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Sharing assessment & grading strategies that help students learn

Pretend you are your school's Grade Coach (if there was such a thing) and your job is to help teachers ensure that the grades assigned in their class represent a student's level of mastery.

A teacher has come to you to ask for advice about his grades.  He shows you the following list of assignments and scores:

Homework Topic A: 10/10

Quiz 1 Topic A: 40/50

Homework Topic A: 10/10

Classwork Topic A: 0/20

Homework Topic A: 0/20

Quiz 2 Topic A: 50/50

Classwork Topic A: 20/20

Homework Topic A: 10/10

Quiz 3 Topic A: 0/50

Quiz 3 Topic A RETAKE: 40/50

Homework Topic A: 5/10

Quiz 4 Topic A: 45/50

Notebook Check: 10/30

Test Topic A: 95/100

Review Game Extra Credit: 5/0

Homework Topic B: 0/10

Quiz 1 Topic A: 50/50

Homework Topic B: 0/10

Classwork Topic B: 20/20

Homework Topic B: 0/20

Quiz 2 Topic B: 40/50

Quiz 2 Topic B RETAKE: 50/50

Classwork Topic B: 20/20

Homework Topic B: 0/10

Quiz 3 Topic B: 35/50

Quiz 3 Topic B RETAKE: 50/50

Homework Topic B: 10/10

Quiz 4 Topic B: 30/50

Notebook Check: 50/50

Test Topic B: 90/100

Review Game Extra Credit: 3/0

Progress Report Signed: 0/10

For this activity, pretend that the assignments and scores listed above represent the entirety of the course.

What would you say to this teacher?  How would you suggest the teacher use this data to determine the student's level of mastery or learning?  You have complete freedom to do anything or suggest anything.  For example, you could recommend that the teacher:

  • Change point values of some or all assignments
  • Use category weights
  • Not count certain assignments
  • Convert to only letter grades
  • Convert to only percentages
  • Add additional assignments that would provide different or additional data
  • Replace scores on some assignments with scores on others
  • Allow retests or retakes on certain assignments

There is nothing you can't recommend to this teacher.  The goal is to make sure the grade represents learning.  What do you suggest?

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Some thoughts--

1. If the purpose of retakes are to offer opportunities to demonstrate student growth then the "retake" score should override the original score- otherwise you are penalizing students for their previous fail.

2. Consider what you define as the most important evidence of a student's mastery of the content. If that is the test, it should be "weighted" in the grade book. If you do not weight the cumulative test then all the other "practice"/ homework, classwork, etc. will obscure the student's actual mastery.
This does not include major projects that were part of the unit content. Sometimes projects are self contained in skill- set and should be weighted accordingly.

3. While the extra credit offered was not excessive in points, I would reconsider using it at all. Extra credit tends to artificially inflate the grade.
Instead, I would encourage students to demonstrate positive class participation. This would be recorded and considered, but not factored into the point average. If the student was close between grades (86C or 87B) at the end of the grading period then the positive class participation activities could be used as a factor in the final decision.

4. Reconsider the notebook check as a "grade." I used include notebook checks, but have learned that really all I'm grading is a student's neatness/ organization and not content. If a student is neat and organized that will likely be reflected in their mastery of the material.

5. Not shown on this report, but essential (in my opinion,) are comments for each grade. Comments will help provide individualized feedback and direct the student/ parent to a better understanding of each grade. For example, if homework is a "0" because the student did not return the work/ attempt to complete the assignment the zero would be a "responsibility" issue-- if it is a "0" because the answers provided were incorrect it would be a content/ mastery issue. Homework should be considered, but not weighted, and comments can provide important context for conversations with students/ parents.

I agree with everything Sarah says here. I especially agree about weighting tests appropriately to reflect their importance for mastery. I used to do notebook checks as a grade. Perhaps the most "freeing" thing I did as a teacher was ending that, both from a management/time issue and from a mastery standpoint. Sarah, how much do you weight quizzes vs. test? Just curious. 

I like Sarah's comment #5. We need comments! 

I feel like the reason a student got the zero is more important than the 0 itself. Were they lazy, off task, missed the deadline but actually completed the assignment, showed zero mastery, sent out of the room for behavior issues... blah blah. 

