Repair Kit for Grading PS

My ideas on grading really were impacted by this book.  I was surprised at how differently I felt as I read.  There were things I did because it was always done that way like zeroes for missing work or cheating and points taken away for late work, though I might not have been comfortable with those choices they were policy, now I think I’d talk to my administrator and adjust my classroom policies to reflect these fixes.

Overall I think what I came away with was that these fixes are absolutely NOT a lowering of standards as was felt by many parents in my district, rather they are a raising of standards.  This is a push to get students to do the work that will help them learn.

If you are a teacher and have not read this book I highly recommend it.  If you are a parent in a district implementing these fixes, it is well worth your time to read this book as well.

Keep in mind just because something has always been done a certain way that does not mean that it is the best way!


Repair Kit Fix 14: Emphasize Recent Achievement

Fix 14: Don’t summarize evidence accumulated over time when learning is developmental and will grow with time and repeated opportunities, in those instances, emphasize more recent achievement.

“Grades are broken when learning is developmental (likely to improve over time with practice and repeated opportunities) and the final grade does not recognize the students final level of proficiency.” (page 120)

This makes so much sense I wonder why I never thought about it before.  I always make a point to show parents, how grades improved over the quarter.  Why not just have the grades reflect it?  Of course then what do you do if a student’s grades start dropping and stay low?  If that is due to emotional stress rather than actual knowledge is that an accurate grade?  I had a student one year, she was in our gifted program, her parents were going through a rather tough divorce and her grades started dropping not because she didn’t understand the material but because she didn’t do the work (I know this would be addressed in fix 12 – no zeros for missing work) but even her assessment scores dropped due to her lack of effort.  When speaking with her it was clear she did understand the material.  I just wonder how that fits in with this fix.  And now I feel I’ve gone way off track, time to get back to the book.

“…by emphasizing the most recent information we acknowledge learning as a process and we can give the students the message ‘It is never over until it is really over’”

Love this, what better way to motivate kids especially those that have in the past given up because there was no way to save their grade.

Teacher Vignette: I really like that the teacher in this example has students attach the old work to the new so she can better assess their learning I think this would really help with providing feedback as well.

Repair Kit: Fix 13 Summative Assessments Only in Final Grades

Fix 13: Don’t use information from formative assessments and practice to determine grades; use only summative evidence.

When I began reading this book I didn’t understand how you could calculate grades solely on summative assessments.  Now I’m thinking counting practice would be inaccurate as not every child gets the knowledge the first time; we need to allow them a second chance or third or fourth.  I think I would still track formative/practice/homework just to see how students are progressing and to compare to summative scores, but I would not count them in the final grade.

Small aside – The quote at the beginning of this chapter comes from a nearby school district.  I just thought that was kind of cool.

“It is important that teachers, students, and parents recognize that learning is a process in which learners increase their knowledge, understanding, and skills as a result of effort, instruction, feedback from teachers and peers, and self-assessment and adjustment.” (page 106)

This is the explanation we were given about our son’s standards based report card as to why he may have a 2 one quarter, 3 the next, and then back to a 2.  As additional instruction is taking place the level of knowledge being assessed is different therefore while he may have improved in second quarter maybe he’s struggling with the higher level in third quarter and so drops back to a 2.

Figure 5.1 lists three purposes of assessment, in short

Diagnostic – what is the child’s starting level

Formative – assessment for learning – provides direction for instruction

Summative – assessment of learning – used to see where a child is at the end of learning

“Feedback has to be descriptive not evaluative” (page 109)

This is what I have not done on a regular basis.  I need to make the 2 Likes and 1 Suggestion that I do and have my students do for each other a habit for myself and not just as a peer assessment on occasional assignments.  I wonder if it would be conflicting with the design of this fix to have a “format” feedback sheet.  If I could circle certain things like on a descriptive scoring guide and then add just a few sentences of tailored feedback it would be easier to do this for every student on multiple assignments/assessments.

“Careful consideration has to be given to the purpose(s) of homework.  Sometimes homework requires students to show what they know by extending or integrating their knowledge and understanding through projects or assignments done partially  or completely outside of the classroom.  This is clearly summative assessment  and is legitimately part of grades as long as there is careful monitoring to ensure that it is the student’s own work… Most often, however, homework is a practice of whatever was learned in class that day – any assessment of this work should be considered formative.” (page 109-110)

This makes sense!  I finally understand what they mean about not counting formative grades in final grades and better understand WHAT should be counted for final grades.

“It becomes an issue of compliance so it really doesn’t matter who does the work” (page 110)

Oh is this ever true, this would be why some teachers get homework turned in that is clearly the work of the student’s parents and not the student..

