02 April 2016

Thoughts While Running: Grades and the Gradebook

I've been troubled for some time by the way we secondary teachers traditionally "do" grades. We typically have categories such as tests/quizzes, projects, homework, essays, etc. Sometimes those categories have varying weights so maybe tests/quizzes is worth 50% of the grade while homework is only worth 20%. Students, and sometimes parents, diligently watch their online grades to make sure that every assignment is categorized and "counted" correctly.

"Counting" assignments is another issue. Does the assignment get credit for completion? When does that happen? Is it points-based? Is is scored on a holistic rubric? Does the student have a copy of the rubric AND understand it? Is the assignment standards-based or is it something I give every year because "it's a good assignment"? You see my point.

I've been mulling over a change in the way I would set up a gradebook. These ideas have been coming to me as I run. What if:

  • Categories were aligned to standards? To account for literacy standards AND content in a history class it might look like this: Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, Content 
  • Each assignment was tagged with the SPECIFIC standard being addressed? A multiple-choice quiz on the fall of the Roman Empire might be tagged with CAHSS7.1 for the California History/Social Studies standard 7.1 "Students analyze the causes and effects of the vast expansion and ultimate disintegration of the Roman Empire." So the assignment might be listed in the gradebook as Chapter 1 Test CAHSS7.1 and entered into the Content category. 
  • Assignments are placed into categories based on the skill or content knowledge they emphasize. For example, while learning about the Cold War, Modern World History students examine multiple accounts of events from different perspectives. Students write short responses comparing the different accounts "including which details they [authors] include and emphasize in their respective accounts." That assignment would be placed in Reading with the name Cold War Accounts RH6 (RH6 is the Reading Literacy standard in History/Social Studies) because the teacher is looking for student skill in comparing those accounts.
  • Students have, at their fingertips, all necessary rubrics for reading, writing, listening and speaking. If the class has specific expectations for particular activities such a Socratic Seminars, they have those expectations too.
  • Multiple opportunities are embedded for student success. This could mean chances for re-dos on some assignments or revisions of others to be included in an end of marking period portfolio.
The end result is a gradebook that should be more transparent and more authentic for students. This doesn't solve every problem with a gradebook and grading. It isn't a truly standards-based gradebook and won't lead to a standards-based report card. It WILL lift the literacy and content standards and should reduce emphasis some traditional gradebook categories that maybe aren't in the best interest of learning.