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Philosophical Meanderings

What is My Grading Philosophy?

Today I had an important conversation with my instructional director. My professional focus for growth this year has been to really hone my assessment skills. I have begun to use more techniques to check for understanding, I have begun to break down my teaching into manageable goals and I have really begun to take seriously the idea that if my kids fail, it’s a true reflection on me as a teacher. I have developed an assessment system that helps me track individual student progress–all 300 of ’em (no blog post for that one yet).So now I have come to the part of my journey where I am working on turning those observations into a grade.

Grades have always irked me somewhere deep inside. I never felt that they really told a parent what their child was doing in my class or gave them a snapshot of the amazing projects they were doing. I also felt that my students often cared more about the grade than what we were doing. “Is this going to be graded?” They’d ask. Or ” My mom doesn’t care about what I get in Technology. She only cares about reading and math.”  As a result, I barely talk about grades in my class. I don’t say “if you don’t do it, you’ll get a zero.” Or, “Remember, this is part of your grade.” I talk in terms of expectations, what I want to see them do, what they are learning, why they are learning it and I provide them with enough choice to make what their doing (hopefully) personally meaningful.

Yet, my gradebook stares at me every day and begs to be completed.

See, I have no problem with assessing kids–I am constantly formally and informally assessing my students.  I also have no problem with evaluation. My 5th and 6th graders have been evaluating each other’s videos these past 2 weeks to prepare for revisions. What I can’t seem to wrap my head around is turning my notes and assessments into a letter, number or check mark.  I’d rather tell a student that they have mastered using the fill tool in a drawing program than give them 20 points for the day.

After a member of my Twitter network for whom I have a lot of respect posted her blog post, So How’s This Whole No Grading Thing Going?, another esteemed colleague asked me:

To which I responded:

It is a great question. For all of my grading practices, I think I DO have a grading philosophy.

  • I believe that if my students fail, it means that I failed in some way.
  • I believe that behavior should not be part of a content area grade, though it can be evaluated separately.
  • I believe that independent work should be meaningful, of high quality, tied to a standard/objective and play a part in a larger concept or project (not busywork or seat work)
  • I believe that my students need real feedback, not grades
  • I believe that parents deserve to know more about their child’s progress than an “A” or a number
  • I believe that assessments should reflect what students know, not their participation
  • I believe that sometimes we cannot be 100% sure of what a student knows until they’ve been given a chance to apply it, so evaluation may not occur right away

I had a wonderful chat with Russ Goerend about the grading principles at his school and he gave me some wonderful ideas.  His school bases all assessments on standards, objectives and benchmarks. Seems normal, except that his students ‘defend’ their learning by explaining why and how they understand the standard. He got my brain juices flowing.

Since I teach in a computer lab, I base my curriculum on ISTE’s NETS for Students.  All of my projects and activities are based around these standards and goals. I hope to begin pulling together a rubric for each of the standards I want my students to master and then have them either write a blog post explaining how they have mastered the standard or create a video or podcast (for younger students or students who may require accommodations).  Then I can share the work with parents.

If I need to provide a grade, then I can create a rubric for each standard and base student evaluations on their mastery of a particular standard on their report card rather than on individual assignments. I’m still not sure how different that would be than giving a grade, but I’m still figuring that out.

For now I will make my philosophy work within the existing practices.

Who knows, I may change my mind tomorrow!

What are your thoughts?

Also, please take the time to check out Pernille Ripp’s grading post: So How’s This Whole Grading Thing Going?


14 thoughts on “What is My Grading Philosophy?

  1. I have never felt comfortable about giving grades for all the reasons you set out plus one more: no two teacher’s As, Bs or whatever mean the same thing. As a parent I need to know way more than that my kid got a C or a 78. I need to know why. I need to know what my son has learned and what he hasn’t gotten the grasp of yet. As a teacher, I know that my B is not the same as the B from the teacher next door because I have a grading philosophy (similar to but not the same as yours) and I’m not sure she does. Or if she does, ours differ.

    The college I went to did not give letter grades. I got a narrative report about the learning I had demonstrated in each class. The report gave specifics about what I did in the class and how I had demonstrated the learning, often citing comments I made in papers I wrote. I teach at that college now and we still write narratives although we also now give letter grades (apparently graduate schools demanded them).

    I know it is tine-consuming to write essays on the learning of the dozen or so students in the college study-groups I teach and I know it would be much more daunting to do the same for the 30 students in my my typical middle school class, not to mention almost impossible for you to do for your 300 students, but even so, dont you agree that doing so would be much better for our students and their parents?

    Posted by Deven Black | January 21, 2011, 12:14 am
    • Deven, I don’t think there’s a teacher out there who doesn’t agree that an “A” from one teacher is not the same as an “A” from another. The difference is some can live with it and we can’t.

