use as well.  Grades are so much more than just a picture of student learning at a single point in time.


15: One should NEVER include group scores in grades for individual students.

Agreed, I think everyone remembers being part of a group project where one of the members did not pull their weight, then the whole group lost points due to that.  Now in the interest of disclosure I have not always agreed with this statement.  I have in the past given group grades that were included in the final grade.  To try to make it more fair in my first few years of teaching I include a peer assessment section to the group grade. Each student was given 100 points to distribute to their groupmates how they felt was appropriate according.  I added these up and they were part, a small part but part of the final project score for that students.  Looking back I’m appalled that I did this with so little direction to the students on how to actually assess their groupmates work.  Even then it left me feeling a bit uncomfortable so I tried just grading the parts each student did but that seemed to defeat the purpose of giving a group project: cooperative learning. Maybe this is where grading by standards comes in would come in handy, awarding not scores but marking on a checklist of standards covered?  Definitely something to think about.


16: There should be a limit to the number of students who receive marks/grades of A.


In case you can’t tell from the above I vehemently, emphatically disagree with this statement.  We as educators do a disservice to students when we allow only a certain number of As.  Grade distribution according to the Bell Curve needs to disappear, NOW.  I would jump for joy, shout from the mountaintops, dance in the streets (OK you get the idea) if all of my students earned As.  One of my goals as a teacher is to help my students achieve to the best of their ability, if I limit the number of As my students  can earn I fail.  It’s simply not fair, and yes I know that life’s not fair.  I’ve used that phrase in my classroom many times but if a student earns an A that is the grade they should receive.  To say to a student well you did good your final score was in the percentage range for an A but since there were 5 people who scored higher than you and I only give out five As then you get a B, usually followed with “next time try harder” is infuriating and ridiculous.  There are students for whom a C is a major accomplishment, those who study day and night and just barely get the A, so if they end up with a B what’s to stop them from saying why bother spending that extra time studying if (pick 5 names of the smartest students in the class) are going to get the As anyway.  See, yeah, NO!  This is a bad, bad idea!

Ok now you clearly know how I feel, what do you think?


Repair Kit Study Guide: Feedback, homework, assessments

Ok so time to get back to a post on Repair Kit for Grading, you know the reason I began to blog in the first place 😉

8) I provide detailed comments to students about strengths and weaknesses in their work.

I didn’t do this on everything my students turned in, so my answer is sometimes.  I mainly provided more feedback on big projects and tests, especially on rough drafts of projects.  Even then looking back I feel like I didn’t provide enough feedback.

The daughter of one of my best friends has written her first book, she was 14 when she finished it btw and it is good.  I read it for her and when I read it I popped it up in Microsoft Word and began adding comments. I really concentrated on giving her feedback that would help her improve, if I had a question about what was happening, if I was confused, if I just had to say something in response to a character I put it in a comment.  I’d love to be able to do that for every student I have but I’m just not sure how to handle that in the time constraints teachers have.  I’ll be interested see what the book says about this, how often to give feedback, what kinds of feedback, how much feedback.  Guess I’ll find out when I get to that fix.

9) I include performance on homework into final grade.

I imagine you can already guess my answer to this is almost always.  I have a hard time fathoming it any other way, especially when you take into consideration what must be coming across as my biggest concern: test anxiety.  Let me make this clear, I have other concerns about this but I have had students who I knew were prepared and yet were reduced to tears or nervous tics before a test.  It makes no sense to someone who doesn’t suffer from the problem but teachers see it all the time.  I worry that if we did not ever include homework performance in final grades that the grades of students who do struggle with this fear would not be an accurate representation of their knowledge, the main reason for this book. I will definitely be looking for some answers to this concern and if I don’t find any in the book I may have to find a way to contact the author.

10) I keep separate track of information from formative and summative assessments.

I don’t know if I’ve ever tracked formative assessments other than notes I’ve taken during reading/writing conferences and homework grades.  Those would be separate but are they the types of formative assessments they refer to in this book.  I guess I’ll find out, for now I’d say sometimes is my answer.

Repair Kit Study Guide: grade book organization and missing work

After two posts of two questions each I think today we’re going to squeeze in three OO-OO-OO wow! LOL sorry not sure what got into me there.

5) I organize information in my record/mark/grading book by source: homework, quizzes, tests, labs etc.

My answer here is almost always.  I did this so that I could look for trends in the grades things such as do students do well on homework but not tests (here comes my big issue: test anxiety can be major issue for some kids as many teachers and parents know).  Maybe students do well on in-class work but not homework or vice versa, is work even being completed?  All of these are important things to know.

However I do NOT EVER weight grades.  My grades have always been calculated from points earned out of total points possible.  I want my students to relax as much as possible on tests.  When test scores are the major component of final grades even students who are normally good test takers get very nervous and second guess themselves more, I was one of those students.  I tell my classes that the tests are to show me what they have learned and what they have retained, tests should not tank their overall grade.  The lower I can get their anxiety level the more accurate the test scores, then I can combine that with the homework scores to come up with an accurate assessment of their knowledge level.


6) I include in final grades zeroes for missing work.

I answered sometimes and by the way I added the word final to the sentence above to make it make more sense to me.

Yes I used to frequently count zeroes for missing work though I did attempt to contact parents/guardians with  notes sent home, e-mails, or phone calls to express concern about missing assignments.  However as I mentioned in #2 that came mostly to an end my last year in my last classroom position due to our Intervention time.  


7) I communicate feedback on assessments, by providing a single letter grade.

