07 April 2016

Thoughts on the Gradebook: Mastery Grading

I have to admit that grading is one of my least favorite things to do. It is often impersonal and doesn't move learning forward. There are infrequent opportunities for students to improve their work at the secondary level. A few years ago I started making some changes to the way I responded to assignments and entered them into the gradebook. This post will look at what I am calling Mastery Grading, where students have multiple opportunities to show their knowledge.

In my geography classes, I gave weekly map quizzes. These do not require high level thinking. Attempts at cheating were off the hook. Students usually view them as one-off assignments; they aren't worth a lot of points so why try all that hard?

To make changes, first I had to get to the REASON I gave the quizzes.

    • I knew my students didn't have a good mental map of the world in their heads and I wanted the quizzes to help them build that mental map.
    • A decent mental map of the world will help students be more successful in a geography (and later world history) class. 
    • I determined these map quizzes were an important enough tool that students should have multiple opportunities to use that tool to build that mental picture of the world. 
I wanted to be transparent about what I was doing and increase buy in with students, so I explained my thought process and the procedures for trying again. Mastery was set at 85% or more correct. Students did not receive a score until they reached that threshold (until they reached the end of the quarter when no score was converted to a zero...I know, I know...this is a work in progress).

What was the result? Scores skyrocketed. Most students achieved mastery on the first try and those who didn't usually reached mastery on the second try. I had one student who got stuck on one map and had to try at least six times. She persevered and got to mastery. I had only one or two students per grading period who did not achieve mastery on all of their map quizzes.

What would I do differently? Converting no score to zero always seemed contrary to what I was trying to accomplish. Carrying over scores through multiple grading periods gets tricky, but it might be a good option if students need additional time.