On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting by Thomas R. Guskey

5. Challenge the Computation of Class Rank

  • Grade point averages are yet another sorting mechanism. Guskey suggests that teachers ask themselves if their purpose is to select talent or develop talent. If it’s the former, then a teacher needs to focus on discriminating between students. If it’s the later, the job becomes one of seeing how many students can get to achieve the course standards. Most colleges today realize that class rank is a fuzzy number and are using it less and less. Rather they look at the quality and quantity of the courses taken. Unfortunately, many students with parental help work on gaming the system to get higher GPAs. This can involve skipping arts courses as they don’t receive higher weights or just taking fewer courses. Many valedictorians also report that the constant competitive grind made high school not much fun. The ethical question is why compute rank in class when it only helps a few and may be hurting the vast majority. Studies of valedictorians show that they are generally successful, but seldom innovators as they are somewhat risk adverse. Recognizing excellence is vital, but it need not be grounded on norm-based criteria. In fact, if a teacher was truly successful, every student would obtain excellence as defined by the class standards.

6. Challenge the Use of a Single Grade

  • Teachers are known for developing their own idiosyncratic systems for generating a single grade for the report card. Guskey lists 22 sources that include various types of texts, homework, projects, and effort. A brilliant student can ace all of the exams and still get a C due to missing homework. At the same time, a hard working student can get a C even if he fails the exams. The hodgepodge of sources that are often cobbled together for a grade is like combining a patient’s various physical attributes into a single laughable number. Guskey makes a case for three grades. The first would be based on student product. This is a combination of what they know and what they can do at a particular point in time. A process grade would look at responsibility, effort, and work habits. Homework, punctually, class participation and attendance fit here. Finally, there is the progress grade. This accesses that gain or growth made during a marking period, semester, or course. To do this teacher need a list of standards mastered at the beginning. They then report how many new standards are mastered. Some schools in Canada and the US are experimenting with this innovative style of grading.
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