It has been quite a while since I last wrote about grades. In that time, I have tried a bunch of things, received feedback from many (students, parents/guardians, staff), revised my practices, and also learned a few fun facts along the way.
A few months ago, my principal sent out his Week in Review email, and at the bottom was a link that most of the staff probably didn’t even bother to click on. It was a link to Brookhart, et squad’s analysis of over 100 years of grading research. It quickly caught my eye, and within a few minutes I was immersed in research that spans longer than most people live. To say the least, it was verrrrrrry interesting. Here are a few takeaways (and my color commentary):
- During the 19th century, teachers made home visits to orally report student progress. It was an opportunity to not only discuss learning, but also build the ever-important relationship between all parties involved in the student’s learning. It was an opportunity to problem solve together, with the sole purpose of helping the student learn as much as possible. Apparently this became overwhelming, go figure, and then written descriptions of student performance were born. Still very meaningful, but nothing beats face-to-face. Wow! OG FaceTime with parents/guardians about what classroom happenings AND student progress? Sounds legit.
- We have the Ivy Leagues, specifically Yale and Harvard, to blame for the 4.0 and 101-point scale. In the early 1900s, these two fine institutions birthed what makes our students so anxious, competitive, and turned off from genuine learning. #thanksguys Why…why why?!?? << my best Nancy Kerrigan impression.
- Teachers grade inconsistently (duh). Brookhart, et squad highlight the findings of dozens of researchers who found that there was “great variation” in the grades teachers assigned to student work. Examples of such research include instances of teachers grading assessments, then being given the same assessment to grade again, only to give a completely different score. Or that time 73 English teachers graded the same essay that resulted in a range of 46 points, covering all five traditional letter grades (ABCDF). Uhh…something isn’t right if the same essay gets five different letter grades from teachers grading it…let’s be honest.
- Grades “typically represent a mixture of multiple factors that teachers value” (Brookhart et al., 2016). This makes a lot of sense to me. From an individual standpoint, values will vary from teacher to teacher. Which in turn makes grades even more varied (and unreliable).
I love that last point about what you value, and it is something we, as educators, really need to think about for ourselves, our students. But this leads me to ask many questions. Do you grades reflect what you value? Do they help students learn? Do they effectively communicate what you want to students? Parents/guardians? Next year’s teacher?
Next time you are having a conversation with a colleague about “how many points” this, or “how much should I deduct” that, really think about the subjectivity that lies within that conversation, as well as how those questions in particular will help your students learn more. Think about what the number you assign to that piece of evidence is telling your student about their learning. Think about the message it sends to parents and guardians about learning; all that matters is the high number…nothing else.
So really, what’s the point? Why grade (in the literal sense of grading)?