Leading the Grading Conversation
If I had the magic pen and could change anything I wanted about teacher preparation programs, one of the first things I would do is address the woeful job that is done in preparing soon to be teachers to grade student work. As we work with educators in multiple settings, we see some persistent and troubling practices with student grading. Here are a few simple, and seemingly obvious rules about grading that we feel every educator should know and adhere to.
First and foremost, only assess what you’ve taught and identified as a learning target. If you are trying to assess innate ability, you are into a dangerous realm fraught with bias and significant validity and reliability issues. If you are trying to grade something like motivation or effort, you need to have some clear, objective criteria and actually teach / coach it. In all the grading formulas that I have seen that include these sources of grades, I have never seen clear criteria or any instruction on them. These usually become ways for teachers to get around their own grading policies and push grades one way or the other — and it usually belies a degree of bias.
Second, we need to stop pretending that adherence to the rules of normative statistics means that the grading formula is valid. Just because your numbers average to a 75 does not mean that 75 is a valid representation. Averaging formative and summative data is problematic and ultimately serves to hamper student learning, especially in the early phases of units when they are expected to be novices and not as skilled.
The use of zeros is not statistically valid, disproportionately punishes students, and is actually assessing something else entirely. In grading schemes, letter grades generally represent a range of about 10 points, an “A” is 90–100. To maintain this integrity, an “F” should be about 10 points, as well. Anything below a 55 gives that particular grade more weight in the grading formula than all other assignments.
The common objection to this is how to respond when a student does not complete, or turn in an assignment, at all. The significant psychometric problem with giving a zero in this situation is that the grade is now an evaluative mark assessing compliance, not the learning targets the assessment is designed to measure. There is a validity issue. The grade ostensibly represents a judgement about how much or how well the student knows a segment of the curriculum. In the case of failure to turn in work, we don’t know what the student does or does not know, we only know that the student refused to comply.
Grading practices are given short shrift by teacher preparation schools and, as a result, teachers grade the way they were graded. These poor practices persist and are passed on in some terrible educational institutional tradition. Let’s all give student grading the basic attention that it deserves.
There is no failure. Only feedback.
– Robert Allen