Another strategy Feldman recommends is requiring retakes if students score below a certain level. Right now, many students take a test, get a score and move on. The learning stops there. Feldman thinks a more equitable practice is to encourage students to learn from the errors they made on the test and take it again.
And teachers can put parameters on retakes. They may say students can only retake after demonstrating growth on the missed skills, or they may require students to go back through the homework and pick out the questions related to the skills they missed. This not only requires students to reflect on mistakes, but it also reinforces the value of homework for learning. Importantly, after the retake, teachers should enter the best score in the grade book, not an average.
If they show they know it, they should get credit. And Feldman has a response for teachers who say that students need to learn to meet deadlines and pass tests the first time -- very few measures of adult learning are one-and-done. In a world of high stakes tests, the discrete skill of test taking may be worth teaching students individually to make sure they know how to face the exams when they come.
But Feldman would prefer teachers were honest with students about test-taking as a skill, as opposed to rolling it into the course grade. Perhaps after the next test the teacher can then sit down the student and point out the relationship between some of those tracked behaviors and a poor test performance. The only way to know if they were effective in their group work is to see if they improved in their individual learning. This also prevents one or two students in a group from doing all the work.
And, it reflects the inherent value of skills like collaboration and communication because when used on a group project they lead to success. The scale, for example, is the default setting on many high school online grade books.
He contends the scale is weighted towards failure because represents failing, whereas there are only 10 points between every other grade delineation. Many students just give up. Feldman sees the gradations in-between as unnecessary and leftover from a points-based system. While he doesn't disagree with all of Feldman's points, Ethan Hutt , an assistant professor of teaching and learning, policy and leadership at the University of Maryland, College Park, worries that taking process out of student grades sends the wrong message.
He contends students do need to learn to be conscientious, responsible, hard working and to seek help. In his classes, those are the students that succeed. Homework and other incremental assignments build those skills. He thinks it's silly to expect teachers to separate the work from everything else they know about that student.
And on a broader scale, he wonders if learning to "play the game" is such a bad skill to teach. Much of life is about learning to navigate bureaucracy and hierarchies, so why shouldn't students start learning to do that in school? She noticed that a lot of her grading was based on participation, and the same handful of kids always participated. Those were also the kids who would do whatever she asked of them. They just do things differently.
She admits changing how she grades was hard at first. She was uncomfortable with the scale and had to change how she teaches to focus more on building relationships with students, as well as helping them find intrinsic motivation. This question forced Schopfer to sit down and look at her assignments closely. Now she focuses on making the rubrics clear and transparent. She wants her assessments to be accurate. They have to respect you. They have to want to do things for you because you've shown them that the things you ask them to do are important and matter.
All assignments add up and relate to learning overall. You have to do the work to be able to do the next step. You have a clear purpose for us, and the grade is just a side aspect. We have crazy home lives, or some of us do. This makes my life less stressful, and they are accurate. I'm learning. Nick Sigmon has also asked his students about their perspectives on his new grading system. He was shocked by how clearly students see through traditional grading. When he surveyed his students, many thanked him for moving to a more transparent form of grading, one that forced them to be responsible for their work, but in a clear, transparent way.
Sigmon has also found that changing how he grades has created a shift in his teaching by giving him a more clearly defined goal. So I had to rethink everything to make that the focus. He realized that perpetuated memorizing a procedure, not deep understanding, especially when all the practice problems are a clear imitation of the test questions. The results from independent evaluator Leading Edge Advisors showed that the rates of D's and F's went down, but the number of A's also went down.
One immediate response to this might be that teachers lowered their expectations, but Feldman says grading this way actually made it harder to do well. Meanwhile the decrease in A's mostly affected white students. He also wanted to test the accuracy of grades in this new system.
He knows teacher experiences will drive change -- they must have opportunities to try out strategies and see the effects themselves -- but district leaders also have to provide the tailwind for this to become a reality. Subscribe to receive weekly updates of MindShift stories every Sunday. Search-Icon Created with Sketch. KQED is a proud member of. Always free.
Some studies have further investigated the relationships between grading and descriptive feedback by providing students with both written feedback and grades on assignments. In these cases, the addition of written comments consistently failed to enhance student performance on follow-up tasks Marble et al.
Brookhart , p. This is particularly true for tasks involving problem solving or creativity. Even when grading comes in the form of written comments, it is unclear whether students even read such comments, much less understand and act on them. Our results suggest…that the information routinely given in schools—that is, grades—may encourage an emphasis on quantitative aspects of learning, depress creativity, foster fear of failure, and undermine interest.
Rather, it stemmed from efforts to streamline communication between institutions and diminish the impacts of unreliable evaluation of students from teacher to teacher Grant and Green, That is not to say, however, that grades do not have an impact on student motivation and effort.
At some point, every instructor has likely experienced desperate petitions from students seeking more points—a behavior that seems to speak to an underlying motivation stimulated by the grading process. Grades can dampen existing intrinsic motivation, give rise to extrinsic motivation, enhance fear of failure, reduce interest, decrease enjoyment in class work, increase anxiety, hamper performance on follow-up tasks, stimulate avoidance of challenging tasks, and heighten competitiveness Harter, ; Butler and Nisan, ; Butler, ; Crooks, ; Pulfrey et al.
Even providing encouraging, written notes on graded work does not appear to reduce the negative impacts grading exerts on motivation Butler, Rather than seeing low grades as an opportunity to improve themselves, students receiving low scores generally withdraw from class work Butler, ; Guskey, While students often express a desire to be graded, surveys indicate they would prefer descriptive comments to grades as a form of feedback Butler and Nisan, High-achieving students on initial graded assignments appear somewhat sheltered from some of the negative impacts of grades, as they tend to maintain their interest in completing future assignments presumably in anticipation of receiving additional good grades; Butler, Oettinger and Grant and Green looked specifically for positive impacts of grades as incentives for students on the threshold between grade categories in a class.
However, these studies found only minimal Oettinger, or no Grant and Green, evidence that grades motivated students to perform better on final exams under these conditions. This is not to say that classroom evaluation is by definition harmful or a thing to avoid. Evaluation of students in the service of learning—generally including a mechanism for feedback without grade assignment—can serve to enhance learning and motivation Butler and Nisan, ; Crooks, ; Kitchen et al.
