By Ben Arcuri
I have convinced myself for many years, that the percentage grade created and assigned to the students at the end of my course accurately represents the students’ level of learning. I made major changes to my grading to allow this to happen. I shared and discussed grading systems and structures with my colleagues. I presented during professional development days at my school and other schools on these topics many times. I left the sessions feeling good that I have shared a way to accurately assess and measure student learning. Educators left my sessions feeling encouraged and supported. I was happy that I was sharing my grading system and pedagogy to educators who want to try to create better environments for learning in their classrooms and schools.
I am in my 14th year of teaching (mostly senior science) and I have now made the most significant change to the way I grade and report student achievement. I came to the realization that if Julia scores 73.0 percent on a chapter 1 test, that number represents chapter 1 as a whole (whatever that means) If Julia scores 84.0 percent on chapter 2, then that number represents chapter 2 as a whole. What am I talking about? The grading software would then average the two scores and Julia would have a grade of 78.5 percent…well, 79 percent if you ask Julia…actually, 80 percent because Julia is a real student who likes to round up.
The grade of 78.5 percent does not represent anything in terms of the level of learning or understanding of the topics in chapter 1 or 2. There are 14 major topics in chapter 1 and 2. Which of the 14 topics does Julia understand? Does she understand 78.5 percent of 10 topics perfectly? What about the other 19.5 percent of the topics? How do you have half of a percent of a topic? I don’t have any answer for these questions.
I want use a system of grading in my classroom that is simple and clearly communicates the level of understanding for each topic. This is nothing new. It is called standards-based grading, or standards-based learning. Researchers and educators like Tom Guskey (@tguskey) have been studying this for years. I just have now figured out a way to use it in my classroom.
I have had a lot of help and guidance from teachers in my district. I now use a system that can be simple, transparent and communicates student achievement. It has been in the works for a few years. Shona Becker (@shobecker), my wife Jessa, and Myron Dueck (@myrondueck) have played a huge role in this change.
Here it is.
First, I condensed a list of all the topics in my chemistry 12 class down to one page. I was able to condense the list of topics into 27 learning targets that are divided into six units. Shona Becker’s advice was to keep it to one page and she was right on.
Here are the learning targets for Unit 1. I have six units in total that make up my chemistry 12 course.
Learning Targets | |
Semester 1 | |
1-1 | I can define, explain and Calculate & Graph Rate |
1-2 | I can state different ways to Monitor Rate |
1-3 | I can state different ways to Control Rate |
1-4 | I can define & explain Collision Theory as it relates to reaction rate |
1-5 | I can define & explain changes to PE & KE as it relates to a reaction |
1-6 | I can solve and identify characteristics of a Mechanism |
1-7 | I can define, explain and identify Catalysts |
To preface the following text, I would like to state—for the record—that I do not use percentage grades anymore. Quiz scores, labs and homework practice questions are not averaged and combined for a certain percentage.
The students and I start with 3 categories: Novice, Apprentice and Expert. The words represent the 3 levels of understanding.
Category |
Expert |
Apprentice |
Novice |
My wife and Shona Becker chose these terms years ago. You can use whatever terms you like. My wife teaches Math and Science in grades 7 and 8 and these are the ONLY words she uses in her grading.
My senior chemistry students would not be happy, simply being called an expert. The term is too broad, so I needed to be a little more specific. Myron Dueck has helped me be more specific for my senior science classes. Each category has been broken down into 2 sections. Think of these sections as upper and lower.
Category | Sub-category |
Expert | 6 |
5 | |
Apprentice | 4 |
3 | |
Novice | 2 |
1 |
Every learning target I grade is on this 6-point scale. When we review in class, we discuss examples of a 4 vs. a 5 vs. a 6. The students know what is required to receive a score of a 6. I have integrated this language into my daily lessons. I no longer argue with students about half points on test questions. Students don’t complain and chase grades to see their percentage increase by 0.1 percent. I can sit down with students to discuss why their response scored a 3 vs. a 4. We can discuss ways for them to change their response for the re-quiz (More on re-quizzing here).
