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

7. Challenge the Use of Mathematical Algorithms

  • Many teachers use mathematical algorithms to compute report card grades. While they may seem to create fair and accurate scores, they are often the result of arbitrary decisions that can advantage some students and disadvantage others. Guskey gives an example of grades on five units for seven students. A simple average gives them all the same grade, while selecting the median scores produces a range from C to A, and dropping the lowest grade does the same thing, but does not produce the same grades for each student that the median approach.
  • Guskey sees three questionable practices. The first is averaging scores to determine a grade. Poor early scores saps student motivation and extreme scores have a disproportionate impact. In the real world, it’s where you end up that matters. Someone who earns a white belt prior to mastering black belt techniques isn’t given a gray belt for example. The second is the use of zeros. They can have a devastating effect on a grade and really say nothing about what the student knows or can do. It’s better to give and incomplete so the student still has a chance to perform. The final problem results for lowering grades because of behavioral infractions. While behavior is important, it shouldn’t impact your assessment of what a student knows and can do.
  • Guskey suggests that you: 1) Give priority to the most recent evidence. 2) Give priority to the most comprehensive evidence, 3) Give priority to evidence related to the most important learning goals or standards.

8. Challenge Practices That Confound the Meaning of Grades

  • As mentioned in the previous chapter, factors that have nothing to do with achievement should not be used to confound grades. No research supports the idea that giving lower grades as punishment inspires students to try harder. Guskey is against practices designed to offer extra credit as well as grade reduction for bad behavior. Records of disruptive behavior, absence, and tardiness can be reported separately. He also points out that some teachers give extra points for behaviors that have nothing to do with learning goals and standards such as bringing in supplies from home, helping with canned food drives, attending school events, perfect attendance, and always being on time. Such behaviors can be noted elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

  • While we do not truly know what best practice is in regard to grading, there is much we do know that is summarized here. The challenge for teachers who have read this book is: What are you going to do about it? It’s probably time to engage all groups in thoughtful discussions in pursuit of a consensus. Remember to start by focussing on what you see as the purpose of grading and be sure to rely on research as much as possible. I would start by giving each member of your working groups a copy of this book and ask them to read it prior to the first meeting. You can also use this summary to refresh your memory as your work. Don’t expect the process to be easy and remember that you can use the information here to inform how you give grades in your class without reforming your entire school.
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