Friday, April 20, 2012

What's In A Grade...How Does Grading Change With Common Core?

Consistency is one of the benefits of the Common Core Standards.  Consistency in what content will be taught at each grade level. Consistency in how students will be assessed by the state on their content mastery. Consistency in how each student is graded on their work...well, hmmm, maybe not so much.

Our district is working on transferring to a new gradebook/reporting system.  It is a great chance to spend time revisiting grading scales and grading practices across our different grade levels. What I have found is that there is no consensus among my staff on what grading system really is the best for reflecting student academic mastery - letter grades, percentages, checks and minuses, 1 2 3 and maybe 4 or rubric categories.  Each group has valid reasoning for why they support one over the other.  Venturing into a discussion on how to delineate academic progress from "good studentness" is even more heated.  Add to this mix the fact that even within a subject area or grade level, teachers teaching the same content may have different interpretations of what each grade category "looks like" in terms of student work and you wind up with a grading system that is anything but consistent... and a reason to avoid the conversation all together unless you have an hour or two to spend in debate.

Where to start the conversation?  I think everyone involved needs to have a clear understanding of why we assign grades to begin with.  Grading is a very emotional, personal issue for teachers. This is because down deep teachers take grading, to some degree "personally".  I think that sometimes we think that grades are a way to justify a our success or failure. We use them to delegate responsibility for lack of learning back onto the student as evidence to prove that students "could have done better if only they had -fill in the blank_____." Sometimes, we may even take a low grade to heart, as if the student is saying " I don't like you or this class".    As teachers, we need to take a step back and reflect on what grading REALLY should be.  Grades are a way to help teachers, students and parents monitor the student's progress and eventual mastery in learning and applying content for a course or grade level.  Grades cover to two types of work, formative and summative.  In order for grades to be an effective tool to communicate this learning progress and mastery, teachers all need to be in agreement about what mastery or developing work looks like.  And, teachers need to be using a grading system  that  will allow students and parents to compare progress from year to year.

First, come to an agreement of what grading system will accurately communicate student learning progress and mastery of content.  Make this decision at least at the building level. There are some districts nationally that have moved toward adopting district wide grading.   Distinguish between academic grades and reflections of "student habits of mind" which can be reported to parents, but should not be included in academic grades.  Habits of mind include classroom skills like collaboration, communication, preparedness, critical thinking, quality of work etc.  Talk about how to report formative assessments and summative assessments and what might be included in a final grade.

Then, the best way to come to a common understanding of what "A" or "4" work, "B" or "3" work etc. looks like is to sit down together and look at samples of student work.  Have conversations within grade levels, building and subject areas about what learning is expected in the Common Core or the Model Curriculum and what mastery student work would look like.  Build a portfolio of "exemplar" work for each grading category that everyone has access to.  Show this exemplar work to the students so they can see what is expected of them.  Communicate these expectations to the parents so they understand what a grade actually represents.  Share student progress regularly with parents and students.  Make students accountable for their own learning by helping them monitor their own progress.

Grades should never be a surprise, a gift or a consequence.  Grades for content mastery should not be determined by behavior, personality or attitude.  Grades ARE a communication tool. Grades are a way to help teachers AND students monitor the student's academic strengths and weaknesses as they work toward mastering content.

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