I’m not exactly sure what they mean here, I’m guessing it means that tests handed back to students simply have a letter grade/percentage on them but no other feedback.  Ok now that I’ve said it that way I feel dumb that I was ever confused, ah well such is life.

I actually don’t always put a letter grade on tests I hand back.  I do always include percent and total points earned out of total points possible, so I went with sometimes as my answer on this one.  Not only do I put total score on the test I put scores next to each individual question or section.  When it comes to constructed response (one to two sentence answers) and performance events (essays in many classes, large multi-step problems in math that also sometimes require written answers) I try to provide more feedback: additional questions to prompt for more information, comments, highlighting good things, suggestions for improvement.  I also make it a habit to go through the assessment as a class to answer any questions students may have, show quality answers, and make corrections when (yes, when not if) I make mistakes.  When grading hundreds of assessments in a year mistakes will be made, and when I do make a mistake I give the student credit for that question.  I have had teachers myself and met some through the years for whom the test grade is final if they made a mistake while grading that lowers a student’s score they don’t change it.  Conversely if I make a mistake and fail to mark a question wrong and the student points that out to me I don’t change the grade, it was my mistake and if the student was responsible enough to tell me about it I let them keep the points.  Somehow I don’t think the author of this book would approve of that and I’m not sure I’d change that policy.  I suppose it might be a matter of how many points it was and did it truly make a difference in the final grade, often one or two points really don’t.

Well so far I’ve gotten through seven and a half pages of the seventeen pages of notes I took on appendix C.  It should come as no surprise that I have a lot to say, I’m a pretty talkative person after all and when it’s a topic I’m passionate about I have even more to say.  Now question time: what are your thoughts on these questions as parents, teachers, or students?


Repair Kit study guide: behavior in grades and late work

Well I finished up with my Appendix B pre-assessment and thoughts on it so it’s time to move on to Appendix C.  This one is 21 questions.  Yikes!  That’s a lot to think about, and ended up being 17 pages of notes.  Yes I will be breaking this into multiple parts, and I’m not even sure how many but I will try to keep any one post from being too long.  Just for a little more info, this assessment is broken down into 3 sections, the first thirteen questions are about the frequency of doing certain things, the next six questions are and agree to disagree scale, and the final three questions are all about the confidence level.

So for today I’ll start with the frequency questions and honestly I’m not sure how many I’m going to cover of the thirteen, going to have to see how long it looks after I type up the first one or two and then make a decision, though I have a distinct feeling it will be multiple posts and I hope they won’t bore you, though I know I have more personal stories in my responses to Appendix C than I did to Appendix B.

Ok time to get started:

1) I include one or more of the following in grades: effort, participation, tardiness, attendance, and/or adherence to class rules.

I have never included these things in grades.  Wait, correction I did include participation one year but having been a student who lost points because I was hesitant to raise my hand in class if I had students who were shy or uncomfortable reading aloud in class I would pull the student asid and let them know what we would be reading the next day so that they could go home and read it that night to prepare.  After that one year however I stopped including participation in grades.  I’m really honestly not sure why I ever did except maybe I thought it was what I was supposed to do.

In every school I’ve ever taught in attendance, tardies, and behavior in class were NOT part of the academic grade.  At least one of the districts I taught in had a separate effort and conduct score.


2) I reduce points/marks on work submitted late. 

Yes I have done this so I selected almost always as my frequency.  I had a policy in my first year that most of the teachers I worked with had as well, made it easy for me to adopt it as the students were already familiar with it.  I deducted ten percent for every day the assignment was late, after that it was a zero.  The following year I changed the policy to ten percent off each day for five days and then it was a zero.  It was just too hard to grade papers that late from multiple students and to try to figure out when they had 

turned it in and how many days it was late.  The policy still bothered me so I hemmed and hawed, wavered all over the place.  In the real world I argued with myself if you turn your work in late or pay bills late there are consequences, to the point of possibly losing your job, car, or even house, so I felt it was necessary that t

In my last year as a classroom teacher, remember I’m a classroom assistant currently this is what happens when you move :). the 

middle school I worked at had instituted Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). For us part of that was implementing Intervention time meaning each core and special teacher had a group of 6th, 7th, or 8th grade students.  We met weekly to discuss how things were going.  We also set a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound for those 

unfamiliar with the term) for our students.  Our goal was to decrease the number of Ds and Fs our students earned.  Somewhere I have the exact wording of that goal, somewhere in storage I’m sure.  Anyway at our weekly PLC meetings we discussed anything on the agenda for the day and also handed out missing work to each teacher to take back to the kids in their Intervention group.  I did still deduct at least 10% from the late work, maybe more by that point I had dropped to 10% off the first day late, 20% the second day late, and 30% after that still allowing it to be turned in up to the day grades were due.  We met our goal, as I recall we surpassed it, the number of Ds and Fs on the next quarter’s report cards dropped significantly not only because of work being turned in late 

but also because some students realized it was better to just do the work when it was due rather than have to do it later.  My intervention group participated in enrichment activities if they had their missing work done, this was a motivator for a few of the students.  Grades also went up because in a small group students were more likely to ask questions, get help on things they didn’t understand, and still others were able to get work done that they couldn’t get done at home for any number of reasons.

here be a consequence.

I still believe that there should be some consequence for late work but I also feel work should be required to be done.  There are things in life you have to do and homework is one of them!  You don’t learn to drive without practice (I list this because it is the goal of every teenager I’ve ever known, and a lot of pre-teens too) and you won’t learn most anything you need to for school or work without practice either.

Ok I think it’s time to stop, this is enough for one post, maybe more than enough.  What do you think?  What would your answers be to questions 1 & 2?