New For 2010: Grading

In a stack of papers called Grading.

  • Oct
  • 04
  • 2010

We’re reading Fair Isn’t Always Equal as our English department professional development this year. It’s sparked some interesting discussion already and a few ideas in my head, mostly with regard to how grading can be tweaked to give students a chance to stay in the game longer. There are a few things I’m putting in place that could make things a bit better. Tough thing is that I have to explain each of these to every student who is only now paying attention because this could help him or her.

Fifty Percent

If you turn in an assignment and attempt to complete the entire thing, no blanks and nothing left unanswered, you are guaranteed at least a fifty percent, even if you earn less than a fifty percent. This has impacted reading quizzes the most, those times when I ask you two or three questions about last night’s reading and you didn’t read. Normally, you’d take a zero there. Not this time. If you venture a guess, something reasonable and educated, you earn at least a fifty percent even if every question is wrong. This also stands to change a lot of scores on vocabulary tests as the year rolls on. But the catch is that you have to try everything. A single blank means you earn what you earn, even if it’s lower than fifty percent. Likewise to work not turned in: that’s a zero because I didn’t get anything. Turning it in late?

Late Work

I’ll take your late work for full credit. There are some stipulations here: you need to come talk with me about when you are going to stay in my room after seventh period, you need to complete the work in my room after seventh period, and I might expect a touch more from you since you are working on this in my room after seventh period. So you can either complete it on time or late in the classroom. I don’t mind exchanging seat time for credit. Plus, that way I get to talk with you to make sure you really see what I’m driving at with the assignment. And I don’t think this is enticing enough to fear loads of students taking advantage. And even if they did, could you imagine my room after seventh period, full of students who usually don’t do a scrap of work, maxed out with students actually trying to do the work I’ve asked them to do? Amazing possibilities there!

Evaluating Almost Everything

From that quick paragraph about your reaction to the surprise ending to the in-class writing about rules in Animal Farm, I’m putting grades on your work that reflect the mastery demonstrated. If it’s an average piece of writing, it does the bare minimum and is competently crafted, you earn a C. Stronger sentences, evidence, and explanation bump your grade up. The grade drops with a decrease in quality. I’m trying to be sure that grades mean something consistently from me during the year, that a ten out of ten sends the same message that any one-hundred-percent score sends. Don’t like the grade you’ve earned?

Do Over

I’ve had more students this year ask about retakes on vocabulary tests than ever before. Since I’m giving tests only every three weeks, there’s room for me to make a new test and give that on a week when no one else is testing. Instead of another test on lists one through four, though, you now have a test on lists one through five since that’s the list we’re on this week. I haven’t actually started this one yet, but I’m pretty sure this is how I’ll approach it. I’ll extend this kind of thinking to just about any assignment, again with you in my room after seventh period working on it. I’ve had a few students crank out a bit better writing due to that already.

What about you? How has your grading changed? Are you doing anything to accommodate for the extra students you have in the seats this year?


1. The Science Goddess says:

[10/4/2010 - 7:09 pm]

Please be very very careful about how you word Point 1. There is a difference between a grading scale and a percentage scale. A “50%” on your scale would equal 75 points.

In a standards-based system, the distribution of points along the scale is equalized (e.g. 90 – 100 for A, 80 – 89 for B…), which is where the concept of using a “50” for the lowest point value is derived. This is not a percent. It is just a scale, same as a 1 – 4 or 0 – 10 or 1 – 1000. You could use 0 – 20 for an F and 80 – 100 for an A—and it wouldn’t matter as long as the distribution for every letter was the same.

In working with lots of teachers over the last few years on grading, I would say that not making the distinction between points and percent is the number one thing that gets them in trouble with kids, parents, counselors, coaches, and administrators. Be sure to make it clear in your communications which one you mean.

2. Todd says:

[10/4/2010 - 9:03 pm]

By 50% I mean “earning half of the points available on the assignment.” I’m not sure how you get to 75 points. In order to know how many points 50% equals, don’t you first need to know how many points are possible?

Students who take a guess at each of the items in an assignment will earn a 50% on that assignment even if they actually score lower than a 50%. The Science Goddess, I’m not sure what I wrote that made you think I’m not clear, though I’d be curious to find out.

3. Tom says:

[10/7/2010 - 3:04 am]

I’m not sure what standards-based means to the science goddess. In my mind, standards-based means that grading asks if students have met the standards. In such a system averaging makes no sense, nor do penalties for late work and so on. What makes sense is simply defining a standard and asking if kids meet it. You may require repeated mastery to demonstrate the standard (i.e. the student repeatedly shows or consistently shows), but it wouldn’t matter what path a student took to get there.

Regarding the 50% rule, it reminds me of what has always bothered me about the traditional 0-100 scale. Why on earth is it that a 0 is 60 points worse than an F? That suggests that the difference between utterly failing and not doing an assignment is vastly greater than the difference between failing and excelling (60-100). In my experience, that isn’t true at all (usually not doing work is a symptom of a motivational or behavioral problem and actually tells me very little about a student’s capability — it certainly doesn’t tell me that the student is far far worse than a student who consistently fails).

Given the tendency of classes to grade lots of homeworks and short assignments, a 0-100 scale seems to me to simply be designed to penalize students who fail to complete assignments in the extreme. If I put it in terms of GPA, it might make more sense — if an A is a 4, a B is a 3 and so on, than a 0 in a gradebook on a 0-100 scale is the equivalent of a -6. So a student who gets two A’s and an F gets a B but a student who gets to A’s and misses an assignment is failing. How is this logical?

Now on the question of test design, it may be that it’s a good idea to design tests such that most students get 3/4 of the material right and so on, so that the points work out in the traditional way. I myself have never been capable of designing such a test… but I don’t have any fundamental insight into what sort of percentage makes for the best metrics — my tests, where a class average is often around a 60 or 70, certainly tend to give me much more area to differentiate at the top (I always try to have some problems that I think are so hard most or all students will get wrong, so I have a chance to see if there are students who really stand out above and beyond — needless to say, a 60 on one of my tests usually is a C+ or B-, not an F).

4. Kirstie says:

[10/13/2010 - 11:55 am]

I am so glad to see the grade conversation alive and well. It makes no sense to me that 60 out of 100 points are available for failing while only 40 are left over to describe success.
I start my grades at 50 as well. I often get caught-up in the kinds of mathmatical disasters described by the Science Goddess (I teach English, so my life plays out in narrative not numbers).
Lastly, I have stopped taking points off of papers for stuggles with punctuality. My grade ought to focus on the skills at hand. In my school, we are lucky enough to have another grade scale for effort, so the student who fails to make progess in punctuality, a mark of effort, has a concrete grade for that which stand alone.
Thanks for this. I look forward to sharing the thoughts and reading the book you mentioned.

5. Mr.Chuck says:

[10/14/2010 - 8:04 pm]

Todd, I am gratified how you grade your students. To be honest This really helps the way I grade!…It really helps… Thanks for partaking this with us!