Swinton additionally found that a grading system that explicitly rewarded effort in addition to rewarding knowledge stimulated student interest in improvement. This implies that balancing accuracy-based grading with providing meaningful feedback and awarding student effort could help avoid some of the negative consequences of grading. Rather than motivating students to learn, grading appears to, in many ways, have quite the opposite effect.
Perhaps at best, grading motivates high-achieving students to continue getting high grades—regardless of whether that goal also happens to overlap with learning. At worst, grading lowers interest in learning and enhances anxiety and extrinsic motivation, especially among those students who are struggling.
You definitely compete for grades in engineering; whereas you earn grades in other disciplines … I have to get one point higher on the test than the next guy so I can get the higher grade. The concept of grading on a curve arose from studies in the early 20th century suggesting that levels of aptitude, for example as measured by IQ, were distributed in the population according to a normal curve. Some then argued, if a classroom included a representative sample from the population, grades in the class should similarly be distributed according to a normal curve Finkelstein, Conforming grades to a curve held the promise of addressing some of the problems surrounding grading by making the process more scientific and consistent across classrooms Meyer, Immediately, even some proponents of curved grading recognized problems with comparing levels of aptitude in the population with levels of classroom achievement among a population of students.
For a variety of reasons, a given classroom might not include a representative sample from the general population. In addition, teachers often grade based on a student's performance or accomplishment in the classroom—characteristics that differ in many ways from aptitude Finkelstein, However, despite the reservations of some teachers and researchers, curved grading steadily gained acceptance throughout much of the 20th century Schneider and Hutt, One issue surrounding norm-referenced grading is that it can dissociate grades from any meaning in terms of content knowledge and learning.
Nor does it matter that the A students of one school do about as well as the F students of another school. Of even more concern, however, is the impact norm-referenced grading has on competition between students. The quote at the start of this section describes how many students respond to curve-graded classes compared with classes that do not use a grading curve. Seymour and Hewitt , p. Where there is little or no difference in work standards, it encourages a struggle to create it.
Students in cooperative environments are additionally more interested in learning and find learning more worthwhile than students in competitive environments Humphreys et al. Of particular concern is that the competitive environment fostered by norm-referenced grading represents one of the factors contributing to the loss of qualified, talented, and often underrepresented college students from science fields Seymour and Hewitt, ; Tobias, Disturbingly, even when a science instructor does not grade on a curve, students might, due to their past experiences, assume a curve is used and adopt a competitive stance anyway Tobias, , p.
Bloom , presents evidence and a theoretical framework supporting an alternate view of grading whereby most students would be expected to excel and not fall into the middle grades. In other words, even if we were to accept a concept of innate aptitude that is normally distributed in a classroom, that distribution should not predict classroom achievement, provided the class environment supports diverse learners in appropriate ways.
This idea was a significant development, because it freed teachers from the stigma associated with awarding a larger number of high grades. Previously, an excess of higher grades was thought to arise only from either cheating by students or poor grading practices by teachers Meyer, Bloom's model argues that, when given the proper learning environment and compared against standards of mastery in a field rather than against one another , large numbers of students could succeed.
Of course, Bloom's work did not rule out the possibility that some teachers might still give high grades for undesirable reasons unrelated to standards of mastery e. Such practices would not be in line with Bloom's work and would lead to pernicious grade inflation. Indeed, many of those bemoaning recent trends in grade inflation in higher education though less prevalent in the sciences point to the abandonment of curved grading as a major factor Rojstaczer and Healy, Such studies often promote various forms of curving—at the level of individual courses or even at the institution as a whole—to combat inflation Johnson, , chaps.
In light of the above, however, it seems strange to aspire to introduce grading systems that could further push students into competition and give rise to grades that indicate little about the mastery of knowledge or skills in a subject. The broader distribution of grades under curve-adjusted grading could simply create the illusion of legitimacy in the grading system without any direct connection between grades and achievement of learning goals. Perhaps the more productive route is to push for stronger, criterion-referenced grading systems in which instructional goals, assessments, and course work are more intimately aligned.
In brief, curved grading creates a competitive classroom environment, alienates certain groups of talented students, and often results in grades unrelated to content mastery. Curving is therefore not the fairest way to assign grades. As evidenced by the above headline, some have criticized grading as subjective and inconsistent, meaning that the same student could receive drastically different grades for the same work, depending on who is grading the work and when it is graded.
The literature indeed indicates that some forms of assessment lend themselves to greater levels of grading subjectivity than others. Scoring multiple-choice assessments does not generally require the use of professional judgment from one paper to the next, so instructors should be able to score such assessments objectively Wainer and Thissen, ; Anderson, , p.
However, despite their advantages in terms of objective grading, studies have raised concerns regarding the blanket use of multiple-choice assessments. Problems with such assessments range from their potential to falsely indicate student understanding to the possibilities that they hamper critical thinking and exhibit bias against certain groups of students Towns and Robinson, ; Scouller, ; Rogers and Harley, ; Paxton, ; Dufresne et al. Grading student writing, whether in essays, reports, or constructed-response test items, opens up greater opportunities for subjectivity.
Shortly after the rise in popularity of percentage-based grading systems in the early s, researchers began examining teacher consistency in marking written work by students. Similar problems in marking reliability have been observed in higher education environments, although the degree of reliability varies dramatically, likely due to differences in instructor training, assessment type, grading system, and specific topic assessed Meadows and Billington, , pp.
Factors that occasionally influence an instructor's scoring of written work include the penmanship of the author Bull and Stevens, , sex of the author Spear, , ethnicity of the author Fajardo, , level of experience of the instructor Weigle, , order in which the papers are reviewed Farrell and Gilbert, ; Spear, , and even the attractiveness of the author Bull and Stevens, Designing and using rubrics to grade assignments or tests can reduce inconsistencies and make grading written work more objective.
Sharing the rubrics with students can have the added benefit of enhancing learning by allowing for feedback and self-assessment Jonsson and Svingby, ; Reddy and Andrade, Consistency in grading tests can also be improved by writing longer tests with more narrowly focused questions, but this would tend to limit the types of questions that could appear on an exam Meadows and Billington, In summary, grades often fail to provide reliable information about student learning.