The quizzes and re-quizzes are small and focus on only one or two learning targets at a time. These quizzes and re-quizzes are only for practice and DO NOT count towards any grade. The labs focus on two or three learning targets at a time and are graded using the 1-6 scale.
The tests are broken down into learning targets as well. Chapter 1 has seven learning targets, so that test will have seven sections. My tests will have a mixture of multiple choice and written response questions for EACH learning target. Based on student responses, I use a 1 to 6 to grade each learning target. The students use a learning target tracking sheet and are responsible for recording their score for each learning target.
If it was possible for me to stop here, I would. I would love to have a report card with a list of all 27 learning targets—each graded separately, but I can’t. I am required to report out a percentage grade that represents the students entire level of understanding.
So here is what we came up with. This was a team effort and a lot of people had input to create this final table. All of the numbers in this table have a meaning, so this was not easy task. For example, 95 percent and up is an A+, 86-94 percent is an A. The C+ to B range is approximately 60 percent to 85 percent. A failing grade is less than 50. I agree with Tom Guskey when he writes, that we do not need 50 ways to say the student is not meeting the minimum expectations. A failing grade is simply a 1.
Learning Category | Classification
Level |
ONLY at the end of each semester – to determine a percent for report card and the course | ||
Expert | 6 | 95 | 97 | 100 |
5 | 86 | 90 | 94 | |
Apprentice | 4 | 73 | 80 | 85 |
3 | 60 | 66 | 72 | |
Novice | 2 | 50 | 56 | 59 |
1 | 30 | 40 | 45 |
The student and I start by discussing what category the student is in. This is REALLY SIMPLE. There are only 3 options. The teacher and student already know if they are an expert or a novice. If the student is not in one of those categories, then the student is an apprentice. If the students tracking sheet (and mine as well) has mostly 3’s and 4’s, then we will agree that the student is at the Apprentice level. Then we take a closer look to decide if the student is a level 3 or a 4. If we choose a 4, then we pick either 73, 80 or 85. That’s it, there are no other options. I don’t think any grading system can differentiate between an 82 percent or 84 percent, so I am not going to try.
Do not get hung up on the numbers. The purpose of this change is to better enhance the relationship between grading and student perception. The students in my classes have a better understanding of how the grade is determined and they know exactly why they are receiving a specific grade. This system is also more transparent then a computer algorithm telling them they are receiving a 78.2 percent. Grading each learning target, instead of using a percentage grade, better represents the progress of the student.
Please remember that I convert the 1-6’s to a percent ONLY at report card time. I ask the students to look at their tracking sheet and assign themselves a grade. I then sit down with each student and WE discuss what percentage best represents the student’s level of learning. It usually takes less than 60 seconds for the student and I to determine his/her grade.
Obviously there are exceptions to this system. There are students that would be devastated if they received a 97 percent instead of a 99 percent. I understand that there is a significant difference between those grades. So for those students, we can decide what number best represents their level of learning.
Teachers have come a long way in terms of assessment. This change goes beyond the typical discussion of assessment because it crosses over into grading and reporting. A percent grade of 78.2 percent does not represent all of the fantastic ways teachers are assessing student knowledge today.
I am very excited to be presenting once again at the Pearson ATI Summer Conference. During the presentation, I will share with you my most engaging assessment activities that my students actually enjoy, the quiz and re-quiz system, the tracking sheets, unit tests and the 1-6 grading system. I am also planning on showing you a student self-evaluation, influenced by the one my son completed in his Kindergarten class.
Thank you for reading,
Ben Arcuri
Penticton Secondary School, Penticton, BC, Canada
Contact:
email: benarcuri15@gmail.com
Twitter: @BenArcuri
YouTube: Arcuric Acid