Guest Blogger: Dr. Kim Ehrhardt
Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment
Best Practices and Effective Grading
Recently, the topic of grading began getting renewed attention in our district and in the local media. The primary purpose of a grading system is to clearly communicate to students and parents about achievement or performance. Our current high school grading system is largely based on tradition. Each teacher has had the discretion for developing his or her own system for assigning student grades in the School District of Janesville. These separate systems can be confusing for students and parents as their resulting grades communicate different things. AdvancED, the national organization that accredits our high schools, made resolving our inconsistent teacher grading practices a required corrective action; thus, the genesis of the High School Grading Task Force. The charge of the Grading Task Force was to explore the grading issue deeply and make thoughtful recommendations to remedy inconsistency.
Over 20 Craig and Parker staff members (representing many subject areas) spent the past two years carefully researching the topic, consulting with experts in the field, and then running a pilot to explore the impact of the potential changes at both Craig and Parker high schools. This past Wednesday, March 9, 2016, the High School Grading Task Force provided extensive professional development for the high school staff that detailed their recommendations for changes in grading practices.
The School District of Janesville prides itself as being an Evidence-Based organization that uses best-practice research as an important foundation to inform our work. What follows is a summary of research written by Dr. Barbara Blackburn that captures key elements of best practices in grading. These best practices were an important foundation that influenced the Task Force’s work and the professional development that was shared with high school staff.
Five Tips for Effective Grading:
- First, give students an opportunity to participate in grading. One effective strategy is to ask students to help develop the grading rubric. After the teacher shares sample rubrics with students, he or she guides them in creating the criteria for the assignment. This helps students understand the assignment more effectively and gives them ownership which increases motivation.
- Next, remove effort, behavior, and attendance from the grading criteria. Effective grading is based on the quality of work rather than on other factors. Realistically, giving students extra points for "trying hard" inflates their grades. Find other ways to reward effort. Additionally, penalizing students for an absence isn't fair. Instead, give students a reasonable amount of time to finish the work.
- Third, ensure that grading is aligned to the assessment. This may sound basic, but at times grades don’t match the criteria of the assessment. Teachers need to be sure their grades reflect the purpose of their assessment.
- Fourth, don't give zeroes. This is controversial, as many people believe that if a student doesn't do the work, it deserves a zero. However, zeroes let students “off the hook.” Unfortunately, some students would rather accept a zero in the grade book than to complete an assessment. If an activity is important enough for teachers to assign, it's important enough for students to complete. Requiring students to complete key assessments is more rigorous and teaches responsibility. Teachers need to remember, though, to provide the instruction and support to help students complete the work.
- Finally, extra credit undermines authentic grading. Dr. Blackburn remembers a student in one of her graduate classes whose project was very sloppy. Parts were not included and there were misspelled words. The work was unacceptable at the graduate level. It dropped her grade to a B, and she went to the department chair when Dr. Blackburn wouldn't allow her to do extra credit. Dr. Blackburn’s perspective was that if the student had completed the work in a satisfactory manner, she wouldn't need extra credit. Giving an extra credit opportunity would be rewarding poor work. Be cautious with the use of extra credit.
The Grading Task Force has an extensive bibliography of references from which their examination of best practices has been taken. The bibliography is available on request and includes Dr. Blackburn’s research. On March 28, 2016, the Grading Task Force will make their initial recommendations to the SDJ Board of Education Personnel/Policy/Curriculum Committee. Stay tuned for future installments of this blog as we continue to communicate additional components of the High School Common Grading Policy.