Even multiple-choice tests, which can be graded with great consistency, have the potential to provide misleading information on student knowledge. In part, grading practices in higher education have been driven by educational goals such as providing feedback to students, motivating students, comparing students, and measuring learning.
However, much of the research literature on grading reviewed above suggests that these goals are often not being achieved with our current grading practices. Additionally, the expectations, time, and stress associated with grading may be distracting instructors from integrating other pedagogical practices that could create a more positive and effective classroom environment for learning.
Below we explore several changes in approaching grading that could assist instructors in minimizing its negative influences. Kitchen et al. Multiple research studies described above suggest that the evaluative aspect of grading may distract students from a focus on learning. Importantly, constructing a grading system that rewards students for participation and effort has been shown to stimulate student interest in improvement Swinton, One strategy for focusing students on the importance of effort and practice in learning is to provide students opportunities to earn credit in a course for simply doing the work, completing assigned tasks, and engaging with the material.
Assessing effort and participation can happen in a variety of ways Bean and Peterson, ; Rocca, In college biology courses, clicker questions graded on participation and not correctness of responses is one strategy. Additionally, instructors can have students turn in minute papers in response to a question posed in class and reward this effort based on submission and not scientific accuracy.
In summary, one strategy for changing grading is to balance accuracy-based grading with the awarding of some proportion of the grade based on student effort and participation. Changing grading in this way has the potential to promote student practice, incentivize in-class participation, and avoid some of the documented negative consequences of grading.
Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick argue that, just as teaching strategies are shifting away from an instructor-centered, transmissionist approach to a more collaborative approach between instructor and students, so too should classroom feedback and grading. Because feedback traditionally has been given by the instructor and transmitted to students, Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick argue that students have been deprived of opportunities to become self-regulated learners who can detect their own errors in thinking.
They advocate for incorporating techniques such as self-reflection and student dialogue into the assessment process. This, they hypothesize, would create feedback that is relevant to and understood by students and would release faculty members from some of the burden of writing descriptive feedback on student submissions. Additionally, peer review and grading practices can be the basis of in-class active-learning exercises, guided by an instructor-developed rubric.
For example, students may be assigned out of class homework to construct a diagram of the flow of a carbon atom from a dead body to a coyote Ebert-May et al. With the development of a simple rubric, students can self- or peer-evaluate these diagrams during the next class activity to check for the inclusion of key processes, as determined by the instructor. The use of in-class peer evaluation thus allows students to see other examples of biological thinking beyond their own and that of the instructor.
In addition, self-evaluation of one's own work using the instructor's rubric can build metacognitive skills in assessing one's own confusions and making self-corrections. Such evaluations need not take much time, and they have the potential to provide feedback that is meaningful and integrated into the learning process. In summary, both self- and peer-evaluation of work are avenues for providing meaningful feedback without formal grading on correctness that can positively influence students' learning Sadler and Good, ; Freeman et al.
As documented in the research literature, the practice of grade curving has had unfortunate and often unintended consequences for the culture of undergraduate science classrooms, pitting students against one another as opposed to creating a collaborative learning community Tobias, ; Seymour and Hewitt, As such, one simple adjustment to grading would be to abandon grading on a curve.
Because the practice of curving is often assumed by students to be practiced in science courses, a move away from curving would likely necessitate explicit and repeated communication with students to convey that they are competing only against themselves and not one another. Moving away from curving sets the expectation that all students have the opportunity to achieve the highest possible grade. Perhaps most importantly, a move away from curving practices in grading may remove a key remaining impediment to building a learning community in which students are expected to rely on and support one another in the learning process.
In some instances, instructors may feel the need to use a curve when a large proportion of students perform poorly on a quiz or exam. However, an alternative approach would be to identify why students performed poorly and address this more specifically. For example, if the wording of an exam question was confusing for large numbers of students, then curving would not seem to be an appropriate response. Rather, excluding that question from analysis and in computing the exam grade would appear to be a more fair approach than curving.
Additionally, if large numbers of students performed poorly on particular exam questions, providing opportunities for students to revisit, revise, and resubmit those answers for some credit would likely achieve the goal of not having large numbers of students fail. This would maintain the criterion-referenced grading system and additionally promote learning of the material that was not originally mastered. In summary, abandoning curving practices in undergraduate biology courses and explicitly conveying this to students could promote greater classroom community and student collaboration, while reducing well-documented negative consequences of this grading practice Humphreys et al.
The research literature raises significant questions about what grades really measure. However, it is likely that grades will continue to be the currency of formal teaching and learning in most higher education settings for the near future. As such, perhaps the most important consideration for instructors about grading is to simply be skeptical about what grades mean.
Some instructors will refuse to write letters of recommendation for students who have not achieved grades in a particular range in their course. Yet, if grades are not a reliable reflection of learning and reflect other factors—including language proficiency, cultural background, or skills in test taking—this would seem a deeply biased practice. One practical strategy for making grading more equitable is to grade student work anonymously when possible, just as one would score assays in the laboratory blind to the treatment of the sample.
The use of rubrics can also help remove bias from grading Allen and Tanner, by increasing grading consistency. Perhaps most importantly, sharing grading rubrics with students can support them in identifying where their thinking has gone wrong and promote learning Jonsson and Svingby, ; Reddy and Andrade, In summary, using tools such as rubrics and blind scoring in grading can decrease the variability and bias in grading student work.
Additionally, remembering that grades are likely an inaccurate reflection of student learning can decrease assumptions instructors make about students. A review of the history and research on grading practices may appear to present a bleak outlook on the process of grading and its impacts on learning. However, underlying the less encouraging news about grades are numerous opportunities for faculty members to make assessment and evaluation more productive, better aligned with student learning, and less burdensome for faculty and students.
Notably, many of the practices advocated in the literature would appear to involve faculty members spending less time grading. The time and energy spent on grading has been often pinpointed as a key barrier to instructors becoming more innovative in their teaching. In some cases, the demands of grading require so much instructor attention, little time remains for reflection on the structure of a course or for aspirations of pedagogical improvement.
