Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Evolution of my Grading Practices

I just finished my 8th year teaching.  Each year, I have done some different things with grading.  I am not quite where I want to be yet, but I think the direction is a lot better than it was in the beginning.   I decide for this post to document where I have been, and the plan for the future.

Student Teaching: As a student teacher, I had 2 cooperating teachers.  One of them used a total points method of grading.  Each assessment/assignment was deemed to be “worth” so many points, and students were given points out of that total.  At the end of the grading period, points were added up and a grade was recorded.  The other cooperating teacher used a categories approach.  She focused mostly on assessment.  Daily assignments were graded for completion, and only made up a small portion of the grade.  Labs, quizzes, and tests were somehow divided amongst the remaining part.  Each assessment/assignment was out of 100 points.  It was then placed into a category that was weighted.  I don’t remember the weights.

Year 1:  When I first started out, the only direction I had with regards to grading was from my cooperating teachers.  Here’s one idea for teacher prep programs: TEACH STANDARDS BASED GRADING!  It still isn’t happening, my student teacher from this spring had no instruction on grading.  Anyway, I used the total points method my first year, set up in an Excel document.  My grading was very assignment heavy.  Students received much of their grades by completing learning tasks.  A portion of the grade, I don’t remember how much, would have been test and quiz like assessments.

Year 2: Hurray!  I bought a grading program called Making theGrade.  Don’t ever buy it.  It was an improvement over Year 1, but lead me down a road of point counting.  I switched to a 100 point scale with weighted categories.  My rational was students could understand their grade better if everything was out of 100 points.  I don’t know if that is true.

Year 3-5:  New school (still at this school).  Still using Making the Grade.  What luck, the school I moved to had the same archaic program I had bought on my own.  I dabbled around in these years a couple of different ways.  Points off for late work, penalties for different things, but switched back and forth between the total points method and the 100 point scale/weighted category method.  Really thought the Holy Grail of grading was hidden there somewhere.

Year 6:  A learning year for me.  I tried a system I had seen when I was in Junior High.  I didn’t like the 100 point scale.  It was too many points for me.  I didn’t like that 60 percent of it was about failure and only 40 percent was about success.  So, I tried a 13 point model.  A “0” represented an F, a D- was a “1”, a D was a “2”, up to an A+ which was a “12.”  I think this approach was critical for me, because it made me think of grades and assessment in a more criteria based idea rather than a collection of points.  Students didn’t received 94/100 points on something.  Instead, their work was looked at and found to be at the “A” level, so I put an 11 in the grade book.  Assignments and learning tasks were not graded, but checked and recorded as done or not done.  Most of the grade was made up of assessments.  It worked OK for me, it started my progress well into better grading, but it was incredibly confusing to parents.

Year 7:  I was working on my Masters project during this year, which focused on grading.  I began to use a  4-point scale.  I only graded assessments.  Most students still completed learning tasks and assignments, even though they were not graded!  I set up an Excel grade report that reported students grades out for each of the Enduring Understanding we had set up for our department.  In addition, the grade report had a lot of room for narrative comments on student learning and behavior, both from the teacher and the student perspective.  What I found: parents and students crave the narrative feedback.

Year 8:  Just finished!  Continued with 4-point scale.  My goal was to increase narrative and descriptive feedback to students and parents.  I did a decent job with that for students, but not so much with parents.  My Excel grade report proved to be logistically tough.  I was trying to keep grades in too many places.  My attitude was the best thing about the year.  I focused on learning and stressed that to the students.  We worked harder to connect what we were doing to learning targets.  Students learned the importance of feedback and revision, but I struggled with finding a method that worked in a fluid manner.  Because of this struggle, I was constantly looking around for something that worked better…

This summer:  Summer school starts on Monday, this is a Physical Science class for students who didn’t pass this past school year.  I will be using Evernote as a way to give feedback to students and parents in a way that I think will be much more fluid.  This will be an adaptation from what I read on Russ’s blog, which I can't seem to get to link to right now.  His main blog is at First is HERE and the next is HERE.  I am backing away from grades until the end.  Too much research keeps pointing to the idea that a grade written on an assessment makes learning stop.  Instead, the focus will be on feedback, revision, and learning.

Next year: I hope the Evernote idea works out well.  If so, I will continue to use it next year.  I plan on backing away from grades a little bit as well.  I want each assessment opportunity to have some descriptive feedback and revision attempted before a grade is awarded.  When grades are recorded, I will be using ActiveGrade.  I will still use a 4-point scale.  I am at a middle school with teams.  We are working as a team to make sure that each of our points match up in each of the core areas.  Other teachers will be trying out ActiveGrade as well.  Next year is going to be great!  Only 76 more days to go!


  1. Hi Scott,
    I appreciate your open and honest feedback. Several years ago, I had my first student teacher. I was knee deep in standards-based grading in my high school math classroom and I wanted to expose my student teacher to this concept as well. Because I taught two classes, I thought it would be a good idea to "require" him to use standards-based grading in one class and traditional points/assignments-based grading in the other. I modeled both approaches during the first few weeks of the year so that he could continue once the classes became more his responsibility. It was neat to talk about grading and assessment practices throughout the time we had together. You make a great point that the teacher prep & first years of teaching can have a tremendous impact on educators.

  2. Thanks for the comment Matt.

    This was my first student teacher this spring. I am so thankful that she was so interested in grading. We had a lot of neat talks about grading and assessment. My favorite part was having someone who could really see what was happening in the classroom, and still ask some challenging questions.

  3. Scott,

    I am pretty new to Evernote (though I love it so far!) and I just finished my first year with SBG. How do you plan to use Evernote to provide feedback for students?

    Thanks for the post!


  4. Jen,

    I think Evernote will be mostly an organizing tool. I think descriptive feedback can still be done in the regular way. My big thing is that the feedback usually ends with the student. I think Evernote may allow parents to have a larger insight. My plan is to scan in student work with feedback, and post that on Evernote. I am thinking that by the end of the quarter/semester/year, the notes on Evernote will give a nice picture of student understanding. Simply a type of electronic portfolio.