Every student deserves a fair shot at success. This requires teachers to grade all students objectively. As simple as it sounds, objective grading can be difficult to implement. Teachers recognize that taking the time to provide ongoing feedback helps students improve. Apart from giving grades, working one-on-one with students, allowing multiple revisions of assignments, and inviting class discussion offer additional channels for teachers to give feedback.
If grades are only a part of the feedback that facilitates learning, how can educators make assessments both more comprehensive and more objective to accurately gauge student learning?
Giving zeros for incomplete work and having a single significantly weighted assignment determine a student’s pass-fail status are ineffective grading techniques because their sole focus is the outcome or the score, with little consideration for the student’s process and progress.
Thankfully, there are ways to remedy these teaching practices.
- Change the “0” to “Incomplete.” In Grading Policies That Work Against Standards (2000), Thomas Guskey writes that when teachers give students zeros for incomplete work, they fail to recognize what the student has learned and is able to do. Though punishing students for failing to complete an assignment seems reasonable, giving them a zero ultimately allows them to “skip” the learning material for that section. It could also remove any motivation for students to actualize their learning. Guskey offers a better solution: Require additional effort of students by having them come in on a Saturday or stay after school to complete the assignment. That way, students learn the material, redeem their grades, and become motivated to improve in order to avoid having to do remedial work on their own time.
- Give more weight to grades later in the semester. When students begin class in the fall, they are likely to know nothing (or very little) of the subjects they are being taught. Many teachers take the approach of simply averaging all the scores for homework, quizzes, and tests throughout the semester. The assignments from the beginning of the semester, however, don’t assess the same amount of learning as those at the end of the semester. End-of-semester assignments show an accumulation of knowledge, and grades for those later assignments should therefore be given more importance.
- Avoid having one make-it-or-break-it assignment. Having a single assignment make up 35-40% of the overall grade can send a lopsided signal to students. It essentially shows the student that a project that takes them less than a month to complete may in fact be the sole determiner of nearly five months of learning. Instead, take an approach that looks at the entirety of a student’s work to measure their command of the subject.
- Don’t let homework overtake the final grade. Cheryl Mizerny compares homework to the daily practices of athletes. Athletic practices are not “graded” by their coaches because coaches understand that learning and gaining a skill set happens through the practice. In the same way, consider using homework and daily work as a means of getting students to practice instead of a way to assess student learning. Keep in mind that some students might not have home environments conducive to study. This gives students with a supportive and quiet home environment an advantage over students without it.
- Grade students individually and only on their academic performance. Group work is useful in teaching students to collaborate and work together, but remember to evaluate students as individual learners. Create group assignments that allow you to see and assess individual student contributions. Avoid using grades as a means to punish bad behavior or reward good behavior. There are other ways to deal with behavioral issues, but grades should focus on mastery of the subject and not conduct in the classroom.
Emporia State University offers an online Master of Science in Curriculum & Instruction degree specifically for PreK-12 teachers. Students in this MS program learn ways to be more objective and fair as educators through courses such as ED 887: Developing Authentic Assessments. The course covers assessment tools that are both equitable and effective for evaluating student learning outcomes. It also includes approaches to assessment products, performances, processes, tests, and student self-reflection and self-evaluation.
Learn more about Emporia State University’s Master of Science in Curriculum & Instruction (C&I) – Effective Practitioner PreK-12 online program.
NASSP: Grading Policies That Work Against Standards … And How to Fix Them