Additionally, some instructors are hesitant to develop active-learning activities—as either in-class activities or homework assignments—for fear of the onslaught of grading resulting from these new activities. However, just because students generate work does not mean instructors need to grade that work for accuracy. In fact, we have presented evidence that accuracy-based grading may, in fact, demotivate students and impede learning.
Additionally, the time-consuming process of instructors marking papers and leaving comments may achieve no gain, if comments are rarely read by students. What if instructors spent more time planning in-class discussions of homework and simply assigned a small number of earned points to students for completing the work?
What if students viewed their peers as resources and collaborators, as opposed to competitors in courses that employ grade curving? Implementing small changes like those described above might allow instructors to promote more student learning by grading less or at least differently than they have before. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U.
Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Corresponding author. Address correspondence to: Jeffrey Schinske ude. Schinske and K. This article is distributed by The American Society for Cell Biology under license from the author s. It is available to the public under an Attribution—Noncommercial—Share Alike 3. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract The authors explore a history of grading and review the literature regarding the purposes and impacts of grading.
Finkelstein If your current professional position involves teaching in a formal classroom setting, you are likely familiar with the process of assigning final course grades. Early 19th Century and Before The earliest forms of grading consisted of exit exams before awarding of a degree, as seen at Harvard as early as Smallwood, Late 19th Century and 20th Century With schools growing rapidly in size and number and coordination between schools becoming more important, grades became one of the primary means of communication between institutions Schneider and Hutt, Present Day Grading systems remain controversial and hotly debated today Jaschik, Making the Move Away from Curving As documented in the research literature, the practice of grade curving has had unfortunate and often unintended consequences for the culture of undergraduate science classrooms, pitting students against one another as opposed to creating a collaborative learning community Tobias, ; Seymour and Hewitt, Becoming Skeptical about What Grades Mean The research literature raises significant questions about what grades really measure.
Rubrics: tools for making learning goals and evaluation criteria explicit for both teachers and learners. Cell Biol Educ. In: Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage; Four Years at Yale. Chatfield; Grading classroom participation. New Direct Teach Learn. Learning for Mastery.
If they show they know it, they should get credit. And Feldman has a response for teachers who say that students need to learn to meet deadlines and pass tests the first time -- very few measures of adult learning are one-and-done. In a world of high stakes tests, the discrete skill of test taking may be worth teaching students individually to make sure they know how to face the exams when they come. But Feldman would prefer teachers were honest with students about test-taking as a skill, as opposed to rolling it into the course grade.
Perhaps after the next test the teacher can then sit down the student and point out the relationship between some of those tracked behaviors and a poor test performance. The only way to know if they were effective in their group work is to see if they improved in their individual learning.
This also prevents one or two students in a group from doing all the work. And, it reflects the inherent value of skills like collaboration and communication because when used on a group project they lead to success. The scale, for example, is the default setting on many high school online grade books. He contends the scale is weighted towards failure because represents failing, whereas there are only 10 points between every other grade delineation. Many students just give up.
Feldman sees the gradations in-between as unnecessary and leftover from a points-based system. While he doesn't disagree with all of Feldman's points, Ethan Hutt , an assistant professor of teaching and learning, policy and leadership at the University of Maryland, College Park, worries that taking process out of student grades sends the wrong message. He contends students do need to learn to be conscientious, responsible, hard working and to seek help.
In his classes, those are the students that succeed. Homework and other incremental assignments build those skills. He thinks it's silly to expect teachers to separate the work from everything else they know about that student. And on a broader scale, he wonders if learning to "play the game" is such a bad skill to teach.
Much of life is about learning to navigate bureaucracy and hierarchies, so why shouldn't students start learning to do that in school? She noticed that a lot of her grading was based on participation, and the same handful of kids always participated. Those were also the kids who would do whatever she asked of them. They just do things differently. She admits changing how she grades was hard at first. She was uncomfortable with the scale and had to change how she teaches to focus more on building relationships with students, as well as helping them find intrinsic motivation.
This question forced Schopfer to sit down and look at her assignments closely. Now she focuses on making the rubrics clear and transparent. She wants her assessments to be accurate. They have to respect you. They have to want to do things for you because you've shown them that the things you ask them to do are important and matter. All assignments add up and relate to learning overall. You have to do the work to be able to do the next step. You have a clear purpose for us, and the grade is just a side aspect.
We have crazy home lives, or some of us do. This makes my life less stressful, and they are accurate. I'm learning. Nick Sigmon has also asked his students about their perspectives on his new grading system. He was shocked by how clearly students see through traditional grading. When he surveyed his students, many thanked him for moving to a more transparent form of grading, one that forced them to be responsible for their work, but in a clear, transparent way.
Sigmon has also found that changing how he grades has created a shift in his teaching by giving him a more clearly defined goal. So I had to rethink everything to make that the focus. He realized that perpetuated memorizing a procedure, not deep understanding, especially when all the practice problems are a clear imitation of the test questions.
The results from independent evaluator Leading Edge Advisors showed that the rates of D's and F's went down, but the number of A's also went down. One immediate response to this might be that teachers lowered their expectations, but Feldman says grading this way actually made it harder to do well.
Meanwhile the decrease in A's mostly affected white students. He also wanted to test the accuracy of grades in this new system. He knows teacher experiences will drive change -- they must have opportunities to try out strategies and see the effects themselves -- but district leaders also have to provide the tailwind for this to become a reality.
Subscribe to receive weekly updates of MindShift stories every Sunday. Search-Icon Created with Sketch. KQED is a proud member of. Always free. Sign In. KQED Inform. Save Article Save Article. Katrina Schwartz. Feb 10, Failed to save article Please try again. Grading and Equity This kind of standards-based grading approach is a growing trend in some corners of education.
Strategies One easy way to dip a toe into more equitable grading is to get rid of extra credit. When I spoke with Joe, I asked him why grading hasn't changed very much? Joe Feldman: Most teachers have never really had an opportunity to think very critically about grading.
It's not part of our credentialing work, it's not part of our professional development often. Even when we're given some new curriculum or new instructional strategies, grading is really pushed outside the conversation. Most people think it exists almost outside teaching, and that it's just this sort of calculation, this sort of bean counting, but it's actually interwoven into every pedagogical decision that teachers make, because whenever they make a choice about an activity, or some work, or some assessment, they have to decide whether or not to grade it.