I’m paraphrasing sections from pages 111 and 112 here that really summarized this whole idea for me: homework is final grade is harmful for struggling kids who may avoid failure by not trying.  Students who ace tests don’t do homework because they don’t need to, they don’t need the practice and so they get lower grades that are an inaccurate representation of knowledge.  Using the mean to calculate rather than replacing scores or looking at more recent evidence of growth means that early low scores may mean final grades are inaccurate representations of student knowledge.  Teachers should create an assessment plan that begins determining the desired results/learning targets, writing a summative assessment to determine what students learned, then creating a diagnostic assessment to determine what knowledge students are starting the unit with, and finally determine what formative assessments will be used.  There should be a direct link between the formative and summative assessments.

“Once teachers have become clear about the appropriate uses for formative and summative assessment and abandoned the practice of including everything in grades, especially homework, it is acceptable to consider formative assessment evidence when determining grades.” (page 113)

OK again clearing things up for me.  I can still look to see if there are significant differences between homework scores and summative scores.

Student Involvement: Students have to be retrained to understand practice and performance and trained how to self-assess.

Teacher Vignette – “…students making a first attempt at practice new learning should be permitted to practice and take academic risks without having it cost them in the grade book.  We also emphasized that if everything counts, then the student’s focus would be on compliance (meeting the deadline) through any means possible, including cheating.” (page 116)

Wow is this an important statement to consider.  It really makes me think and it goes so well with fix 4.  Just another way to prevent cheating.

“The fear with implementing risk-free practice, of course, was ‘If I don’t grade it, they won’t do it.’” (page 116)

This is a very real fear for me, if students choose not to do the practice I won’t know if they need it.  I suppose that falls under behavioral consequences for incomplete work though, according to the vignette though “when practice is not counted in grades students complete the work more often, took more chances, and pushed themselves to learn.”  This gives me hope but I still think there would be a transition period.  Children would need to see that they do better on assessments when they do the practice and how do you explain that to parents.  Something to think about…

I may have to copy the guiding principles to help my set up my classroom policies and share with parents.

Repair Kit Fix 12: ZAP or Zeros aren’t Permitted

Fix 12: Don’t include zeros in grade determination when evidence is missing or as punishment; use alternatives, such as reassessing to determine real achievement or use “I” for Incomplete or Insufficient Evidence.

Initial thoughts: This would seem to be a continuation of fixes 2 & 4.  Before reading I wonder if zeros are still allowed for performance not to be counted necessarily but as a first attempt.  I also wonder how many I’s are allowed before a final grade becomes an I.

“There are three fundamental problems with zeros” (Page 96)

1) Zeros give a numerical value to something that has never been assessed and therefore has no basis in reality.

OK This make so much sense I wonder why I never thought of it before.  I usually leave spaces in my gradebook blank until the final grade is due then I have in the past done one of two things depending on the school/district policy: left them blank/marked I or filled them in with zeros.

2) The can have counterproductive effects on student motivation.

Much like taking points off of late work does not keep work from being turned in late, giving zeros for missing work doesn’t motivate students to turn work in.  If they’re already failing students often think “why bother?”

3) They involve inappropriate mathematics.

Um what?  What does this mean?

“We are faced with the irony that a policy that may be grounded in the belief of holding students accountable (giving zeros) actually allows some students to escape accountability for learning.” (page 96)

These students aren’t being required to complete the work and therefore aren’t being held accountable.  When students are required to make up work they begin to see it may be better to simply do it when it’s been assigned.

“While zeros can doom students to failure very early in the school year, with support and time an Incomplete can most often be made complete.” (page 97)

I know a student who is failing several classes because he does not do his homework, he is however incredibly bright and knows the material therefore his grades are not accurate.  If his grades were calculated by summative assessments he would be passing with flying colors I’m sure.  He chooses not to do the work because he already knows how and he’s bored.  Why force him to do the work.  If for some reason he did poorly on an assessment it would be easy enough to sit down and discuss with him how he thinks he might have scored differently had he completed the practice assignments.  This example may not fit this particular quote well but I think it definitely addresses the Fix.

Student Involvement: The suggestion is made here that student-led conferences could help students recognize their responsibilities.  As most student-led conferences begin with students going over a reflection sheet that they filled out I can see how this would help them identify their strengths and weaknesses.

I’m still left with the question of how many I’s equal an I in the class but maybe that’s to be left up to the teacher, school, or district.



Repair Kit Fix 11: Calculating Final Grades

Fix 11: Don’t rely on the mean; consider other measures of central tendency and use professional judgement.

“Grades may mislead when they are based simply on calculating the mean(average) of a series of scores, due to the effect of outlier scores.  The fix for grades broken in this way in not use the mean as ‘the measure’ by considering other means of central tendency…it is truly ‘mean’ to students because it overemphasizes outlier scores, which are most often low outliers.”

This one gets me, I assume  this is calculating grades using only summative assessment scores.  The example shows only 10 scores so I would assume summative because if you counted formative assessment/homework there would be many more scores.  However the example is effective in showing how one low outlier score can make a big difference in a final grade if you go by mean.  This is most definitely a time where using median or mode would be a more accurate representation of achievement.

