I had the opportunity while presenting at the Texas ASCD Conference in Austin to attend a session presented by Tom Guskey-Toward More Effective Grading Policies and Practices. (See link for his book.)
I’ve always enjoyed listening to and reading Tom’s work as it engages my thinking. I was particularly interested in this topic as I had been asked last year to examine grading with high school teachers (See earlier blog).
Guskey suggested that grading was an area where our knowledge and practice were perhaps at the greatest gap in all of education. He shared a study where 200 secondary teachers were sent a sample of student writing and asked to grade it using their criteria. The results were 15% A, 15% F and everything in between. Some suggested that the problem occurred because writing was a subjective product so the study was repeated using a math paper. The results were an even greater disparity in grades. I was surprised to then learn that the study he shared was conducted in 1912. We have known about the problem a long time.
The audience that I was part of was polled on three questions. How would you respond?
What are the reasons for giving grades?
Ideally, what should be the purpose of grades?
Options ranged from communicating with students and parents, sorting students for special programs, encouraging work and punishing lack of effort.
In the ASCD audience there was not consensus on purpose.
What evidence should be part of a grade?
Nearly twenty items were listed from end of course test, course projects, homework, participating in class, effort, attitude, attendance, punctuality, etc. When we voted on the number of items we’d use, I was on the low end selecting 4 items which were all summary test or major projects, others selected 8 items including homework, some selected 14 including attitude. Again the message…there was no agreement! So when students and parents get their grades, it’s quite possible no one knows what it means.
Guskey stated that research would support these findings:
#1 Grading is not essential to the instruction process. Checking and feedback are essential.
#2 No one method of grading serves all the purposes well.
#3 Mathematic processes do not guarantee fair or more objective grading.
#4 Grading and reporting should always be done in reference to learning criteria – NEVER on a curve.
Guskey suggested that most educators received no training in how to grade (I know that I didn’t). He said we therefore consider what was done to us. Often taking the most recent example- college….where often the worst practices existed.
My thoughts as I sat through this presentation: WOW! Coaches and mentors should be spending lots of time helping teachers consider why and how and when they grade. Lots of PLC time should be invested in how grading impacts student achievement. This is complex work because multiple purposes for grading require multi-faceted comprehensive grading and reporting systems.
I can’t help but to see a connection with all the grading problems listed above and the current race to evaluate teachers. I met with some Tennessee teachers this week and listened to their frustrations regarding implementation of new evaluation and grading methods. Looks like many reasons are being given for the grading of teachers and yet a single system is trying to achieve multiple outcomes.
As Guskey identified, a grading system designed to promote learning is different form one designed to sort and reward. I often see the same dilemma as schools look to generate teacher development in the midst of a sorting/rewarding/punishing teacher evaluation system.