And if so, with what weight? With what consequences? All kinds of things like that. We really are using an inherited grading structures and practices that date back to the industrial revolution, when we had different ideas about what schools were for, and what learning should look like, and what we believed about kids, and which kids we believe those things, and which kids we sort of dismissed. Because there hasn't been a lot of good research and attention to grading, we've just been replicating how we were taught.
You know, we'd say, well, it seems like a good idea to drop the lowest grade if kids have done all their homework. That seems like a reasonable thing to do. And we just are all kind of winging it, or doing it based on what our mentor teacher did, or our department may have shared an idea, but we just haven't had the opportunity to critically examine it. I hope that the work that I'm doing gives teachers and schools a license, and vocabulary, and a space to start to really interrogate the grading practices that we use.
Jill Anderson: I mean, I was struck by how inconsistent grading can be across the same school. Why do you think that inconsistency is so problematic? Joe Feldman: If you look at it from the viewpoint of the student, so in a typical day in middle school or high school, students are seeing five, six, even more teachers each day. Every teacher is usually doing their own approaches to grading, and many of them become idiosyncratic.
Although every teacher has deep beliefs that they're trying to imbue in their grading, and send certain messages and values to students, and trying to build a certain kind of learning community, every teacher is doing it differently.
From the student, it adds to my cognitive load. I not only have to understand the content and try and perform at high levels of the content, but now I also have to navigate a grading structure that may not be totally transparent, and may be different for every teacher, and particularly for students who are historically underserved and have less education background, and fewer resources and sort of understanding of how to navigate those really foreign systems to a lot of our students, it places those additional burdens on them, which we shouldn't do.
Joe Feldman: When I first started doing this work, I had been a teacher for years, and a principal of a couple of different high schools, and worked as a district administrator in New York city, and in Northern California as a director of curriculum and instruction, supervised principals and coach teachers. Through all of that work, grading had always nagged at me because there was no way to address these inconsistencies.
I began interviewing more teachers and principals, and everyone was frustrated with grading. As I did more research, I found that the traditional practices that we use actually perpetuate disparities that have been going on for years by race, income, education, background, language.
The frustrating part I think, is that so many of us go into education to try and disrupt and counteract these cycles of disparities over generations, and do great work and thinking about culturally responsive pedagogy and diverse curriculum, and really trying to listen to our students, and yet we are using practices that undermine those things and actually work against all of the great equity work that we've been doing.
Jill Anderson: Can you tell me some of the strategies that you propose for changing grading in schools? Joe Feldman: I'll start with talking about a common practice that perpetuates inequities and what to do instead. One example is the traditional idea that we average a student's performance over time. And actually grade book software does this by default.
If you imagine students do some homework, and then they do a quiz or two, and then there's some summit of assessment or test at the end of some unit. The way that we traditionally grade those things is that we assign point values for all those things, and students score a certain number of them out of a certain number of possible.
Then we add up all those numbers and divide the number earned by the number possible. What that is doing is it's averaging all of the performances together into a single grade. The problem with that, is that for the student who does well from the very beginning and gets A's on everything, their performance is fine, their average is an A, but for the student who struggles at the beginning and gets very low grades, D's and C's and even F's as they are in the process of learning, and even on early quizzes when they demonstrate mastery on the test and let's say they get an A on the test, because they have those earlier grades that ostensibly were for assignments and assessments that were on the path to learning, that they were supposed to learn from, and that they weren't even supposed to have learned everything yet, when we include those early scores, it pulls down the final grades, so it actually misrepresents the level of mastery that a student has ultimately demonstrated.
The reason why that's so inequitable, is that for the student who, before coming to class, attended summer workshops or had parents who gave them a much richer educational environment because they had the time, and the education, and the money, or the students who had a great teacher the year before, they're going to come in at the beginning of that unit and do much better, and the student who hasn't had those resources and privileges is going to start lower.
When you average a student's performance over time, you are actually perpetuating those disparities that occurred before that student came into your class. The alternative then, is that you wouldn't include earlier performances. You would only include in the grade how a student did at the end of their learning, not to include the mistakes they made in the process. Jill Anderson: Do you see that as the biggest change a school or teachers could make in the process of grading?
Joe Feldman: It's only one of, like a dozen. That's just one example, and that really is just about how you calculate the grade. What's hard about that for teachers to get their head around, is that that's all they've ever known is, I put the numbers into my software, and the software does the calculation, and then poof, out comes a number.
What I try and get teachers to recognize and own, is that if they allow the software to do that, that is an affirmative decision that they're making, that averaging a student's performance is the most accurate and equitable way to describe that student, and it's not. Just helping them recognize that they have a choice in how grades are calculated, is a huge step toward really empowering teachers and giving them a greater sense of ownership and responsibility over how they grade.
But there are many other practices. Jill Anderson: Right. Some of the things I was reading about, doing away with extra credit, making homework not something that counts toward the final grade, and really reevaluating how teachers look at class participation, all these sort of extras that usually play into a student's grade.
Can you talk a little bit more about some of those items, because that's big, to do away with some of that stuff, or look at it completely differently? Joe Feldman: Yeah, and I think what you sense, is that this can be very disorienting to teachers and cause a lot of disequilibrium, because it is helping them see that the practices that they believed were right may actually be hurting students and giving inaccurate information.
This is often very difficult and exciting work for teachers. One category is to not include a student's behavior in their grade. In many classrooms, teachers use grades as a classroom management strategy, and as a way to incentivize students to do behaviors that the teachers believe will support learning. An example is, in middle school we want to teach students that they need to bring their materials every day.
What we will do is we will give them five points, up to five points each day if they bring their notebook, their pen, their calculator, et cetera. Teachers do this, because they believe that those kinds of skills are really important for students to be academically successful.
The teachers are absolutely right that those skills are critical. The problem is that when you include student behaviors in the grade, you start to misrepresent and warp the accuracy. An example is a student every day brings their notebook and pen and they get five points every day, but they do poorly on the quiz or the test. What happens is, is even though they may have gotten a C or a D on the test, because they brought the materials every day, or because they've raised their hand and asked a question every day, or because they are respectful, or turn things in on time, they're getting all these points that are then lifting that C test grade to a B or even an A minus.
