Grading practices and traditions are deeply engrained in each of us from when we, ourselves, were students.
We believe that grades define us as learners to either be smart or stupid in a particular subject area depending on how we've traditionally performed in any given class.
But this may or may not be an accurate way for us to define ourselves.
In an effort to really understand the beliefs different teachers have about grading, I've been spending time talking to a real teacher, learning what they think to continue the dialogue.
Jim Cordery, a math teacher from New Jersey took the time to share his ideas about grading with me in this below interview.
What are your current beliefs about grading? What is the purpose of it?
The purpose of grading is to provide information to the student about their current level on a particular topic or standard. That level is expected to change as the student becomes better with the standard. It is the teacher's responsibility to allow the "grade" to be flexible enough to fluctuate with the ups and downs of the learning process. I provide my students with as many opportunities to improve their grade on a standard through retakes and redoes. My constant battle is getting them to focus on the learning over the grade. I am more successful with this with each passing year I teach. It is a constant battle...
What are your current grading practices and how do you feel they serve your students? parents? data?
I do not grade anything until we have covered the topic for a few days. I will get a feel of how the students are doing before grading an assignment. I never grade anything the first time we attempt something. I have also used a brief formative assessment to measure their understanding before feeling confident assigning it for a grade. I have also used formative assessments as grades for students that will not do the work at home.
I have had very positive feedback from both my students and parents regarding my policy. Are there areas I could improve? Absolutely. I do not always feel some give me their best effort first knowing they can just retake it, but that is decreasing over the year as well.
What do you feel is the most essential part of learning in terms of the communication of it?
Talking to my students. Giving them feedback. Sitting down with them while they are in groups to hear their discussions. Students need a chance to talk about topics to better understand it. I have learned that the one doing most of the talking is doing most of the learning. I have tried talking less than I did when I first started teaching.
What reservations do you have in regards to TTOG?
Honestly, it is taking the time to teach my students another way of thinking. I am very hesitant about taking days to discuss a new learning environment/strategy. I do not have a lot of extra time in my school year to stray from the math curriculum.
Do you feel we need to consider alternative solutions to the traditional grading system? Why or why not?
Without a doubt, yes. Students need to be focusing on learning, not just achieving points. Having said that, teachers need to have a program that allows students the opportunity to try something, struggle with it, and improve to understanding a standard.
What would the ideal grading communication look like?
Standards-based grading. This grading practice forces teachers to see how the students measure up to a particular standard as opposed to just accumulating points. Everyone involved can then see exactly what areas the student does well in or may need help with. Points or percentages have a tendency to glaze over this.
For example, a student can get an 85% on a test, yet miss every question that deals with one particular standard. The "high score" on the test can hide that fact. Standards-Based Grading is one thing the Common Core has had a positive effect on, in my opinion.
*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher Blog in April of 2015