One of the most contentious areas in middle school is work completion. When I first began teaching I was of the mindset, I need to get kids ready for high school. If their homework is one day late, the max the student could earn would be 80%, two days late: 70%, three days late: 60%; more than three days late: teacher discretion. Retakes–no way, they had their chance; they should have studied. Or when I did allow retakes the maximum grade a student could earn would be 70%.
In effect I was using grades as a punishment. Equally troublesome was the fact that this system created a tainted report card. I’m supposed to be reporting academic progress not academic progress with two scoops of behavior and a cherry on top. Now I’m not only questioning my overall grading policy I’m starting to rethink how I assess.
There wasn’t a single turning point. It was an evolutionary process. However two author/educators who caused me to reflect are Thomas Guskey and Rick Wormeli.
Several years ago Guskey came to our district and presented a talk, Developing Grading and Reporting Systems for Student Learning. He discussed the merits of standards based grading and a narrative report card that separates behavior from learning. His book and talk nudged me to reconsider my practice. Over the next five years I continued to contemplate grading and assessment. Guskey’s book led me to Marzano’s Formative Assessment and Standards Based Grading and that is where I am today.
Wormeli has been equally influential. Chapter 8 from his book Fair is Not Always Equal is particularly compelling. Why Do We Grade, and What About Effort, Attendance, and Behavior?
He contends there are six reasons why we grade:
- To document student and teacher progress
- To provide feedback to the student and family, and the teacher
- To inform instructional decisions
- To motivate students
- To punish students
- To sort students
“Notice the dividing line between the top three and bottom three…The bottom three reasons cross a line. When we grade to motivate, punish, or sort students, we do three things–we dilute the grade’s accuracy; we dilute its usefulness; and we use grading to manipulate students, which may or may not be healthy” (p102).
I’m still a work in progress, but I’m getting there.
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