Pedagogy

Grading Traditions

 

For my first eleven years as a teacher, I used rubrics to assign grades, and would give a student a 0 for not turning in work. But this past year, I realized a 0 disproportionately punishes students compared to earning a 100. In my school, we give students numerical grades on individual assignments; these then get averaged to a term letter grade which actually represents a range of numbers: a B is 83-86, for example. To calculate GPA, the letter grade becomes a value on a 4-point scale: a B is a 3. This roundabout manner to find a student grade undermines what grades represent. In order for students to have a better understanding of what their grade means, and in order for grades to best demonstrate what a student has learned, teachers should align individual assignment grades with the same scale schools use to determine GPA.

I want the grades my students earn to be as honest a reflection of their learning as possible. Too often, students see grades as a type of punishment, or a result of hard work, not necessarily of learning (although learning and hard work can be related). We punish students for not turning in work by giving them 0’s. Our goal as educators should be to educate students, not punish them.  As others have written, students should be able to turn in work late for full credit.

If a student does not turn in an assignment and earns a 0, and turns in the next assignment and earns a 100, what should their grade be? My colleagues tell me the student earned a 50 , but when I press them if the 50 represents what the student learned, they start to get uncomfortable. Allowing the student to redo the first assignment is step one in fixing this problem. Step two changes the 0-100 point scale to more accurately reflect what the student has done. I like the 0-4 scale, as my rubrics have four columns anyway. This would align each column with each possible grade, and allow for fractions as necessary.

I like the example provided by Cindy Martinez:

 

Who is the stronger student?

Student X   Student Y  
Essay

1

2

3

4

Grade

F

A

A

A

Essay

1

2

3

4

Grade

C

C

C

C

Old System:

Student X   Student Y  
Essay

1

2

3

4

Total:

Grade:

Grade

0

100

100

100

300/400

C

Essay

1

2

3

4

Total:

Grade:

Grade

75

75

75

75

300/400

C

Both students assess the same.  For whatever reason, Student X did not turn in the first essay and, no matter how good the following essays are, Student X struggles to dig out of the hole.

4 Point System

Student X   Student Y  
Essay

1

2

3

4

Total:

Grade:

Grade

0

4

4

4

12

12/4 = 3=B

Essay

1

2

3

4

Total:

Grade:

Grade

2

2

2

2

8

8/4 = 2=C

Student X is still dealing with a penalty for a missing essay but the grade is a better reflection of the student’s ability.

 

In talking to my colleagues about my dilemma, the most typical response was “what about when students do not turn in work?” and I think their inability to move away from the 0 rests on tradition. So there are a couple of solutions to this problem. One would be to eliminate the 0-100 scale and if a student does not turn in work, then the student receives an F. This F would average with all the other letter grades earned. But this still leaves the conversion from the letter grade to the 0-4 point grade, so this suggests that, because the 0-4 is the end goal, then we should also start there. Students should earn a 0-4 on each individual assignment; these should be weighted and averaged to come up with a term grade on the same 0-4 scale, and then their GPA is the result of a consistent 0-4 grade throughout the process.

Using the 0-4 scale my school uses for GPA would best demonstrate what students have learned and no longer punish them. This would also streamline the grading process and align their grades more accurately with the rubrics I use.

 

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Daniel

Daniel

Daniel teaches high school English in Massachusetts. I'm also a dad, and a husband. I love spending time with my family; I love my job; I love working out.

2 Comments

  1. August 18, 2016 at 7:55 pm —

    Full disclosure: I’m the author’s brother, and a physics teacher.

     

    A couple comments: What is a grade supposed to reflect? You make the assumption that it should reflect learning. But learned what, exactly? Skills? Concepts? Critical thinking ability? And why shouldn’t a grade reflect effort? 100sShould a grade reflect growth, or level of knowledge? Some students enter my introductory physics classes with a high baseline, some with a low baseline. But I’m asking they learn the same concepts and skills. And some students, no matter how hard they work, will never master the concepts that they are expected to learn.

     

    If a grade is supposed to reflect mastery of skills and concepts, then sometimes the zero makes sense. 4 different essays, as in the example above, may largely be measuring the same sorts of skills and knowledge. But 4 unit tests in my subject are measuring 4 different sets of content. A zero makes sense if a grade is supposed to reflect level of mastery of skills and concepts, if there has been no demonstration of knowledge gained with the skills and concepts. Part of the reason it makes sense is that mastery of a skill is around 80% ability to succeed, and 90% is an A, 70% is a C on that school wide rubric. So a 0 averaged in with a 100 means, yes, you’ve only mastered 50% of the skills and concepts you are supposed to master.

    If a grade is supposed to reflect effort (and I work argue that, to some extent, it has to, if the course is a requirement for graduation and if the course is a skills based course. If a student works hard to master a skill, but can’t… they shouldn’t graduate?) then a zero also makes sense at times. You didn’t do the assignment? No effort, and no demonstration of mastery of skill.

     

    It comes down to there’s no single way to handle assignments that are not turned in. You have to look at what the purpose of the assignment was. Is it practice? Then a strong grade on the assessment later on should over ride the lack of practice… it wasn’t necessary. A zero doesn’t make sense. But was the assignment a final assessment of a skill? Then a zero makes sense. There has been no demonstration the skill is learned.

     

     

  2. August 19, 2016 at 8:33 am —

    Yes – grades should reflect learning, be that content, skills, or critical thinking – whatever it is students are supposed to learn in the course. I do not think effort should be graded because there’s no real way to measure it unless you are only measuring effort in the classroom because there is no way to know how much effort students put in at home, and it disproportionately punishes students who cannot put effort in at home.

    The growth vs knowledge one is tricky, and I think requires flexibility from the teacher. If a student comes into my class with a very low baseline, and makes extraordinary growth, but never gets to mastery, there should be some way to acknowledge that because a lot of learning happened.

    I agree with your example that the 50% averages two content exams, and that’s fine – but I would ask whether that student should fail, and that’s sort of my point – an average of a 0 and a 4 becomes a 2, which passes. Should a student who aces one content exam and fails another pass or fail the course?

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