What does this "A" really mean? What's the purpose of a grade? What meaning do we want grades to convey? These were questions we asked ourselves as we, the teachers at Vernon Malone College and Career Academy, started to write our new grading policy.
I have to be honest, it was the first time I had ever considered the purpose of a grade. As a staff we research, discussed, and after a several working sessions established that "a grade is a fair and consistent measurement that gauges student mastery of learning objectives." (VM Grading Policy) As I reflected on this definition I realized, along with everyone else, that we needed to establish a new norm for a secondary grading policy in our district.
In one of our staff meetings we discussed the elementary report card. In our district elementary kids are graded using a 4 point rubric. Each standard is listed for the year and a point system communicates with parents their child's mastery. Additional comments are added that describe behavior and other anecdotal information. On the contrary, at the secondary level we use a grading scale that is interpreted with A-F grades. In essence, everything a student does is wrapped up in one grade. So, in this case, how can a single grade represent the content mastery of the student? In my opinion it can't, not when we also include things like behavior grades and extra credit.
So is there a natural consequence for including behavior in grades if the purpose is to show mastery of a standard? I think so. I think it promotes grade inflation. Think about it. Think about that kid in your class that can't do.....hmmm...let's say Math II. You look at his previous grades and see he passed Math I with a B. You're shocked and wonder how did that happen? It happens because we include behavior measures like participation, homework completion grades (5 point for completing the homework 0 if it's not done), and extra credit. So if we establish that grades are to communicate mastery of the content, we should be asking what doesn't belong in the current content grade? How can we separate content grades from behavior? What could this look like at the secondary level?
At VM we quickly recognized the same grading dilemma and decided "that achievement should be communicated separately from information about student's effort and behavior." (VM Grading Policy) We worked as a staff and defined summative & formative assessments and agreed that only summative grades would "count toward a student’s grade in order for the grade to reflect only the academic achievement.” We than established that “formative assessments are designed to provide the student with direction for improvement and to provide the teacher with direction for instruction. Performance on formative assessment will be reflected in the student effort and behavior grade." (VM Grading Policy) The rubric for "Student Effort and Behavior Grade" includes meeting deadlines, preparedness, participation, and respect. We also established policies for homework, missed work, classwork, extra credit, missed work, & grade calculations. The grading policy at VM is still a work in progress. We committed to revisiting our policies at the end of the year reflect and make adjustments. We don't claim that the policy is perfect, but if you are curious feel free to take a look.
Changing grading policies can be an arduous process and requires an expert facilitator to guide the conversation. Regardless, I also think it’s a conversation schools need to have. So, if this notion of grading challenges your perspective take a moment to reflect, pose a question or leave a comment.
Teacher, leader, curious observer, explorer of the world and everything in it, passionate about new experiences, and making connections with people.