While assessment and grading are two distinct topics, they often intertwine.  Occasionally something comes along to remind us that poor grading practices can end up negating effective assessment practices.  That's why Allen Iverson is on this site - to remind us that we need to give and assess practice, but to remember that when we do so, we're just talkin' 'bout practice!  That's also why we have this video about a player who becomes the best tailback ever but can't start because his poor practices earlier in the season were counted against him.  Now the world of sports has brought us another example of how allowing practice grades to average into the overall grade can give a misleading perspective.  


Thanks to AFL member, Dr. Keith Perrigan, for sending us this softball story from Tri-Cities.com.  It's about Kelsey, a high school softball player, who, after a great season last year, had an almost season-long batting slump this year.  However, in the last few weeks of the season her bat came alive.  As a result, her team has a great chance to win the state championship.  (Read the full article here: http://www2.tricities.com/sports/2011/jun/10/prep-softball-nave-bearcats-ms-june-ar-1098004/)


At the time of the article, Kelsey's batting average was .265.  Not terrible, but not exactly the stuff of all-stars.  However, based on her ability - as demonstrated in the past - and based on her incredible run at the end of the season, she would be anybody's pick for a spot on an all-star team.  In fact, she'd be a no-brainer all-star except for one thing - her batting average.  Softball doesn't allow for a batting average to start over once a player gets hot; therefore, it's not uncommon for a batting average to tell an incomplete, or even incorrect, story.  Kelsey is the hottest player in the league, but her batting average is, well, average!  Should her coach player her?  Should other teams pitch around her?  If they're smart, the answer is "yes".  If they put all their stock in an average, then the answer is a very foolish "no".


So why do we educators put so much stock in averages?  We know they often don't tell accurate stories.  We know they rarely indicate the true measure of a student's learning.  We know that they also distort the impact of our teaching on students' learning.  Yet when push comes to show we will often swear by them.  We will cling to the argument that the average produced in our grade book is the absolute truth when it comes to a student's performance.  We will be offended and become indignant when someone suggests that a student's grade should something other than the average we derived.


Why is this?  Why do we cling to averages?


I suppose that part of the reason is that it's what has always been done.  Perhaps using a grading system that doesn't rely on averaging together a bunch of grades might seem too radical to some.  I guess there is also a certain amount of comfort and safety in relying on an average.  If a student or parent complains about a grade, the teacher can always use the grade book average as a justification. 


But what if Kelsey's coach decided to bench her?  What if his coaches in the past had always played the players based on batting average?  What kind of coach would he be?  Probably a fired one.  While batting averages are fun for us sports junkies, they aren't a reliable resource upon which to make all coaching decisions.  The same is true for grade book averages.  They might provide some useful data or feedback, but they are not a reliable enough resource upon which to base our grading decisions.  Teachers should feel free to act like Kelsey's coach.  Use the batting average as feedback, but assign a grade based on mastery - not solely on the average.  


Who is in charge of the team - the coach or the batting average?


Who is in charge of the classroom - the teacher or the grade book average?


Any thoughts?


E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of The Assessment Network to add comments!

Join The Assessment Network


  • Sorry this comment is so late, but I was just wondering if Alisa could elaborate on her scoring method.  Do her quizzes contain cumulative data?  If so, then with reasonable certainty, you could infer that the student is truly "mastering" the material.   Then depending on their other work, you might consider "bumping" them up to a 90%.
  • Great comments, Alisa.  I look forward to Mike post as well :) - but your post has me thinking... Perhaps Alisa Burns should be the one posting on grading practices!!
  • As we have discussed in Salem, many teachers want the grading process to feel objective - we want to make sure we are grading fairly, without letting our feelings get too much in the way.  But, grading fairly and grading objectively aren't necessarily the same thing.  In fact, grading is always subjective, since we, the teachers, are always making decisions about when to grade, what to grade, how to grade, how to calculate, etc.  I think the Power Law of Grading has some great components.  Of course, I love a good formula!  But, more specifically, I think many teachers (even those who acknowledge the downfalls of averaging) want a clear-cut method of calculating grading period grades.  This formula simply assigns weights to assignments with those furthest back counting the least.  Even without using the 4.0 scale in our six week grading practices, any interested teacher could implement a similar system.  My first quiz on a topic will be worth 10 points, the next will be worth 20, the third will be worth 30, and the fourth will be worth 40.  Now, a student scoring 50%, 75%, 90%, and 100%, respectively, will have an 87% in my class instead of a 79% (the average of these percentages).  I'm looking forward to reading Mike's blog post :)
  • Thanks, Mike, for the thoughtful reply.  In fact, I think it would make a worthy blog post all on its own.  What do you say?  Are you up for a post?
  • Hi Scott,

    Love your ning on AFL.  Keep up the good work.  Re: Kelsey and the kid (Scott) who wants to be the starting tailback: These are very good stories to grab the emotions of the reader and help them to feel the need for improvements in this area as opposed to appealing only to the intellect of the reader. 

    Another thought that comes to mind with regard to the inaccuracy and often times inappropriateness of using averages in our grading practices is more on the technical side.  It is actually a technical remedy for averages and takes into account a student's improved learning over time during a grading period.  I am referring to the Power Law of Grading as described by Robert Marzano in both "Classroom Assessment & Grading That Work" and "Transforming Classroom Grading."  There is a formula for it and some electronic grade books that will calculate it.  It is best used on narrower homogenous sections of curriculum and may not be appropriate for all situations.  It does, however, provide a more meaningful alternative to averages.  Here are some sites with more information: http://www.easygradepro.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=a...



    Mike Zellmer

This reply was deleted.

Blog Topics by Tags

Monthly Archives