If We Have to Give Kids Grades, Let’s Let Them Argue Their Merit
I sensed the anticipation as soon as I entered the classroom. Groups of students were huddled together flipping through notes and documentation. A few were going back and forth about what they were going to say. As I headed to the whiteboard a hush fell over the room and one student asked, “do we get the whole class period Mr. J?”
It was first marking period Appeals Day in my ninth grade English class.
And it was the first time my students had ever been told they were allowed to argue for their grades.
The bell rang and I answered, “Yes, you get the whole class period. Remember how this is structured and how you should act. The first ten minutes are for you to organize your appeals.” Students gathered together to make sure they were ready, as I waited for the arguments to begin.
My View on Grades Changed
As a new teacher, I was told time and time again not to give in to students who argued about grades. I was told they were complainers and would never be happy. Yet after almost every assessment, I had questions from students about their grades. At first, I took this personally, acting as if a student asking about a test question was an attack on my professional abilities. I look back embarrassed on how I handled these situations.
The reality is that many teachers still act like this. They treat tests and assessments as sacred documents that should never be questioned. My mindset changed during a grad school class in which our professor conferenced with each student about our grades. He told us to come prepared to defend how we were assessed. I was confused…but also happy to have a discussion about what I understood and where I could have done better throughout the class.
To me, we can treat assessments and grades in two different ways:
- Grades are payment for work performed, much like a salary.
- Grades are a reflection of how well a student demonstrates their ability/understanding, much like playing time on an athletic team.
If you treat grades like a salary, shouldn’t students be able to argue and fight for a better salary if they can prove they deserve it?
If you treat grades like playing time, shouldn’t students have a chance to show their ability beyond one practice/game?
My solution for our class was an end of the marking period, “Appeals Day”, where students could craft a defense of their grades and propose changes based on real evidence (not just their opinion).
Grades, in most of our schools, are still required and necessary for certain local, state, and national (college) requirements. I know there is a lively debate on giving homework and grades. This post is not about arguing whether or not we should give grades.
This is a solution for those of us who still work in a system that has grades in place. Let’s take a look.
Here’s the handout I gave them at the beginning of the Marking Period, about Appeals Day:
First and foremost, “Appeals Day” is a privilege. Remember this as you can lose a privilege at any time. During “Appeals Day” you have the ability to give reasons or cite evidence in support of an answer with the aim of persuading me to change your grade. There are no guarantees, regardless of how impressive your argument may be. That being said, Appeals Day does present a real opportunity to improve your grade, if you follow the rules and expectations.
– You will be respectful.
– You will come prepared.
– You will be patient.
– You will accept my final decision.
– You will follow the rules.
1. The first 10 minutes of class will be a time for you and your classmates to organize your appeals.
2. The rest of class I will hear your appeals.
3. The largest appeals (amount of people appealing) will begin first, and work down till there is only individual appeals remaining.
4. When appealing you must present the following information in a respectful manner: the assignment/paper/assessment, the question/area of concern, your given grade, what the problem is with your given grade, supporting evidence for your claim, what you believe your grade should be changed to.
5. After you present your appeal, I will provide my ruling. You will have one more chance to retort before the final verdict is made. Once the final verdict is made you must accept the decision and make room for the next appeal.
I hope you all enjoy appeals day as much as I do, and we can continue this end-of-the-marking period tradition throughout the school year.
The End Result
Appeals Day became an end of the marking period staple in my classes, and students loved the ability to argue with evidence for their grades. Many students received points back, and many didn’t get anything except a “good try” from me and their classmates. But the points weren’t the point.
Appeals Day was a success because it shifted how my students viewed grades. Instead of them seeing grades as a fixed, one-time assessment on their learning. It gave students ownership over their grades, and how they accepted assessments on their abilities.
Although many of my fellow teachers thought I was crazy for running Appeals Day each marking period, it also cut down all of the complaining that used to happen before about assessments and grades. Parents called in less about their students’ grades, and it was an open and transparent process.
The biggest benefit was how hard my students collaborated and worked to prepare for Appeals Day. They enjoyed it. And I never once said they had to collaborate…they did it out of purpose and necessity.
If you try Appeals Day in your class or do something similar, please let us know!
Call to Action
I’d love to hear your comments below, and I also have the Epic Guide to Student Ownership that you can sign-up for here because we all need a guide and inspiration (not just the steps to complete the task). This guide showcases FIVE different projects to get students to create while learning from failing along the way. Enjoy!