Time to assess this new grading system

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At my high school, we’ve changed our grading practices at least six times in recent memory.

It all started with requiring common assessments and grading scales for each course. Then came a school-wide grading scale, with 93% for an A.

Then we removed behavioral and other non-academic considerations from grades. That meant even truant (or cheating) students could make up a test for full credit.

Five years ago, we adopted an 80/20 system, so only 20% of a student’s grade could be based on daily homework, quizzes and other formative tasks.

Then came the mandate to offer retakes on each major assessment.

Last year (I think) we eliminated Fs and replaced them with Incompletes.

Whew. But we’re not done yet. Next up is moving to Proficiency-Based Grading.

I’ll be honest. I’m a skeptic.

I’m not convinced this will improve student achievement or lead to deeper learning. I’m frustrated that we keep re-examining grading without ever re-examining teaching.  I’m worried that the latest new system will only cause more stress for students, who will now pursue the elusive “4” instead of the 93%. I’m worried also that it will suck away time that I need for lesson planning and working one-on-one with kids.

But I’m not a cynic; I’m keeping an open mind.

I get that our old systems needed to change. I don’t love every fix, but I’m glad we no longer have random variability in what a grade means from one room to the next. I think retakes have helped a lot of students persist. I like the idea of clarifying what we expect from students.

The good news is that administrators have assured us we don’t need to rush forward on this one. We can take time to really think about what “proficiency” means in our courses, gather student feedback on the goals and rubrics, and make revisions before we overhaul our grade books.

So I’m going to do my best to make sense of this system — I even signed on to be an official “Phase 2” implementer this year — and I’ll share my experiences along the way.

Hopefully, my experience will help other teachers who are in this process (or about to be). I welcome feedback and insights (and cautionary tales) from those of you already on the other side.

At this point, I have more questions than answers. Mostly practical ones, like:

  • Do we have to give only scores of 4, 3, 2, 1? Can we give a 3.5? A 1.5? A 0?
  • What is the letter grade equivalent of each number? I know we’re supposed to mentally break from the A, B, C system — it’s about “proficiency” — but what’s going to happen when those scores are transformed into a report card?
  • Will we ever be at a point where we stop putting letter grades on report cards? And how will parents respond?
  • Is this system going to add to grade inflation? If not, and more students are achieving 3s than 4s, is it going to cause more anxiety for “straight-A” students?
  • Do we have to create rubrics for every test, or can we set “cut” scores like they do on AP tests?

I’ll let you know when I have some more answers. Fingers crossed I can figure this out.

Have a great start to the school year!

Martha Rush is a teacher, blogger, author and speaker. Visit NeverBore.org or join the NeverBore LLC Facebook group for more information. @MarthaSRush #beatboredom