“If students are very consistent each measure (mean, median, mode) will get the same results and mean will suffice.  But the more inconsistent a student’s performance is the less effective anh of the measures is in accurately summarizing student achievement.” (page 91)

This is a really good point but it leaves me wondering how you do calculate a grade of a student with inconsistent performance.

“The median or the mode are generally more appropriate than the mean when confronted with extreme scores” (page 91)

Like top and bottom scores being dropped in judged sports like gymnastics or ice skating.  Maybe you can do that kind of thing for each standard while being sure to look for reasons for extreme scores especially the low ones.

“As teachers we must ask the question ‘Based on all the evidence of achievement a student has produced, which summary symbol most accurately represents the achievement.”

This allows teachers some flexibility in determining of grades and while I like that I worry about the reaction this might bring.  I also wonder how this will work considering so many schools/districts use computer grade books that calculate mean as the automatic method.  Maybe the teacher could exempt those outlying scores or find out if there’s another way to calculate grades in the system.  Perhaps districts/schools applying the fixes will look into different online grading programs, programs that allow teachers more flexibility in grading.

Teacher Vignette: In this case the teachers overrode grades when the mean was not the most accurate measure.  It was comforting to know that they had to do this for very few students though.



Repair Kit Fix 10: quality assessments

Fix 10: Don’t rely on evidence gathered using assessments that fail to meet standards of quality, rely only on quality assessments

This is a fix I’m particularly interested in reading because I’m not sure I write quality assessments and I want to know what the author suggests the identifiers are of a quality assessment.

“To be quality an assessment must be accurate.  Accurate assessment requires attention to three questions:

1) Why are we assessing?

2) What are we assessing?

3) How will we assess it?” (page 82)

Four criteria/features of test design quality are listed in the chapter.

In short:

1) Match question style to context, make sure questions will gather the evidence needed to show student achievement.

2) Tests must have good questions (specifically multiple choice) not bad ones.

This particular criteria could stand to be more specific.  I attended at least two different workshops where I learned to write quality  multiple choice, well at least for DOK (Depth of Knowledge) level 2.  I never could find anyone who could explain to me how to write a good DOK 3 level question.  The best answer I ever got was “Write a DOK level 3 constructed response then write answers to turn it into a multiple choice/selected response.”  The problem was every time I wrote the answers it seemed to become a DOK 2.  Without further help I think many teachers could struggle with writing a good question.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been in college but I don’t ever remember being taught how to write assessment questions, most teachers just used the tests that came with the textbooks.  That being said I made it a habit to review the tests I had given (and yes by that time I was writing my own using various sources) looking for questions missed by a high percentage of students to eliminate bad questions.  When I came across those questions I discounted those points from the exam so as not to penalize students.  If a student had happened to answer correctly I let them keep the points as extra credit.

3) Gather enough evidence to make valid judgements of proficiency. “We know we have enough evidence when we can confidently say that, if we gathered one more item it would simply confirm what we know now.”

Ok so is this done all on one test or through number of exams?  Does this depend on the student?  I need more information here or maybe I just need to put this fix into practice and see it work for myself, that might get me the answer I’m looking for.

4) Avoid bias that can distort results.  There can be problems with the student, the assessment setting, the scoring process, or the assessment itself can cause the score to misrepresent student achievement.

I’d say to the best of your ability because there are things you can’t control like students coming to school sick or without eating breakfast. I guess though this is where chances for retakes come in and the part from Fix 3 about sufficient evidence.

Teacher Vignette:

“My tests are composed of 10-12 high quality multiple choice questions that follow all conventions of multiple choice items designed to pinpoint where the errors are in student understanding.”

Ok this is all well and good but if teachers don’t know/aren’t taught those conventions how do they write quality multiple choice questions.  It might have been nice to get a reference to a good place to learn about that.



Repair Kit Fix 9: comparing students grades

Fix 9: Don’t assign grades based on a student’s achievement compared to other students; compare each student’s performance to preset standards.

I don’t understand how this is even an issue.  I can’t imagine ever assigning grades based on how a student compares to another student.  I don’t need convincing on this one but I’ll read it anyway I might still learn something new.

OK YAY!!!  They say no bell curve and I’m all for that.  I really truly do NOT like the bell curve when it comes to grading at any level and yes I mean even at the college level.

“Rationale for creating a competitive grading environment in standards driven schools is it provides motivation and highly motivated students learn more…those at the bottom motivation wanes.”

Yep, this is exactly as I see it.  When kids feel like they don’t stand a chance they stop trying.

Teacher Vignette: I’m intrigued by the fact that this teacher allows students to take home the test and do prep work before writing final essay.  Most standardized tests these days require some higher level thinking and written responses but they also have the text right there for students to reference, this is why I began allowing or actually telling my students to use their novels when taking in-class exams.  I know this has nothing to do with the fix but the vignette made me think of it.

Short post here I know but I just don’t have much to say when I completely agree with this fix.