To Grade or not to grade…that is the question!

I have had so many conversations with teachers about grades and it has challenged me to think about the purpose, effectiveness, and the challenge of grades and HAVING to assign grades to students.

Some of the deficits that I see in using a grading system:

  • How is it possible that 1 letter grade can truly capture what a student has/hasn’t learned?
  • How much of a student’s grade is based on work that was completed at home?  Are grades supposed to represent what they learned/did at home or what they learn at school?
  • All students are different, how is it possible to build a “grade book” that shows student growth even if the “growth” is different?
  • Too many teachers use grades to “teach” students the importance of responsibility, but is that really what grades should be about?
  • Weighting…oh the problem of weighting…

Ex. I am a teacher and I weight my gradebook so that 50% is assessments, 40% classwork/projects/HW, 10% independent reading.  Let’s just say, I only have 1 assignment in independent reading and it is worth 5 points.  They either did the assignment or not.  So let’s say a kid didn’t do the assignment and can’t make it up.  That means this student automatically goes from an A to a B in my class.  No matter what this student does, his/her grade cannot go above a B because he/she received a 0 in independent reading and that is 10% of the grade.

  • I know that this might not happen often but it does happen.  Teachers sometimes don’t think through the concept that weighting plays a HUGE role in final grades.

It is sad to me that we are stuck in a system (in middle school) where we, as teachers, are forced to assign a letter grade to a student.  My daughter is in 1st grade and her report card is 100% standards based and I LOVE it as a teacher and a mom.  I do see ways that it can improve but it is at least moving in the correct direction.

I do not claim to have the answer, but I know that if I have to work within the system of “Letter Grades” there are a few things that I would make sure and think through before “assigning” a kid a grade.

  1. I would NOT weight.
  2. I would allow students to re-write, re-take, re-do.
  3. I would ask myself every week:  “What did my students learn this week?  Is their learning represented in the grade book?”  If not, how can I make sure that it is represented and I would re-assess what I am including in my grade book.
  4. I would be flexible in how I grade, always noting changes, added points in order to meet the needs of all of my students.

I love this Tweet from Alice Keeler and agree that reflecting on grading and what it represents is so valuable and necessary!

I am not sure what the answer is and to be honest this topic has been the hardest part of being a teacher for me.  I have tried so many ways, so many methods and still don’t feel that the single letter grade I give a student truly represents their growth in our class, but I will keep trying until I find a way within the broken system to create a grade book that truly represents what students are learning and how they are growing!

So while I cannot yet abandon grades, I do like the shift of language (in tweet below) that I can use and teach my students to use to re-frame our thinking.