Dear Students and Parents,
I have written this blog post so that from the beginning of the semester you can understand where your grade in my class comes from.
Over the past few years, I have become very interested in assessment* (figuring out if you know what you are supposed to know, and then communicating what you know and don’t know back to you). Assessment is a lot harder than it looks, and the way that your parents were assessed is totally different from what we know now about how good assessment works. That is why my system might need some explaining.
There are 4 things you need to understand:
1) The 4 Point Scale
2) Translating the 4 point scale
3) Standards Based Gradebooks
Why the 4 point scale?
Aside from research based practices, I like using a 4 point scale because I can make a more specific rubric for you for each assignment. For example, one of our skills is discussion. In class discussion, you are expected to use evidence from the text. On the 4 point scale 4= exceeding, 3= proficient, 2= almost there, 1= beginning. I can tell a student that I expect her to use evidence from the text in discussion, and in order to meet the standard a student needs to use a direct quote in support of her ideas. If that student gets a 2, she knows that her evidence isn’t quite up to snuff. Maybe she only referenced the text without reading directly from it. However, if the student got a 4, she probably read a great quote directly from the text and referenced the page number so that her peers could follow along.
But what about the 100 point scale? In terms of making a valid rubric, it would be impossible to differentiate a 100 from a 99 from a 98 from a 97 from a 96, etc. for every particular assignment or standard. I don’t think it makes sense to use that scale. If an 88 means that you used a quote from the text, then what is the difference between an 88, an 89 and a 90? Or a 70, 71, 72, 73,74 for that matter?
Think about it like this: if the standard is to Dunk the basketball, then a
4 would be Spud Webb’s Dunk:
3 would be that the ball gets dunked:
2 would be anything close but missed:
1 would be not quite there yet (some of these are 2’s, and there is even 1 retake in there)
Try breaking any one of those down on a 100 point scale, and you just couldn’t do it! Why would you give a 45 instead of a 65 or a 75?
If my goal in providing grades is to help you understand whether or not you have mastered the task, then a 4 point scale is the best way for me to do so. If you would like to see a further short explanation of this idea, click here, and watch the video from minute 1:00-3:52.
Living with our History: the 100 point scale
Because I must give grades out of 100, I ultimately have to translate the scale from 1-4 to 1-100. After speaking with some mathematically inclined colleagues, this is how we decided to do it:
We wanted there to be a bigger jump between a 2 and a 3 than between a 1 and 2 or 3 and 4 because there is a bigger difference between meeting a standard or not meeting a standard rather than the difference between how well or not well you passed or failed in the task. Think about standards like a pole vaulter. The goal is to get over the marker. If you miss, you miss, whether you fall on your face or just barely knock it. If you get over it, you get over it whether you squeeze by or fly over with a foot. The goal was to get over- everything else is just gravy. Jill Gough, math teacher and administrator, has written a wonderful piece explaining how we came to this translation number. Granted, it is only 4 possible grades out of 100 that you will be getting, but, there will be many assignments. So all of these assignments will average into different numbers. Last year my student’s averages ranged across the board from the 80’s to the high 90’s.
The Categories and Standards Based Grading
Normally, when teachers set up their grade books, they set them up like this:
But if I am a student looking at that breakdown, and I see my categorial averages:
Test Average 93
Quiz Average 88
Participation Average 73
All I learn about my understanding in the course is that I am a great test taker, and I need to participate more in class. I can’t see how I’m doing on the concepts. Since, to reiterate, I believe grades should communicate learning, I have decided to organize my grades into a Standards-Based Gradebook. To learn more about SBG, check out Shawn Cornally’s blog . My grade book is organized something like this (see the syllabus for the actual break down):
Exam 20% (cause I have to)
Reading and Literary Devices 20%
Research and Digital Citizenship: 10%
SBG allows me to look and see very quickly in which skill a student still needs work. So if I am looking at student Allison’s categories, and they look like this:
Reading and Literary Devices Average: 90
Writing Average: 78
Discussion/Collaboration/Presentation Average: 95
Responsibility Average: 98
Research and Digital Citizenship Average: 85
Where does Allison need help? Well, it’s clear! In the first example, Allison or her parents would never know that she needs help with her writing and research and digital citizenship. All they know is that she is a good test taker. With SBG, Allison and her parents can see exactly where she is excelling and where she needs help.
