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My Thoughts on Grading

posted Feb 10, 2011, 8:34 PM by Phil Hanney   [ updated Dec 31, 2011, 5:37 AM ]
Over a year-and-a-half ago I posted this on Intel's Teachers Engage website. I have had a few people view the post, however no one has commented on it.

Several weeks ago on Twitter's #edchat the discussion was on grading. Specifically the question was: If the time has come to move on from traditional grades, what are the alternatives?


I happened to join the conversation on my iPod Touch, but quickly moved to my laptop to continue my thoughts. I have great feelings about grades and what they mean to students, parents, and even fellow teachers. I have struggled with grading my whole career (that would be for about the past 16 years). I have really hated giving grades because it seemed more emphasis was being placed on the grades rather than the learning. When I was an adjunct teacher at Weber State University there always was talk of "grade inflation." Now that I teach in a junior high I didn't have to worry about grade inflation as much. However my thought is this: "If a student could prove they know how to complete the tasks and get a good grade on assignments and tests, why shouldn't they get an A?"


Several years ago I was our school's data specialist (it only happened for a year and I probably did a pretty crappy job since I wasn't asked to do it again, but that's another story). I was asked by someone at the district to look at some of our students previous grades (from elementary school) and compare them to their current grades. These students had participated in a reading program at our school between 6th- and 7th-grade. These students were flagged as needing extra attention for reading by their 6th-grade teachers.


I quickly found that our counselors had files of the students with their grades from elementary school. I was totally excited because it would be an easy comparison. Look at their reading grades from 6th-grade and compare them to their English grades in 7th. Boy, was I wrong. I quickly found that there were several students that received A's in their reading grade in 6th-grade who were getting poor grades in their English class. Others were the opposite. I quickly found that I had no idea what an "A" meant and what an "N" meant for that teacher and that student. Did an "A" mean the student was reading on grade level? Did it mean they handed in all of their assignments? Did it mean they had gotten good grades on tests? I had no clue. I then started thinking about my own grading. When a student had a B- in my class and then went on to the high school, what information was I sending to the teachers there. Plus, what message was I sending to colleges when my 9th-graders eventually started applying?


I eventually came up with an idea that came to fruition during our #edchat discussion. We really need to have a "universal" interpretation of grades. This way when a future teacher sees a grade they can understand what that grade means. Although several people on #edchat disagreed with me (no real shocker there, that happens just about every time I comment on something), I really liked the idea. One person even told me that grading was detrimental to students. Although that might be true, I think grading is here to stay for quite some time. Especially when it comes to college admissions. Portfolios may show student learning and the such, however when a college has to go through thousands of transcripts for admissions, portfolios would be near to impossible to look through to admit all the students needed for college. A high school transcript can give a one-page overview of a student's knowledge (although I am sure more items are looked at for college admissions).


If we had something like the following breakdown it could help in so many ways to get a good picture of student understanding:


  • A = Mastery of subject

  • B = Near mastery

  • C = Low mastery

  • D = No mastery, but credit given for course (this one is questionable, but I could see a few students that would need this grade)

  • F = No master, no credit


I know this is probably simplistic and definitely would need more work, but if we all used something like this, then when a student transferred schools, it would be more clear as to what the student knew. Now, of course this could and probably will open up a whole can of worms about what subject are reported in the grade. If a student transfers schools, what subjects were taught in their previous class and what is their grade for that subject? I'm sure I'll have more comments on that as I go.

As I have said, no one has commented on this, but I have pursued this information and have learned quite a bit. On this blog I plan on discussing my findings and how I have implemented them into my classes.