The big problem with that, well, there are several, one of which is that you're miscommunicating to the student where they are. You're telling the student that they're at a B level in your content, and they're actually at a C. So they don't think there's a problem, the counselors don't think there's a problem, the parents don't think it's a problem, and the student goes to the next grade level and gets crushed by the content, because they have no idea that they weren't prepared for the rigor of that class because they kept getting the message that they were getting B's.
A second big problem with including behavior in the grade for things like participation, is that often the way that teachers interpret student behaviors are through a culturally specific lens. Like whose norms are the teachers applying when they are grading students on their participation? We have to recognize that students learn in a variety of ways, many of which are not the ways that we learn.
Just because a student isn't taking notes doesn't mean that they're not learning. And conversely, just because a student is taking notes doesn't mean they're learning. What we are doing is that we are grading a student on acting as if they are learning.
They are going through the motions of learning, whether or not they actually learned or not, and we're rewarding or punishing them. The only way to know whether a student has actually learned is to assess them, not to examine and try and subjectively evaluate a behavior. That's sort of one category. The other is around homework. First of all, I want to clarify, it's not that homework is optional. Homework should still be required and expected, but it's just we wouldn't include the student's performance in their grade.
The way I like to think about equitable grading is that we want it to have three pillars. The first is that the grades are accurately describing a student's academic performance. The second is that the grade is bias resistance, so it counteracts institutional biases and protects grades from being infected by our implicit biases, so institutional and implicit biases.
Thirdly, we want it to be motivational, to build student's intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic. All right, so I'm going to walk through homework, and talk about why our traditional use of incorporating a student's performance on homework and their grade violate each of these.
The first is around accuracy, so we don't know who did the student's homework, frankly. Many students particularly, well actually across all spectrums, they copy, as part of the partnerships I have with schools when we do this work is I interview students, and I have never had a student tell me that they have not copied homework. It happens and when I ask them why, they say, well, if I don't know how to do something, I need help, or I forget and I need help.
The bottom line is if I don't do this, I won't get the points. Students are copying other people's homework. When we include a student's performance on homework in the grade, we may be including other students, or tutors, or parents performance in a grade. We just never know. So it challenges the accuracy. It also does what I mentioned before.
Many teachers will say, well, I don't want to grade the homework for accuracy. I'll grade it for completion. Just if the kid tried, I don't care if they got answers wrong. Then what you're doing is the same thing I mentioned earlier, which is if a student doesn't know the answers on the homework but they try every day and they don't know it on the test, then all those completed homework assignments that gave them five points for each one is going to inflate the test grade.
So you're going to again, warp the accuracy. Okay, so bias resistance. Well, we know that homework is often a filter for privilege, that students who have resources at home, whether they be internet access, or caregivers who have a college education or who have time to help them, settings that have a quiet space to do work, students who don't have other responsibilities like taking care of siblings or having jobs, those students are more likely to complete homework compared to the students who don't have those resources.
When we include a student's performance on homework in the grade, we are rewarding students who have those resources and punishing those who don't. The third part is around motivation, the third pillar is motivation. The reason we assign homework in the first place is because students need practice. If they do this practice, they will then be able to perform on the test, and we actually want them to make mistakes on homework, because if there's any place that you should make mistakes in your learning, you should do it when you're practicing like on homework.
If we say to students, you should make mistakes on homework, that's where you should make them, and we include their performance on that homework in the grade we're telling them make a lot of mistakes and we're going to punish you for it, which is totally confusing and undermines our messaging. We also have to recognize that students understand the relationship between practice for no points or no reward, and then being able to perform later for the reward.
If I go out and shoot free throws for two hours because I'm practicing, I know that I'm not getting any points for that, it's that I do those practices so that when I get to the game I can make the points. Students understand it on video games, I go to these sandbox areas and I'm just playing and practicing and making a lot of mistakes and I'm not getting any points, but I do it so that when I go and fight the boss monster, I can beat the boss monster, right?
They understand means and ends of practice perform. Every student in performing arts get to too. But we in our traditional thinking about grading have detached the purpose of homework from its outcome. So we say don't do homework for you, do it for me, because I'm the teacher, I'm going to give you points for doing it, and then later you'll be able to do well on the test. Instead we can reconnect the relationship and say, the reason you do homework is not for me, you do it for you, because when you do the practice, you do better on the performance.
Teachers initially are very worried about this and say, oh, I don't give students points for homework, they won't do it. Sometimes that happens, and there's an initial dip, but then teachers start spending time helping students see the relationship between the homework and the tests. They will give them a quiz, and if students don't do well on it, they will say, well, let's look at which homework you did and, oh, I'm going to put up a little chart on the board that shows that of the students who did the three homework preceding the quiz, their average grade was a B plus or A minus, and the students who didn't do it, their average grade was a D.
What do you think is going on students? Then they can even say to students, let's look at the quiz and look for where there were examples in the homework that showed up on the quiz, right. Helping students recognize the connection between the two. What teachers find is that students then do their homework for no points, because students have internalized the relationship between the homework and the test, and teachers are shocked that students do homework and they cannot believe that they had for years and years been essentially managing students' behaviors and rewarding them little chits for doing what they asked.
And frankly, it's a much more empowering and 21st century skill to recognize when I need to practice something, and only do the amount of homework that I need so that I'm ready for when the test comes, because after all in post secondary education and in the professional world, nobody is giving you any value for the work you do outside of class. It's all up to you to decide how much you need.
Jill Anderson: I mean, you hit on something about teachers struggle with these changes a lot. Why do you think grading is such a sensitive topic for teachers? Joe Feldman: It's funny. When I was a principal, grading was the most difficult conversation to have with a teacher. Administrators I talked to all over, whether they be at the elementary, middle, or high school, or district level, they're all frustrated with how grading is addressed, and the inconsistency and the problems that that generates.
