How I abolished grading

David Martin
Oct 3, 2017 · 4 min read

I started teaching high school Calculus at my school a couple of years ago. When I started teaching the course, I used a traditional assessment strategy. I would assign homework daily, end the week with a quiz, and then end the unit with a multiple choice/written exam.

My classes would start around 30 students, and by the end of the semester the class size would be 20. What I thought I was doing was “weeding out the weak”. One day, I realized that I wasn’t weeding out the weak mathematicians, but instead weeding out the weak test writers.

This year, after many talks with first year University and College professors, administrators, teachers, students, and parents, I am proud to say that I have abolished grading. We are currently in the middle of our semester and I have not graded a single item of student work.

Before you continue, I want to remind you that this does not mean I have not assessed, but not one student in my Calculus classes has received a grade at this point. (Other than the report card mark which I must give — and I essentially let the students self report their grades.).

How does it work?

First, I went through my outcomes, given to me by the government, and identified what the “Rocks” are. These rocks are the outcomes which I expect the students to master above all other outcomes. I chose these certain outcomes after my discussions with others and as well as what will be helpful for students to succeed in the future.

Next, these outcomes were rewritten in student friendly language and then provided to the students on the first day of class.

My teaching schedule did not change, nor did the speed on which I have taught the course, but what has changed is the speed at which the students can learn at. Once I had taught 2 or 3 outcomes at a level where I felt that the class has mastered the outcome, I administered a summative assessment. For this assessment, each child wrote it as a traditional exam, but it looked drastically different than a traditional exam. Each assessment was entirely written, broken up by outcomes, and tested only the basics of the outcomes. There were no “trick questions”, just simple questions that would assess “Can the child demonstrate this outcome, on their own, as a basic level of understanding?”

When I assessed these assessments, I would write comments only on them, and either a “Outcome demonstrated” or “Need to learn” for each outcome assessed (Not on the overall assessment). It is very important to understand that “Outcome demonstrated” is not a 100%, as a student could make a minor mistake and still achieve this, as I am assessing understanding the outcome, not perfection.

Next, if the child received a “Need to learn” he/she must do the following:

  1. Demonstrate the understanding of the questions given at a later date. This usually occurs after a lunch session, a quick conversation, or multiple conversations with the child.
  2. A conversation explaining how he/she made the mistake earlier and how their understanding has changed now
  3. Write another assessment on the outcomes.

If after completing these 3 steps, he/she can demonstrate the outcomes then I would I count this as “Outcome demonstrated” just as if the child had done it the first time. I do not deduct marks based on the number of tries needed.

If the child still does not demonstrate, (which is extremely unlikely as I have seen) then he/she must repeat the same 3 steps. The critical piece is that I need to ensure actual learning has occurred before I reassess the student.

After 5–7 outcomes have been taught, then each child is assigned an open ended project. This project consists of each student creating a problem around the math in the 5–7 outcomes and solving it. The expectation is the problem is one which is deep, relevant, and for a purpose. This part is not always easy!

An example: A student to demonstrate his understanding created a Call of Duty video and determined the rate of change of a ballistic knife falling in the video.

These projects usually range from 3–5 pages and must be handed in individually, but can be worked on with assistance from others and/or textbooks.

To assess these projects, I follow the same pedagogy from above. I use comments only, and give guidance towards any errors I see. The projects are then handed back to each student, who can go back, make corrections, and rehand it in. This process is repeated until the child receives perfection on the project.

I have even abolished the traditional final exam. The expectation is the students must give me a 30–45 minute presentation around the rocks of the course, and demonstrate their understanding of all rocks.

How do I get a final mark percentage?

I simply take the number of outcomes and projects completed (at the end of the course) and divide by the total number of outcomes and projects. This is not the best strategy, but it seems to work for me at this moment. I do weigh projects twice as much. (I have 20 outcomes, and 5 projects, so the total is (20+5x2=30)

Here is my updated list of rocks.

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Reimagining the learning and teaching of mathematics

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