This I Believe

By Ken O’ConnorOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I have been involved in some interesting and at times, contentious, discussions about grades over the last few weeks, I thought that this would be a good place to reaffirm my beliefs about grading. I agree that the ideal would be narrative feedback only K-16, and I am a great fan of colleges like Alverno in Milwaukee. However, for the foreseeable future, grades will be required in almost all colleges and high schools, many middle schools, and some elementary schools. I believe we should continue to try to move not having grades as high up the grade levels as possible, but we also have to fight to make traditional grades better — more accurate, meaningful, consistent, and supportive of learning. So this is what I advocate:

  •  standards-based grading, not assessment-method based grading;
  • grades for standards and no grades for subjects at least to the end of grade 8 and preferably for grades 9 and 10;
  • criterion-referenced grades based on 2-7 levels of proficiency, not points and percentages, and no bell curves or anything that resembles them;
  • no class rank and no four year GPA’s, preferably only one-year-at-a-time GPA’s but no more than grades 11 and 12 together;
  • grades for individual achievement only, with valued behaviors reported separately; this means no grade penalties for late “work,” academic dishonesty or absences, and no bonuses/extra credit and no group scores;
  • grades determined by the most consistent level of achievement, which means multiple opportunities to show proficiency, no averages, and no zeros;
  • high-quality summative assessments as the basis for grades;
  • formative assessment is ‘no mark, comment only,’ so homework has almost no place in grades;
  • student involvement – lots of self-assessment and peer assessment, student suggestions for assessment, co-construction of rubrics, portfolios, and student-led conferences;
  • athletic eligibility and valedictorian not determined only by academic achievement and certainly not by grades calculated to three decimal places;
  • high school credits determined by proficiency on standards not by grades being within 0.5% of a percentage cut score for pass/fail; and
  • if a school/district has a parent portal with grade book access, the summarizing function is only turned on for the day and day after report cards are issued.

My bottom lines are that I agree with “throwing out grades,” but wherever we have to have grades, they should only be talked about for a day or two around report card time and that grades should be determined from the body evidence provided by each student with/against the clearly, richly described, limited number of levels of performance standards and whatever school/district policy/procedure requirements are in place. This means that grading is an exercise in teacher professional judgment, and it is not simply a mechanical, numerical exercise.

In conclusion, I would like emphasize my belief in this quote from Jay McTighe and Steve Ferrara: “the primary purpose of classroom assessment is to inform teaching and improve learning, not to sort and select students or to justify a grade.”

(A version of this statement was posted on November 23rd, 2014 on the Teachers Throwing Out Grades Facebook page.)

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4 responses to “This I Believe

  1. I am looking forward to the June 2015 conference in Winneconne, WI. Ken O’Connor will be joined by MANY other experts on standards, best practice in grading, and authentic assessment.

  2. Shelley Labiosa

    Agreed! I have been facilitating book studies with 15 Fixes for several years in my division. How do we get secondary teachers (especially high school) to make the shift away from traditional grading practices?

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