Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Why Do We Give Grades?

In Beliefs about Grading, Pam Shoemaker talks about how we give grades to document progress. She attended a meeting where the facilitator discussed some common grading pitfalls according to the author of a book he read:
1. Avoid nonacademic factors (behavior, attendance, etc.)
2. Avoid penalizing for multiple attempts at mastery.
3. Avoid grading homework.
4. Avoid recording zeros for work not done
5. Avoid group grades. Cooperative learning helps students learn, but is not an indicator of proficiency.
Pam shared her feelings about these pitfalls and it made me think about them also so I’m going to share with you my feelings.

1. I agree that you cannot factor in nonacademic factors into a grade. Yet poor behavior and attendance will ultimately affect the grade anyway. If the student is not there for whatever reason, that student will not be able to master the skill. When you give an assessment, the student will be unable to answer questions if they missed the information due to suspension or absences. If you are comparing where this student stands next to his/her peers in the classroom, it would be unfair to give this student the same grade as someone who is in the classroom and acting appropriately.
2. I think you need to look at the reason for your assessment. If you are trying to compare where the student stands next to his/her peers, you will have to penalize for multiple attempts. The student who achieved the goal the first time should receive a higher grade than the one who needed multiple times to succeed. But if you are just testing the mastery of the skill, I do not think multiple attempts should matter. When we attempt the driving test to get a driver’s license, does it matter how many times it took to pass the test? Is the number of attempts shown anywhere on our record? No, not as long as we mastered the skill. I feel the same should be applied in the classroom.
3. I think homework should be graded. Again, what is the purpose of the homework? If it is just busywork, it not only shouldn’t be graded, but it shouldn’t be given. I believe homework is reinforcement of a skill that was taught in the classroom. The completed homework would be an assessment of the student’s ability to master that skill. Isn’t that what grades should be about?
4. I do not give zeros. If work is not done, it is considered incomplete and I work with the parents and the students to see that this work is completed. Zeros are not an option. It is too easy for a student to say, “Just give me a zero” and that is the end of that. How do we see that the student masters the skill then? Do we just move on and not give them the foundation for future skills?
5. I think group grades are important. In today’s society, people need to work together. If we do not teach this as a skill, how will our students learn this? They are not born with the knowledge on how to work as a team. We need to break the skills down into achievable steps (make a task analysis) and teach these steps. A grade will show whether the student has mastered the skill.

I really think we need to look at grading and determine why we need the grade and what does the grade show. This should determine how we determine the grade and what we use the results for. All of this is necessary for our students to be successful in the classroom as well as the real world.

Original image: 'Of all the possible answers, I had to write this.'


Clix said...

On #3, I think the idea is that it's "formative" rather than "summative" assessment. Homework is often given as additional practice. Students shouldn't be expected to master new material immediately - that's the purpose of homework. Thus, if they don't do a perfect job on it, their grade shouldn't be penalized.

In my experience, the result is that students copy each other, looking for correct answers and a good grade rather than learning anything.

Kobus van Wyk said...

I acknowledge the value of grading and assesment, but it seems as if too much emphasis is put on the mechanics of these processes, rather than on the objectives to be achieved.

It reminds me of the saying: 'It does not matter how many times you weigh the pig, it will not fatten him'. Grading simply indicates how successful our fattening efforts were - our focus should be on the feeding process.

Paul Bogush said...

I have had this open in my browser for awhile. I keep coming back to it to figure out what I am going to say..and I just can't respond to any point.

I simply don't believe in grades. If you give grades of any type (a letter or bonus pay) performance eventually decreases. Grades are simply a coercive management tool. I do believe in assessing. But if you give a great assessment and follow it up with and effective reflective piece(student led, peer led, teacher led) the students will know their areas of strength and their areas that they have to focus on the next time.

I bet you would be very open to people offering you advice on how to improve your blog--but howabout if each person who left a comment also left you a grade...and howabout if those grades were in the C, D, and F range. Would that be motivating you to blog more--even if they gave you the reasons?

(Disclaimer-your blog is perfect A+)

(Disclaimer-I just made that up it is actually a C+)

(Disclaimer-I just made that up too, just wanted you or a reader to get a feeling of what it feels like to be told what you are by someone else)

(Disclaimer-Your blog really is an A+ and I love it!!--wholey moley if it wasn't would I be writing this thesis!)

I know for a fact that if people started critiquing my grammar in my posts I would stop. Writing is very hard for me--my blog posts are the best I can do at the time I post. Having to scrutinize my posts for grammar issues would just stop me from posting. What has improved my writing is the fact that people have said positive things, and that made me enjoy writing the posts, and that has made me write them in word-stop, come back the next day and read them over to fix.

So like I stated at the beginning--I don't have any response ;) because I really just think grades should be thrown out. We shouldn't keep trying to improve something that only has a negative impact. Howabout if we started with there are no grades how can we improve a student's performance, instead of how do we improve grading.

Sorry--a bit passionate about this topic and I just did a bit of brain vomit in your comment box. I know you can stop grading and see performance level rise. The only grade my kids ever see is the one on their report card and progress report(ok, maybe there are some for major long projects that we do that they get after telling me what their grade should be).

Can you also imagine if all the time a teacher puts into creating and grading a test was put into creating and planning the unit?

Have to bring my daughter to Karate--no time to go back and re-read--just thought of this--howabout if bloggers started grading the comments they get--would that improve the conversation on the blog?
If grading is suppose to improve student performance, than why wouldn't grading comments improve and increase the number of comments a blogger gets...

Ric Murry said...

Hi Pat. I agree with what you write, and I want to add a couple things from my experience and observation.

1. We grade so parents (who were once students to who this happened) can compare their child with the children of their friends. It is a warped "keeping up with the Jonese" mentality that my kids is smarter than yours.

2. We grade so administrators can schedule students into classes for the next year. We say we don't track, but we do. Good grades="advanced" classes (or sometimes segregated classes). Average grades=more heterogeneous grouping. Bad grades=lower-level classes. We do it to make the admins' job easier.

3. We grade because it is easier to do than to assess skill and talent in an economy (not meaning the current economic situation) by observing the application of the information by students. There are too many students and too little time to really judge true proficiency of anything more than factual-based knowledge.

3. The history of grades is interesting too. Search for a guy named William Farish and see why he developed a grading scale...Hint: it was about money.

Ric Murry said...

Yeah, I see the typos. Wrote this early and in a hurry.

loonyhiker said...

Clix: I actually let my students get in groups to review their math homework before turning it in. Then they collaborate and discuss which answers are right if they have different answers. I feel this is one way of learning also and they don't have to cheat. I also give points for each group if everyone has their homework which they use for rewards later.

loonyhiker said...

Kobus: I love that saying! That is just perfect! I agree that we put way too much emphasis on the grades instead of learning.

loonyhiker said...

Paul: I love your comments (and you were right, my heart dropped when I saw the C+ so imagine how our students feel!). Thank you so much for reading my blog and commenting! You make me smile!

loonyhiker said...

Ric: Thanks for your comments. You are so right about how everything comes back to money!