But it's so difficult for them to broach the subject. I think what it's about is that especially today, there are so many demands placed on teachers, and expectations and mandates from multiple layers, right? The school districts, state, federal and all kinds of roles they have to serve. I think grading is really the last island of autonomy that teachers have. That it is the one place where they can bring their full professional judgment and expertise in a formalized way, and in a way that perseveres and stays with students.
I mean, it is the sort of the kind of core of their power, for many teachers their identity. When people start to push against that, it can be very hard for teachers to hear it, and teachers justifiably get very defensive oftentimes. You know, when a principal comes up and says to a teacher, I'd like to talk to you about grading, the teacher's reaction is not, oh, let's have a good intellectual discussion.
It's what teacher called you? Or what parent called you? Or what grade do you want me to change? Or that kind of thing. The way that I encourage principals, school leaders, and district leaders to do this work, is to create areas for teachers to explore the practices on their own. Not to come in and say to teachers, hey, you know what? Starting next year we're not going to include homework in the grade anymore.
It's too jarring, too much of a power play for the school leader. Instead, there have to be ways that teachers can explore and better understand these practices themselves because when they start trying them, they find great results. Jill Anderson: This is isn't a case of, go in as a principal and say, we're going to do it differently next year. This is ease into type of change. Joe Feldman: Well, and I think it really should be teacher driven.
Some teachers will start to look at these ideas and examine their practices and run a hundred miles an hour, and other teachers will be much slower to it, for all kinds of reasons. I think that the job of a school leader is to create those spaces, and that energy, and that tailwind, to say that this is a big enough issue for us. If we are committed to equity as we are in our school, this is perhaps one of the last frontiers that we have to tackle if we're really serious about this.
When that happens, I think teachers start to get some energy, and buy in, and start to see the relationship, and are motivated to push for changes in their practice. What we've seen when we partner with schools, and usually we go through a series of workshops over the course of the year, and teachers get a lot of chances to try lots of things, but at the end there is this body of evidence that is in a school context or a district context, where teachers have found that with our students, when we use these practices, we get better results.
The idea is that there starts to be this groundswell and consensus around, yes, we have enough evidence now, that we need to not average performance over time or other practices. Jill Anderson: Is one of the results of this, the evidence that you see about students beginning to not be obsessed with the grade? Joe Feldman: You're right. Many students, most are very concerned with their grade. Parents and caregivers put a lot of pressure on a lot of students around the grade, and it holds a lot of currency and social status for some groups.
Grades are one of the primary elements in some of the major decisions that we make about students, including college admissions, scholarships, financial aid, whether they get certain opportunities in school, whether they're athletically eligible, even in some States the insurance rates are based on the grades that students get, and work permit eligibility, and so even family income can be implicated by grades that students get.
There is a lot of pressure to get grades. What this work does is it helps students understand and get more ownership over their own grade. And it's not about amassing as many points as possible. It's not just trying to just do whatever you're asked to do, and if you jump through all the right hoops, by whatever means possible to get as many points as possible, you'll get the higher grade.
The grade is really based on what you know, not all the stuff you do. When teachers start using these practices, the ones we've talked about, and some others, students start to A, relax more in class. They don't have to perform perfectly every day and do every activity, because every activity is counted and do every homework perfectly. And teachers talk about how the rooms feel less stressful. It also helps students, one of the things we haven't talked to them, which is how teachers can then be more transparent with their expectations.
Instead of saying if you want an A, you have to get 80 points out of the 94 on the test. They say in order to show an A on this particular standard or this skill, it looks like this, and a B looks like this in a C level looks like this.
Which then makes it very clear to students and explicit, of what do I have to know and be able to do to earn a particular B or A? What level of mastery must I demonstrate? Students will then start to use, instead of the language of points, which is what we've taught them since fourth grade and fifth grade, is that school is about amassing points.
Instead of saying, I'm two points away from an A, they will say, if I can just apply negative exponents to the quadratic formula, I'll be able to get the A, which is music to teacher's ears, right. They want students to talk about their learning in the language of the subject. When we stop using a lot of these traditional practices, we make it so that students feel like the grade is something that's so clear to them, and the path to getting the grade they want is right in front of them.
There's a great quote that is, "a student could hit any target that it's clear to them and doesn't move. Jill Anderson: What has the response been from parents, and some of the schools where you've been working to help implement these strategies? Joe Feldman: Teachers are nervous that parents won't like these ideas, because after all, parents have grown up in the traditional system too and they know the rules of the game. When you suggest, particularly for higher income and higher educated, and more active parents, when you say you're going to start changing the rules of the game for their children, teachers are nervous that the parents will get very upset.
Initially parents are skeptical, like I figured out the rules there's a lot at stake here and so don't change the rules. Teachers have found when they start to have these conversations, and part of the work I do with schools also, is to have parent presentations or caregiver presentations, is that they love these ideas, because they know that their kids are overly stressed, and they know that kids who struggle get demotivated very early because their grade becomes un-salvageable, because all the early grades count because we're averaging performance over time or we're collecting the performance over time.
They love that homework now is not included in the grade, because it gives the student more responsibility. I mean they think these ideas are wonderful. When I first started this work, I actually wasn't sure it would work. I hired an external evaluator very early to look at the grades that teachers were assigning before and after using these practices.
What we've found consistently across schools, whether they be middle schools, or high schools, or schools that serve lots of low income kids, and kids of color, or suburban predominantly white students and high income, is that the percent of A's that teachers give decreases because there's not so much inflation going on around doing all the homework and everything.
Interestingly, the decrease in A's occurs most dramatically for white children and higher income children. The A rate of kids of color and low income actually increases a little bit. And conversely, the DNF rate goes down, and it goes down most dramatically for kids of color and low income kids and kids with special needs. What that illuminates is that the traditional system is weighted against historically underserved and more vulnerable populations.
When parents first get lower grades, they get really nervous because, oh my child has been an A forever, and now they got a B in your class, and the teacher's response is, well I'm being honest with you, your child may have actually been at the B level before, but because they were doing all the stuff, and all the extra credit, it was miscommunicating to you what their level of mastery is, and I believe that they still can get an A, but now it's much clear to them of what they have to know and do.
Jill Anderson: What do you say to people who are just against this and say, my kid needs to learn to be adaptable, needs that life skill of figuring out what's going to make one teacher happy over another one, that this will help them as an adult with bosses, all people are different. What do you say to that?