      As for time consuming, I’m crafting in my mind some way to leverage a technology tool to make these kinds of narrative reports less time consuming. I am hoping to work with the art teacher to create a system for next year.

      Posted by marybethhertz | January 23, 2011, 12:06 am
  2. It is so refreshing to see a post like this! While I am sure that you have found people that oppose your ideas, I think you will likely find more and more people who agree, or are at least starting to. I have been studying grading practices to clarify my own philosophy, and I could not agree more, our success is measured in student success, and the purpose of assessment is to give students and ourselves feedback top alter our practice and guide us in the right direction. And behaviour certainly can be evaluated, but separately from achievement (if you are interested, see my post on Docking Student Paychecks ).

    Great post!

    Posted by Cale Birk | January 21, 2011, 12:38 am
  3. Loved this: I believe that sometimes we cannot be 100% sure of what a student knows until they’ve been given a chance to apply it, so evaluation may not occur right away.
    I kind of look at the semester’s work as “development,” as working toward a final goal (which is an understanding of the material as demonstrated in a product, be that an exam or a paper or whatever). So it seems really unfair to me to grade projects early in the semester while that learning is still taking place and that understanding is being developed. Certainly there ARE things you can gauge-test-grade along the way, but as I told my students last semester, if you go to take your driver’s test 13 times and fail it 13 times, but then pass it the 14th, your 14 FAILS are not “averaged in” with your pass, thus giving some sort of “lower grade license.” YOU JUST GET YOUR LICENSE BECAUSE YOU KNOW HOW TO DRIVE. And more, those 13 fails helped you to finally pass in some way.
    Thanks for this post. 🙂

    Posted by Max Shenk | January 21, 2011, 10:53 am
    • Thanks for sharing your post, Cale. I love the idea of not allowing a kid to take the easy way out by getting a zero and making them do the work. I have very few, if any, zeros in my class. Any I do have are usually based on attendance.

      I also believe that behavior should be evaluated, but, as you say, separately.

      Posted by Mary Beth Hertz | January 23, 2011, 12:23 am
    • Love the driver’s license analogy!

      Posted by Mary Beth Hertz | January 23, 2011, 12:28 am
  4. Marybeth, Can I please direct you to these two superb videos on building an effective assessment community with students? Ron Berger has been incredibly influential for me in my thinking about assessment and rigor–rigor as defined by students–and how assessment can be a tool of learning rather than a labeling and control practice in service of the institution or the larger culture.

    Here’s a High Tech High teacher using the techniques in an 11th grade class:

    I have long hated the practice of grading and moved to having my students grade themselves, using rubrics that they developed along with other students. Sounds like you are doing this. Please let me know what you think of Ron’s work. You might also check out his interview on the relationship between good work and beauty. Also very powerful.


    PS thank you David Loitz!

    Posted by Kirsten | January 21, 2011, 4:04 pm
    • Thanks for the links, Kirsten! I look forward to doing more reflection after checking them out. I definitely want to get my students doing more self-assessment and reflection. This will require a lot of ‘unlearning’ and, in my experience, at least 3 or 4 times before it really begins to click for them.

      Thanks again.

      Posted by Mary Beth Hertz | January 23, 2011, 12:32 am
  5. I will always recommend Ron Berger to any one! so Your welcome Kirsten!!!! Thanks for posting the videos….

    I will try to reflect on this tonight….in the thick of EDU Conversation at Goddard College right now!


    Posted by dloitz | January 21, 2011, 6:38 pm
  6. This is a great prompt, Mary Beth.

    Joe’s #abolishgrades work and testimonials, as well as Shawn Cornally’s #sbar work, might be useful here. Joe has collected posts from several educators describing their approaches to authentic assessment during grading moratoria. Shawn’s blog – ThinkThankThunk – provides example after example of performance-based teaching and assessment tasks aligned to standards-based assessment and reporting – #sbar.

    I also love the work Berger and his students do.

    I’m right in the thick of somehow cross-walking my observations and feedback into report card grades, which are the only grades I’m giving this year. I hope I plan my time better next Fall so I can run enough parent information nights and call enough folks in my school community to make a fair and real go of communicating with students and families entirely without grades.

    All of this reminds me of an idea for a post – so thanks for that 🙂

    Best regards,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 21, 2011, 9:17 pm
    • Love reading the accounts on Joe’s blog about abolishing grading. I would love to move toward standards-based grading as well. Sadly, I am stuck for the rest of the year with the system we have. I want to communicate more specifically with parents about what their child is doing in my classroom, though, as Deven stated, it requires a lot more work. I would love to find a way to create personal narratives for each child that would truly paint a picture for them.

      I wonder, what mediums are you planning on using for communicating student progress next Fall?

      Posted by Mary Beth Hertz | January 23, 2011, 12:37 am
  7. Grades are traditionally summative, feedback is formative. The rub comes when we define the purpose of grades.

    Posted by Becky Fisher | January 23, 2011, 1:54 pm


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