Tips About Grading

Consider this: in assessing our students, most of us are forced to use a system that has found 64 increments of failure, yet only 36 of success. If you grade using a scale of 1-100, generally then converted to a percentage, you are giving a nod to this notion. When I heard it put that way, at a Rick Wormeli conference, I remember feeling sick to my stomach. This giant truth seems to be written in a blinking neon light, and yet, I had been staring right at it without really “seeing,” instead thinking only in black and white—or, in this case, 64 shades of failure.



As we prepare to go back to school, I think it is important to consider the process by which we communicate a student’s success—or failure—to the child and the parent. I’m radically adjusting how I grade this year, and I am 100% (insert sarcastic smirk), sure that it is going to be both a challenge to my mindset and a ton of work. It has always been my philosophy to grade everything with a rubric. However, I want, need, to convert those rubrics to standards based, and provide a narrative for each that clearly specifies what constitutes success.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty proud of the grading system I have adopted over the years. I use points, not percentages; however, my district requires that I then weight the grades by percentage. I give students feedback in the “comments” section of every rubric. I address them by name in the comments. I use FCA’s. Focus Correction Areas—an old school method I learned from John Collins a decade ago, is a perfect differentiation tool. Teachers choose three criteria to “focus” on for each student, then assess accordingly. It may sound like a serious amount of work, but there are checklists from which you and your students can prioritize the skills for them and allows student input. As success is achieved, the student checks off the skill and is then accountable for it from then on. This was my first foray in to both differentiation and teaching metacognition.

I’m not sure how implementation of standards-based grading will go, but I do plan on relying on my elementary teacher friends, who it seems think in these terms anyway. In looking to our ShareMyLesson colleagues, there are great resources in place to help guide my approach to grading this year. One that I favorited a long time ago, is the “Bloom’s Buster,” contributed by the SML ELA team, which helps make Bloom’s Taxonomy more tangible. It is in PowerPoint form, so you can pull up a slide for students easily. Additionally, if any of you have a student teacher or know a first year teacher, this is the only resource needed to adequately prepare them for planning using Bloom’s.

Another great Share My Lesson resource is an in-depth lesson plan for using “A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Research Papers.” This document is extremely thorough, outlining the Common Core Learning Standards used, as well as the timeline for teaching. What is excellent about this resource is the running commentary on the grading aspect of the assignment, with excellent descriptions of what mastery learning does for students vs. the traditional (and boring) 5000 word essay.

As I mentioned earlier, our elementary colleagues have a grasp on this in ways that some of our middle and high school teachers may not. I love this “Picture Books and the Bill of Rights” submitted by The Constitution Center, which provides teachers with both Analytic and Holistic scoring guides. It is designed for K-4 Social Studies with an emphasis on “Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens.” Another approach to grading, submitted by The Arts Team, is for Jazz dance. It is grading tables for performance. I love the language of this rubric because “the evidence must show” indicates the standard measure of success.

I can’t promise that any of these styles or approaches to grading will work for you. However, reflecting on our own practices will challenge us to be better and more accurately assess what students are learning, not assess for assessment’s sake. It was only a few months ago that most of us were receiving our evaluations of some kind. You may have first turned to the number, but I am willing to bet that you poured over the remarks and narrative about your teaching. If for some reason, you didn’t have that feedback or narrative, I can also guess that you didn’t put a lot of value in that evaluation of your teaching. Wish me luck on my new approach to grading!