Drop That “Busy Work” Like It’s Hot

This is a cross post from Pondering Education.

I have worked with a lot of educators over the years. Each faculty and each school that I have visited they are different in so many ways. Now, this is not necessarily something to look down upon. However, there is one area that is consistently (wildly) inconsistent is every building that I visit – grading and assessment… the taboo topic in every schoolhouse.

I know… I went there.

Teachers don’t like to talk grading and assessment – ever. But, I do. In fact, grading and assessment is something that I am passionate about. Before you continue on, I must ask a question of you: do you assign busy work?

If so, shame, shame. If not, high five!

So here is the skinny on grading and assessment. I must first admit, it is something that we constantly have to work on in my building. Do the assignments that we ask our students to complete in our classrooms have a purpose? If the answer is no – then stop assigning them – like, now.

There are several areas that we should focus on when bringing purposeful assessment to your building:

Drop the Zero

100-point grading scales are mathematically inaccurate – it is a fact. We must stop the use of the zero in our buildings immediately. The zero holds six times more weight than any other grade that we can assign students. Use of the zero in our grading practices could potentially eliminate a student’s chances of passing a course in the first semester. This is what I refer to as the Grading Abyss. It is a pitfall, that when students fall into it, they will act a fool in your class as they have no mathematical chance of passing your course – even with a 100%.

Laws of Averaging State: 0% + 100% = 100%; when we divide that by 2, we get 50%. A failing grade. Bummer.

Do you know why we grade students? You should.

Grades, at least at the middle and secondary levels, are about student proficiency with the standards that we teach. Anything else that we grade students on – other than proficiency on the standards – pollutes your grades. Say, if you grade students on participation (subjective) or behavior (subjective) – the grade becomes a reflection of much more than the student’s proficiency on the standards you are teaching. Parents when they see an A or a D on a progress report would not know whether the students are proficient on the standards, or are just a compliant student in your class.

Meaningful Feedback

Grading for completion? C’mon… you know you’ve done it. I was guilty of it during my early years in the classroom.

If we assign students work, we owe it to them to provide them with meaningful feedback. Checking (and assigning grades) for completion is nothing but “busy work”. Our students know that and they are on to us.

What if we grade for completion, but a student actually doesn’t have a clue about what they are talking about. Hypothetically one could pass a student that knows nothing about the content area that we are teaching them in. Again, bummer. We would be guilty of contributing to just passing students on.

If you assign work – provide your students with meaningful feedback.

In schools across this country, we must tighten up our grading and assessment practices. The ability to assign grades comes with a lot of power. With great power, comes great responsibility.

If we haphazardly assign grades and award credit without reason, we are going to produce students that are not proficient in any areas. On the other end, we are also failing hundreds of thousands of students every year based on what? This question is especially important when we reflect on the reasons for the 1.2 million high school dropouts that we encounter each year in the United States.

So, I ask that as you begin the new school year that you look hard and redefine assessment in your classroom, schoolhouse, or district. Go forth and do great things.

Mike Meechin, M.Ed.
mike.meechin (at) gmail.com
@mikemeechin

Michael Meechin is a high school assistant principal, educator, speaker, and writer. Michael speaks and writes on topics that include education reform, high-impact instructional strategies, grading & assessment, and instructional technology. Meechin is a proud product of the inner-city public education system. He has spent his career in at-risk schools with high needs student populations in Central Florida and Metropolitan Atlanta. Serving as a social studies teacher, AVID coordinator, data & assessment coordinator, dean of students, and assistant principal, Mike has a wide varieties of experiences which make him an asset to schools and districts looking for assistance reaching underserved student populations.