If the student got a zero on the quiz or test, did the teacher not make the student take the test at all (because the student was absent, unprepared, had been absent 2 days prior to test day)?? Perhaps more opportunities to demonstrate competency should be provided so the student's grade could reflect their level of mastery. 

I really like #5. Thanks for sharing.

I have a question on the goal, is it to make sure the grade represents learning or learning of the subject material?

If it is mastery of the material, the retakes should replace the original, the test are more reliable of a grade of knowledge then the homework or quizzes. If the student knows or has learned the main objectives you as a teacher expect, this then becomes the subject grade.  If the grade is to reflect learning in the sense of it's entirely, it will need to reflect the complete body of works that must go beyond mastery of material into real life learning experiences, where sometimes just being bright will not necessarily get the job done, but you must jump the hoops at times( so to speak) to have success.  . So is the goal to grade learning or mastery of subject material?  , 

Good question, Steve.

Let's assume that the assignments you see represent the entirety of the content, and now it's time to submit a final grade based on that evidence.  In fact, I went ahead an edited the discussion to include that information. 

How would you use that evidence?  Is there some of it you wouldn't use?  Would you alter some of it?  Would you seek additional or different evidence?

I would use homework as a check for learning, and not count it for a grade.  I might do this for the Notebook check also. I would consider using it for extra credit for other students to bump up a grade.  It looks like the student understands the content well, at least C-A work, and I would guess without doing the math that this student could get a B or A in the class. 

I think I would look at each of the components related to the Quiz topics.  Are there consistencies/inconsistencies?  I agree with Sarah; I would like to see teacher comments that perhaps add more detail in the explanation of grades.  The big question is the final test grade the best reflection of what the student knows?

I like the idea that retakes have been offered when appropriate, not necessarily for every assignment.  More importantly, they seem to be doing their job.  The student's scores after a retake opportunity have been higher and shown a great deal more mastery.  

The notebook checks seem to be worth a large number of points.  Does the notebook check show evidence of learning?  If not, then I think that the point total should be reduced.  

I also agree with Sarah's comment that the extra credit don't represent learning.  While I have used extra credit over the years as a teacher, exercises such as this have made me rethink that practice (particularly when the credit is awarded for returning items or gaining signatures.....not learning activities).

I did an average of the two students.  Student A had a 70 and student B had an 80.  Student A's quiz/test average was approximately 90 every with retakes and student had the same average about a 90 on quiz/tests. 

This issue always troubles me in that why do we issue assignments not to count them in that if I am working on accountability the averages are 70 and 80.  If I look at mastery then 90's are appropriate if the quizzes and tests are reliable and valid.   I have no problem with re-takes but I do have an issue telling a student that an assignment is NOT important which is what I feel if they are excused en masse to elevate an average.

I also wonder about the situations surrounding the students.  Under the old six weeks system I was always willing to raise a grade if the quality of work had improved throughout the term rather than remained flat.   I also would like to know if I were the coach what the variation on assignments was, all writing, all multiple choice etc.

In the end on this short quick sample size I would probably average the two scores total and test/quiz student A would receive an 80 and student b an 85.  This to me is an acceptable amount of hypocrisy I can live with.  

Thoughtful response, Thad.  Just to clarify, these grades only represent 1 student.  The grades represent 2 topics or units of instruction in the same class.  For example, Topic A could be The Industrial Revolution, and Topic B could be Imperialism in a World History Class.

You raise a good point about issuing assignments v. counting them.  This teacher is quite a possibly a new teacher.  Part of what he or she might need help with is figuring HOW MUCH to count the assignments.  For example, the homework was out of 10 possible points.  Perhaps it should be out of 5 or 2.  The tests were out of 100 possible points.  Perhaps they should be out of 1000.

Here's another thing to consider in regard to the issue you raise.  Is there merit in assigning something and then scoring it solely for the purpose of feedback but not for the purpose of calculating a grade?

Thad--I'm not sure is this directly answers your question, but nearly all of my retakes are required by all students. For example, I test on all the Geography students in Sept. We all retest 2 weeks later. Then about 4-5 weeks later, we do it all retest a third time. Its not so much that they learn that the first assignments didn't get excused but they must show they maintained mastery. 

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