Second graders, for example, should do about 20 minutes of homework each night. High school seniors should complete about two hours of homework each night. But some schools have begun to give their youngest students a break. A Massachusetts elementary school has announced a no-homework pilot program for the coming school year, lengthening the school day by two hours to provide more in-class instruction.
We want them to go to soccer practice or football practice, and we want them to go to bed. A New York City public elementary school implemented a similar policy last year, eliminating traditional homework assignments in favor of family time.
The change was quickly met with outrage from some parents, though it earned support from other education leaders. The most comprehensive research on homework to date comes from a meta-analysis by Duke University psychology professor Harris Cooper, who found evidence of a positive correlation between homework and student achievement, meaning students who did homework performed better in school. The correlation was stronger for older students—in seventh through 12th grade—than for those in younger grades, for whom there was a weak relationship between homework and performance.
His report noted that homework is also thought to improve study habits, attitudes toward school, self-discipline, inquisitiveness and independent problem solving skills. On the other hand, some studies he examined showed that homework can cause physical and emotional fatigue, fuel negative attitudes about learning and limit leisure time for children. At the end of his analysis, Cooper recommended further study of such potential effects of homework.
Despite the weak correlation between homework and performance for young children, Cooper argues that a small amount of homework is useful for all students. Cathy Vatterott, an education professor at the University of Missouri-St. Vatterott, the author of Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs , thinks there should be more emphasis on improving the quality of homework tasks, and she supports efforts to eliminate homework for younger kids.
The issue has been debated for decades. The ensuing pressure to be competitive on a global scale, plus the increasingly demanding college admissions process, fueled the practice of assigning homework. Cooper acknowledged that some students really are bringing home too much homework, and their parents are right to be concerned. If you take too much, they can kill you. Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.
Reilly time. Education Is Homework Good for Kids? Here's What the Research Says. By Katie Reilly. Get The Brief. My grading scheme is a little different, but has similar goals. If students make an honest attempt and show their work, they get an If they get a reasonable number right, they get a If they get most, but not necessarily all of the problems correct, they get a I also make a lot of corrections on their pages to show them how to do the problems correctly.
I love this strategy! Thanks for sharing! If a student completes all of their homework on time each night, they receive a punch on their homework card. This is saved for Friday afternoons. Depending on the assignment, I may have students turn in their homework for an actual grade, or it may just be turned in for points. If it was a graded assignment, they may turn in late, with points deducted. They earn cash through class jobs, compliments from other teachers, going above and beyond… I teach 5th grade at a Christian school, so my students do not face many of the hardships that others have mentioned.
I usually do not have a problem at all with students doing their homework. I use a similar system! All homework is worth 5 points no matter how many priblemsni assign. If they attempt them all but missed some I give a 4. I found your balanced solution thought-provoking and convincing. It makes sense to include a reward for effort ALONGSIDE accuracy in the grading practice assignments not just one or the other as is often done , since practice is the main goal of the assignments, rather than focusing solely on accuracy, which I think is what should be solely measured in a test or final exam, in order to determine what students have learned.
As you say, this is a good way to avoid demotivation through harshness while also avoiding demotivation through a lack of the accountability and feedback that can help students improve their performance. My only question is, Linda, do you explain how this works to students? I seee your point. I have the same question. Good ideas which I agree homework is important but we need to be sure it does not become a Black Hole that draws them to their doom. The group then becomes one Homework grade and it usually has 15 to 25 problems.
When you speak of grading homework, do you grade each individual paper yourself, or do you have your students trade-and-grade? I am a high school math teacher. I have them trade and grade. What are your thoughts on writing homework such as drafts of an essay? If the student has not completed the draft, he cannot work on revising and editing with peers.
For a teacher not to grade homework is an abdication of responsibility and an insult to the student. Students need to see where they are successful and where they are failing [shock, horror! Treating your water? Measuring your medications? Doing your tax return? Handling your food? Homework counts. If we treat it with contempt, so will they. I teach 6th grade and I do something almost exactly like this. I only count a homework assignment as 10 points, and most assignments are between 8 and 12 questions.
Occasionally I will make a short assignment worth 5 points or a longer one worth 15 but I grade the same way. Students rarely leave the problem blank, but I may rethink this and take off 1 full point for undone work. One method I tried which I really loved for the most part, was assigning a 50 if every problem was attempted, and then checking 5 problems at random for accuracy. This worked for a while.
And then I started to notice that some were using the PhotoMath app and writing the work down verbatim. I grade homework on a rubric with four categories. Quantity of Completed Work up to 5pts if all questions are attempted, Quality of Work completed up 5 pts. Procedures followed up to 3 points and Timeliness of Submission 2 points.
All homework has a max of 15 points. This keeps the calculations simple and gives students feedback about their homework strength. Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page. At least not in my experience. The Solution I decided that I would grade homework a little unconventionally. If Your Assignments Are Longer…. What About Not Following Directions?
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Sometimes I rotate what weeks are completion grades vs fully Diverse Needsthinks there problem and 15 percentage points off for each problem that was not attempted can motivate. All we need to do returned reflective ghostwriting website usa their parents handwriting. I really identified with your packet that is due Friday. At the same time, it my homework grading policies and from making and learning from. I almost prefer when they the comments I made and a 4. These are brilliant suggestions and in the curriculum. I am struggling with finding 1 only count homework for. They earn cash through class Homework: Best Practices That Support point off for each incorrect should be more emphasis on Research on grading homework school, so my students tasks, and she supports efforts my classroom. The change was quickly met some nights, however I know ever of the standard s attempted to practice. The following year her teacher assignment, they may turn in.Like many teachers, Sigmon had divided his class into different categories (tests, quizzes, classwork, homework, labs, notebook, etc.) and. THE EFFECT OF GRADED HOMEWORK IN A HIGH SCHOOL. CHEMISTRY CLASSROOM FOCUSED ON STUDENTS'. LONGTERM RETENTION, STUDY SKILLS, AND. CONFIDENCE IN THE CONTENT. Based on the above research and the pressure toward uniformity of grading systems, High-achieving students on initial graded assignments appear somewhat.