Grades: Do they measure learning?

Grades: Do they measure learning?

via Daily Prompt: Measure

Having students who work hard and do well in school, I always bought into the premise that grades measure learning. With years of experience in education, and the advent of digital grading systems, where every little grade book entry can be seen 24/7, now I am not so sure.

Lately, I have given much thought on how we measure growth in our students. In an earlier post, I described how our school district went to an 80/20 summative/formative grading system this fall. Each teacher had to enter grades in the digital grade book in one of these two categories, with these weights. As the year has progressed, I have noticed that many of the teachers have taken to using the “multiplier” next to the grade value to change its weight. Wow! This makes it really confusing! It also led me to wonder if the students realize some assignments are being given different weights. From what I saw in a couple of classes last term, there is a lot of play here. Some teachers are not changing the weight at all – with everything being weighted with a multiplier of 1.0 for 80% or 20% depending on whether it is a summative or formative assessment. Some, like one class my freshman is taking, had weights in the summative varying from 1.0 to 2.67! What? 2.67? Why use those numbers to measure the worth of an assignment? It seems subjective and highly variable.

Maybe all the play in the variability of grading has always been there, but with the advent of digital grading, it is there for all to see and examine on a daily basis. It has had the undesired effect of making me mis-trust and question the system. When a measure of learning is decided upon, I do not think it should be “played with”, at least not mid-school year, as is what is occurring with the multipliers. Are we really measuring student learning or something else? Are you getting the impression I am not a fan of digital grade books? You are right! I am not.

Then, there are the mis-entries. Why are there so many mistakes with the digital grading systems? At least 3-4 times a term, or half-semester, my boys have an anxiety provoking experience upon seeing a grade wrongly entered on their infinite campus gradebook page. Just last week, my freshman went to school to find out if he really got 54/80 (67%) on an exam last week or it if was an error. By mid-morning it was corrected to his reveal his actual grade of 78.5/80 or 98.1 percent. Relief! I could almost hear and feel his emotional response from him at school, 2 miles down the road!

He had been doing well all semester so it seemed like the grade we saw the day before was an error. When questioned, he expressed surprise, having thought he did well on the assessment. It was just a mistake. That’s all. Easily corrected with the touch of a few buttons on a keyboard. And, I agree that students can learn from mistakes, even grading mistakes.

But, here’s the thing. While I know teachers are human and make mistakes just like everyone else, these mistakes seem more and more common. It makes me wonder how much thought or examination is put into entering the grades. Wasn’t it suspicious that a student doing well should all of a sudden have such a poor grade? I think that might have been looked at and seen better using an old-fashioned book and pencil entry system.

These thoughts are just the tip of the iceberg in my head forming over grading policies, change in policies, how we teach, and how we measure student learning. There will be more to come. Stay tuned.

Inspired by the Daily Prompt: Measure

Pass the Rationale, Please!

Pass the Rationale, Please!

After the success of yesterday’s travel photo journal, I am reluctant to digress to a more serious topic. However, my writing needs to have a purpose to inform as well as entertain, so I will persist with what some might feel are uncomfortable topics.

Upon returning to school this fall, my two high schoolers were informed that there had been a grading policy change. The change was to standardize how courses at the high school were being graded.  The student body was told that all assessments, in all classes,  would fall into one of two categories. Despite the two categories being the familiar ones of formative and summative assessments, the change incurred was that ALL summative assessments were going to be worth 80% of their course grade and ALL formative assessments were going to be worth 20%. Wow! This was shocking!

Apparently, this policy was thrust upon not only our students, but also the high school teaching staff as well. And, the timing of informing the staff was questionable at best, being mere weeks before the school year began. All courses, all assessments, had to fit into one of these two percentages!

While I will agree that some standardization was necessary, as the year before, my one high school student had some formative work being counted for a measly 5% of his total grade in certain classes, and up to 3o or 40% in others, it made for some very disparate weighting of work. I am not guessing here. Due to other concerns, I saved some of the in progress digital grade book. Little did I know I would to be able to compare the end result of last year’s grading policy to this year.  Let’s just say that whether anyone else would be looking at the data resulting from this policy decision would take up a entirely separate post!

So, it is not the standardization that I take issue with specifically. There are two other issues. 1) How was the 80/20 split decided upon? Was this a reasearch based decision? Is this considered a best practice in grading? Who made the decision? Why was it made? What was considered?  And, 2) The policy change reeked of a top down approach, fully lacking any transparency.

My concern became, and still is, this: 80% is a huge number!  Was the student with test anxiety considered? Obviously, not! I have one of those! Smart, yes. But, he does not and never has, tested well – in part, due to performance anxiety. He is learning methods to cope with this, but really? 80%?  He, and others, can have a string of 100% formative assessments and still not be able to keep an A (which is 94.5% in our district), if an A is not obtained on the summative assessment.

So, the question becomes, what is fair? Was the grading policy fair last year when one class weighted summative and formative assessments with extremely wide variance? Or is this policy fair, with it being a very high 80% summative and 20% formative computation for the course grade?

Besides fairness, which admittedly could be widely debated, I have more of a problem with how this policy was instituted. Where is the transparency? A policy like this effects our students – all of them! Why were stakeholders not pre-emptively informed? We all know why, don’t we? Why was the policy supposedly thrust upon our staff who perhaps needed more time to consider how this structure could best fit their specific course? Why? Why?

What of those students taking AP classes? Yes. This policy meant those too. So, last year summative assessments might have been 40-60%. This year, 80%. Who got the better grades?

Am I the only person who thinks of these issues? Perhaps.

As a stakeholder, I question this policy. I absolutely question the way in which it was instituted.

Please! Pass the rationale!