Grades Revisited

I spent some time this afternoon updating my grade book. Like most of us, grading is my least favorite part of teaching and I have a nasty habit of putting it off for longer than I should. I end up having marathon grading stints after school and it usually seems to coincide with other things I would rather be doing.

Anyways, I was putting grades into the book and I began thinking about what I’m going to call “count down” grading and “count up” grading. Very technical.

Currently, my grading is quasi-standards based, where learners are rated on a one to four scale for each learning objective based on an evaluation of some sort. Each person starts with a zero, for no experience, and can progress at any time to a four, which is a class expert. If they are at a level four, they know that they can be called upon to tutor small groups and teach others. It works really well and I have reliable people to help foster collaboration in the class. Learners have told me that it is encouraging to work this way because they can see their learning increasing through the chapter (or quarter, etc) as they gain new skills. This is “count up.”

That all sounds great, but the grade book can cause some concerns for people that aren’t familiar with the system. Until the learner attempts the concept, they are a zero. As a zero, they are not being punished for incompletion or missing work. It is simply a place holder until something is put in there. It helps them keep track of where they are and what they need to be working on. At times, though, there are mild panic attacks because of the number that is associated with their names.

I began thinking about some other books I’ve seen, where learners all begin with full credit (the proverbial “clean sheet”) and are then whittled down over time through testing, homework, or whatever other assignments are put in. I haven’t used a system like this, but I have known teachers that make sure everyone starts at 100% and then works down by artificially setting the grades at the start of each new quarter. This is “count down” grading.

I know this narrative is painfully biased, but I think it is an important questions for practicing teachers to ask themselves (constant evaluation and adaptation) as well as for teachers in training to ponder before they hit the class. Are you using grades to show the learning process? Or are grades simply an average of scores through the year?
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On a side note, I would abolish grades if I could, but that’s not the system we live in. Until that day comes, I’ll do the best I can.

  • Kevin

    I really like your idea of “count up” grading. It is not something that I have heard before but I really like the process. I think you are going to have people who will misunderstand your grading system no matter how you create and maintain it. I would prefer the “count up” system rather than the “count down” system because I would take the count down system to say that, as a teacher, I would be looking for when the student fails at something and then punishing for that rather than congratulating the student for attempting to learn.

    • Brian Bennett

      Yeah, “count up” isn’t a very technical name, but it gets the point across. I think I called it “progressive achievement” or something in my parent letter home. Its really just pure standards-based grading…I’m not trying to come up with anything new, just communicate the idea clearly.
      And the problem isn’t in the system, the problem is how online grade books are set up. There is so much focus on the percentage that shows up that measuring and reporting true learning is being thrown under the bus. Learners had good questions today and I think they get it. Hopefully, I can have some good conversations with parents and other teachers because of this.

  • http://www.coffeeforthebrain.blogspot.com Aaron

    Love this post. Your grading system just blew my mind. I have not hears of this before. I would love to see what your gradebook looks like. How do you assess each level? I want to implement your grade system in my class and am trying to figure out a way to do so with the current system my school uses. Do you have documents or anything that you would be willing to share?

    • Brian Bennett

      Hi Aaron-
      In short, I give quick oral assessments in conjunction with written checks. Neither are entered as quiz or test grades because the point of the assessments is to check progress in skill acquisition. If they can answer my questions concisely and thoroughly, they get a 4. If not, we talk about what level they’re at and what to do next. It’s all very subjective. The summative work is either a written test or a project of their choice, which is graded by rubric. At any point, they can increase their grade by revisiting a skill and improving their ability in that area.
      This entire line of thought stems from the belief that grades should accurately show learner progress and ability rather than their performance on worksheets.

  • http://aflippedapproach.blogspot.com Marc Seigel

    I always had the philosophy that you start with a 100 and it is up to you to keep it. But as I am also starting a quasi-standards based grading, I find the count up system much more effective. I use a 10 point scale, but could probably get away with 5 instead because no one gets lower than a 5 if they at least attempt the objective. I like the idea of counting up because, like you said, the kids can see how they are progressing. This is also why I date their attempts so I can see how quickly they are mastering the concepts. It is also useful when I say to a parent that I am impressed with their child because they were able to accomplish an objective three days faster than they did previously. Better than just saying they got an 8 out of 10.

    I love hearing your thoughts. Keep them coming!

    • Brian Bennett

      Yeah, using a count-up (progressive?) grading method for SBG is much easier to maintain because the philosophy of grades has fundamentally shifted to growth rather than maintenance. I haven’t had many conversations with parents about this yet, but I’m hoping to be able to talk more with parents using this system because it truly reflects the progress their learner has or hasn’t made over a period of time.

  • http://www.mouseflip.com Mark Heil

    Hi Bennett, just catching up on some of your recent posts. I remembered when you were here in Seoul and gave students the opportunity to take their quizzes many times in an effort in increase their knowledge…very motivational since all would like the opportunit to work for their grade versus a one-shot assessment & may have had a bad day.

    Impressed you are putting in all the extra time and effort that goes with that too! Now I know the name: quasi-standards based grading