Re-takes and Re-Dos: Why Mulligans Are Essential
When you are one year old, and you take your first steps, and you fall down, your parents do not say, “well, that was pretty crumby walking. You did a terrible job. 65. You fail.” No, they encourage you to get back up and try walking again. Similarly, in the business world, if I make a mistake on the presentation to my boss, my boss doesn’t say, “you get an F on that presentation” and I just go home and cry. No! she says, “That is a mistake, go fix it, and don’t mess up again next time!” I run back to presentation, fix the error, and learn from it. Granted, there are times in life when you get no mulligans: car crashes, sky-diving, administering anesthesia, and exams.
Not every assignment should be a high stakes assignment. That is not like life. Since my focus is learning for life, I give re-takes on every assignment except for exams. If a you do not meet my expectations (aka, get a level 3) on an assignment, you do not get to just move on and say, “oh well, I’m just bad at semi-colons.” No, you actually have to understand semi-colons before you can go on.
To the naysayers who think that is the easy way out, I reply:
1) Letting a kid fail is not in my job description. I am supposed to teach, not judge. If it takes Johnny 17 times to understand where to put a comma between independent clauses, then so be it. I want him to learn commas, not learn that he can’t do them.
2) My way is actually harder than accepting failures because a student cannot “get by” by averaging his grades together. If a student doesn’t understand, he does not get to move on until he does.
3) What about grade inflation? Won’t everyone end up with a 100? My answer is this: does it matter if every student ends up with a 100? Under a norm-referenced grade system where every student is compared to the other, then if every student earns a 100 there is a problem with my system. However, SBG is a criterion-referenced system. I don’t care how each student does in comparison to her peers, I care how she does with regard to each standard. If every student passes the standards with flying colors, then that is awesome. In fact, it should be my goal that every student of mine gets a 100 in my class– that would be great teaching!
4) I get to raise the bar for my kids. In a traditional class, a lazy student who doesn’t care can pass the class with a 70. But my grading scale of 3 = 88 and you-don’t-get-to-move-on-until-you-get-a-3 means that the student who traditionally would do 70 level work must do 88 level work in my class. I’m not lowering the bar, I’m raising it!
So Where Your Grade Comes From:
So, students, let’s pretend it is the 5 week mark, and all semester you’ve seen 1, 2, 3, 4 for your grades, and you want to know why you have what you have in my class. Here is how it works.
The simple way: First, check out the assignments I’ve given you. If you have anything less than a 3, you still have work to do! If you’ve gotten 3’s and 4’s you’re good, and your average is somewhere between an 88 and a 100. 🙂
The harder way:
Let’s pretend we have a graded discussion and you earn a 3 for that assignment. That 3 will go into the Discussion category in the gradebook as an 88. Let’s say we have another discussion and you earn a 4. That discussion will go into the gradebook in the discussion category as a 100. Ultimately, all of your assignments in this category will average together for that grade period to get your Discussion average.
The same will happen with your writing scores, your reading scores, your research scores, your responsibility scores, etc.
Then the categories are weighted, and your “Overall Average” is taken from the scores in those weighted categories.
Aside from the information you get from your overall average, you can tell how you are doing more specifically by the following methods:
1) You can look at each category to see how you are doing on that skill based on an average of your assignments on those skills.
2) Even better, each assignment will allow you to see whether you are meeting, exceeding, or still need work on that idea. If you didn’t earn a 3 (88), your’e not getting it yet, and you should re-do that assignment. If you want to re-do an assignment on which you earned a 3 so that you can try for a 4, go for it!
A Final Word On Grades:
The point of grades is ultimately to communicate whether you are learning what you are supposed to be learning. My most fervent wish this year, for both parents and my students, is that yall will worry less about grades and more about your learning. Are you getting the concepts? Are you working your best?
As such, students, don’t settle or fret. If you earn a 1 or a 2 on an assignment, don’t panic. You get to try agian. I WANT you to try again. I want you to come get help, see where you messed up, and give it another shot. As my former principal Bo Adams always said, “Learning is the constant, time is the variable.” I do not want you to come into my office hours worried that you failed. You only fail if you never try or if you cheat. Otherwise, you just haven’t gotten it yet.
Parents, please don’t hound your child about his overall grade in this class. Take a look at the assignments and categories. If you’re seeing 3’s and 88’s be glad. Your child is on track! If you’re seeing 4’s and 100’s be more glad, your child is going beyond the expectations (which, by the way, are not low to start with!). If you’re seeing 1’s and 2’s, don’t worry, your child can keep learning these skills, just like he or she kept learning to walk. It takes some falling down a lot of times. I won’t count the falls unless the child refuses to get back up and walk again.
Feel free to comment if you have questions! I’ll try my best to answer.
* (just a few examples of some research sources: Thomas R. Guskey, The Art and Science of Teaching by Robert J. Marzano, The Teacher As Assessment Leader edited by Thomas R. Guskey)