Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Grading: Arbitrary Punishment?

At our administrative meeting yesterday, our fearless leader began to dig deeper about how the system of grading really works at our high school, and, ultimately, what its purpose is. It got me thinking about the difference between grading and assessing. Recognizing that we can't do yet without a grading system, how could the one we have work better for our students and our teachers?

It's a no-brainer that in today's public schools, assessment has taken on a different meaning than when I was in high school in the late 80's. If we are to be held accountable, then our students must learn the standards, and if our students are to learn what we want them to learn, then we must assess, assess, and assess in various and different ways, formatively and summatively. And then based on the results, we change our instruction, reteach, remediate, support - whatever we have to do to make sure our students learn.

Conversely, research has shown that grading is "ineffective, time-consuming, and hurtful" to both teachers and students (Zemelman et al. 314). Grading, at best, is superficial, based on an arbitrary, pre-determined number scale that has symbolic meaning only. Well, then, what good are grades? Can't we get rid of them? Hold on. Not anytime soon. Our society isn't ready; grading systems are too entrenched in our culture. And there aren't enough educators out there who want to fight the long battle; there are too many other battles to fight.

So if grades are staying, we have to make sure the process from assessment to final indicator, the grade, is as seamless, fair, timely, and consistent within a content area as possible, for both students and teachers. If the real thought and effort goes into designing and constructing the assessments, which is where you want it, then grading should be rote with consistent rules to follow, and there should be little room for subjectivity.

I never lose sight of this: a grade by itself, an A- for example, tells us very little about the student or the teacher. A look at the student's work, however, should tell the story if the assessments are worthwhile. That's another post.

Work Cited:
Zemelman et al. Best Practice: Today's Standards for Teaching and Learning in America's Schools. Heinemann: Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 2005.