One of my students recently came back from a different class. She ran right in to tell her friends that they had an assessment and she got 20.5 points out of 20. She was so excited about the points that she had earned.
I said, “Oh that’s cool. What did you learn?” She couldn’t answer the question. She could say that she got half a point extra for remembering to put the date at the top of her page. (What is that even assessing?) It got me wondering, how does this assess her learning? How do these points show her progress toward grade-level proficiency? How do these points show her growth over the course of the year?
A Grading Realization
While I was student teaching third grade many years ago I came to a startling though not surprising conclusion. Kids only cared about their work when they knew what it was worth in points. Before beginning anything they asked how many points it was worth. When they were questioned if the work they were turning in was their best work, they asked how many points it was worth. Before any task, during any task, after any task, the question was always the same. How many points is this worth? It drove me absolutely insane. As a person who loves all learning, I couldn’t understand why they were so obsessed with points. Wasn’t it too young for them to be throwing away learning opportunities because they felt it wasn’t worth enough? Are there really moments in the classroom that can be thrown away? Shouldn’t we do something about this?
And so I did. I stopped telling them points and how much things were worth, much to the displeasure of my cooperating teacher. Once they realized I wasn’t going to tell them how many points they had or what “counted” in the gradebook and what didn’t; the learning started taking off. Not taking off too far, don’t get the idea that I was some sort of genius student teacher. But the investment in learning increased and I was happier and they were learning much more. Instead of investing in their grade they invested themselves in the learning.
Enough With the Points
I’ve luckily never taught in a school that made me track grades with points. When you look in my gradebook there are assessments but instead of measuring knowledge in points, I’ve found it much more beneficial to measure learning in growth and progress towards grade level standards. This doesn’t mean that my grades aren’t accurate or that I don’t know where my students are it means the exact opposite. I know where each of my students are on the continuum of learning for each of the skills that they need to master. I know where each of them has been and the trajectory that they will likely take to get there. I know them as learners and I know that they value learning.
Standards Based Grading
I use a system called standards-based grading. I grade my students on their progress towards the end of the year standards. This system determines grades based on a student’s progress towards a standard. Often this method uses a 1, 2, 3, 4 method of grading, please see below.
Instead of giving everything a points value and deciding that a student has a 97%, the progress is determined based on each standard. If you have a 90% what does that mean? What 90% of the content have you mastered? What 10% do you still not know? Here are a few of the differences between traditional grading and standards-based grading.
Using a standards based grading system makes things easier for me as a teacher. I can more accurately report on student progress to parents and students. I know where my students are in which skills and know what to emphasize with each child.
I will say that report cards can take a bit longer because you have to enter more grades BUT isn’t it better to give parents more specific feedback? I know in my heart that it is much better.
In the example below you can see the difference in report cards. I just filled in random grades and numbers and this is not based on a student just on whatever number I felt like pressing.
A teacher I follow on instagram shared an end of the year memory page with her followers. It was so adorable. A teacher asked how she grades to memory page. This blew my mind! Why would you grade a memory page? Unless it ties in with your standards we shouldn’t tell kids they got a 94% on their end of the year memory page.
Do we stop the learning when a grade is given? I feel that students deserve better than what has always been done. They deserve to know that all learning is valuable. After an assessment, skills learned are still relevant, if they aren’t, then why are we teaching them. Kids deserve knowing that all work they complete is valuable but work while they’re beginning to learn a skill shouldn’t count the same as work completed near mastery. What does assigning points to anything really do? I know it makes it easy to spit out a percentage grade at the end of a quarter but what does that say about learning? Couldn’t we say more? Couldn’t we do better?
Are we filling a bucket or lighting a fire? How does your grading system support or hinder your answer to this question?
Share your thoughts in the comments below!