Why Do We Give Grades?
Grades are given to document academic progress, right? But there are common pitfalls in grading, according to Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessment and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom by Rick Wormeli.
1. Avoid nonacademic factors (behavior, attendance, etc.)
2. Avoid penalizing for multiple attempts at mastery.
3. Avoid grading homework.
4. Avoid recording zeros for work not done
5. Avoid group grades. Cooperative learning helps students learn, but is not an indicator of proficiency.
Here are my feelings about these pitfalls in grading.
1. I agree that you cannot factor in nonacademic factors into a grade. Yet poor behavior and attendance will ultimately affect the grade anyway. If the student is not there for whatever reason, that student will not be able to master the skill. When you give an assessment, the student will be unable to answer questions if they missed the information due to suspension or absences. If you are comparing where this student stands next to his/her peers in the classroom, it would be unfair to give this student the same grade as someone who is in the classroom and acting appropriately.
2. I think you need to look at the reason for your assessment. If you are trying to compare where the student stands next to his/her peers, you will have to penalize for multiple attempts. The student who achieved the goal the first time should receive a higher grade than the one who needed multiple times to succeed. But if you are just testing the mastery of the skill, I do not think multiple attempts should matter. When we attempt the driving test to get a driver’s license, does it matter how many times it took to pass the test? Is the number of attempts shown anywhere on our record? No, not as long as we mastered the skill. I feel the same should be applied in the classroom.
3. I think homework should be graded. Again, what is the purpose of the homework? If it is just busywork, it not only shouldn’t be graded, but it shouldn’t be given. I believe homework is reinforcement of a skill that was taught in the classroom. The completed homework would be an assessment of the student’s ability to master that skill. Isn’t that what grades should be about?
4. I do not give zeros. If work is not done, it is considered incomplete and I work with the parents and the students to see that this work is completed. Zeros are not an option. It is too easy for a student to say, “Just give me a zero” and that is the end of that. How do we see that the student masters the skill then? Do we just move on and not give them the foundation for future skills?
5. I think group grades are important. In today’s society, people need to work together. If we do not teach this as a skill, how will our students learn this? They are not born with the knowledge on how to work as a team. We need to break the skills down into achievable steps (make a task analysis) and teach these steps. A grade will show whether the student has mastered the skill.
I really think we need to look at grading and determine why we need the grade and what does the grade show. This should determine how we determine the grade and what we use the results for. All of this is necessary for our students to be successful in the classroom as well as the real world.
Leave your comments below about grading.