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How I Overhauled Grading as Usual

How I Overhauled Grading as Usual

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Published by Erik Arnold

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Published by: Erik Arnold on Jan 09, 2012
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01/09/2012

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November 2011 | Volume
69
| Number 
3
 
Effective Grading Practices
 
How I Overhauled Grading as Usual
Laurie Amundson
A teacher describes how she makes assessments more meaningful for mathstudents.
T
hroughout my first years of teaching, I was often bothered by the thought that my traditional grading systemdidn't accurately communicate the level of knowledge my students possessed. Why were those studentswith poor behavior and indifferent work habits consistently getting
s,
D
s, or 
s when they haddemonstrated a level of knowledge equivalent to an
 A
or 
B
on assessments? How come some of my "goodstudents" received
 A
s or 
B
s as course grades when they performed at
level or below on assessments? Itbecame clear to me that my grades didn't accurately reflect student knowledge.Recent research has pointed to standards-based grading systems as a valuable way to support learning andmeet individual students' needs. In a standards-based grading system, teachers clearly define learning
 
objectives that frame their assessments and guide differentiation.Several years ago, as I became aware of possibilities for standards-based grading, I began overhauling thetraditional grading system I had used. Every year since, I've increased how much I differentiate my teaching,and my students have shown increased learning growth.Let me walk you through the grading methods I use now, which more clearly reflect learners' knowledgelevel and help more learners master math.
Pretests Set the Stage
In my upper elementary math classes, after I complete the essential step of defining student learningobjectives for a unit, I pretest students. Before every unit begins, students answer two or three questions for each objective. When I review these pretests, I use colored markers to indicate the level of understandingeach student shows for each objective. Red indicates little or no understanding of that objective, orangeindicates the student shows some understanding of the concept in question, and green indicates mastery.I use these results to differentiate class time. Students who demonstrate a solid understanding of a learningobjective on the pretest are excused from the lesson on that objective to participate in alternative enrichment
 
activities, often taken from the enrichment options included in the packaged curriculum I'm using or fromoutside resources, including free activities available through the Internet. Students work on enrichmentindividually or with partners in a set-aside area while the rest of the class participates in the main lesson.Students who demonstrate a partial understanding of a learning objective participate in part or all of our classroom activities, depending on the topic. Sometimes students participate in the "meat and potatoes"portion of the lesson, and then pursue alternative activities. Students who demonstrate little or nounderstanding participate in the entire lesson.For example, here's how three groups of students worked during a lesson on the order of operations. I gavestudents who demonstrated an above-proficient level of understanding on the pretest guidelines so theycould work independently in a different part of the room.
T
ogether they practiced using the correct order of operations to simplify expressions that contain more complex operations, such as nested parentheses andbrackets. After checking their practice work themselves, students used a teacher-created set of cards thatcontained a variety of numbers and mathematical symbols to create algebraic expressions that simplify to agiven number.
 
Students who demonstrated a partial understanding of the order of operations stayed in the classroom for 
 
the teacher-led portion of the lesson and participated in a guided practice activity. (I usually include such anactivity after whole-group instruction.)
T
hese students then worked on the enrichment activities listed above.Students who had shown little understanding of this concept participated in the whole-group lesson,watching and listening as I used a think-aloud to model the correct order of operations.
T
hey then addednotes to their interactive notebook, including examples, and worked through a cooperative learning activity. Igave small groups of these learners cards of practice problems. After a student chose a card, the entiregroup simplified the problem on individual whiteboards; when everyone was done, students compared their boards.
T
he last part of class time was dedicated to independent work with order of operations. As students
 
worked, I helped as needed and checked in with the groups of students working on enrichment activities.
Fu
rther Assessments
Fl
ag St 
ud
ents' Nee
d
s
In a standards-based classroom, after students complete the learning activities in a unit, another assessment covering the objectives is in order. I score these tests and record the results. But because myaim is formative, students see their results not as letter grades, but as feedback about progress on each of the learning objectives (Chappuis & Chappuis, 2007).
Fi
g
u
re 1. Gra
d
e for an En
d-
of 
-U
n
i
t Assessment 
L
earning Objective:Problem#PointspossiblePointsearnedProficientscore
Order of operations 1±5 5 3.5Mental math 6±9 4 2.5Evaluating expressions 10±13 6 4.5
T
ranslatingexpressions14±16 7 5.5Writing expressions 17±21 7 5
T
o manage this much formative data for all my students, I use a sheet that shows each learner's raw scorefor each learning objective assessed. As shown in Figure 1, this sheet indicates which math problemsmeasure that objective, the highest number of points one can earn on those problems, and what score onthe problem set is considered proficient.
T
he number of problems or level of points allocated to thatparticular objective shows its importance in the unit. Organizing assessments according to objectives helpsme maintain a reasonable time frame for grading.
T
o keep my own detailed record of progress, I enter eachstudent's score for each learning objective separately into my grade book (see fig. 2).
 
Fi
g
u
re 2. Part 
i
a
l
Snapshot of a Stan
d
ar
d
s
-B
ase
d
Gra
d
e
B
ook for a
U
n
i
t on A
l
gebra
ic
Express
i
ons
OverallGradeOrder of Operations Mental MathEvaluatingExpressions
5.0 4.0 6.0Kris 80.0 B- 4.5 90.0 A- 1.5 37.5 F 6.0 100.0 ANora 83.3 B 4.0 80.0 B- 4.0 100.0 A4.5 75.0 C Aidan 70.0 C- 3.5 70.0 C- 2.5 62.5 D- 4.5 75.0 CCraig 86.7 B 4.5 90.0 A- 3.0 75.0 C 5.5 91.7 A-Jenny 93.3 A 5.0 100.0 A 3.5 87.5B+5.5 91.7 A-Paul 60.0 D- 4.0 80.0 B- 1.5 37.5 F 3.5 58.3 FBrian 86.7 B 4.5 90.0 A- 3.5 87.5B+5.0 83.3 B Alecia 96.7 A 5.0 100.0 A 4.0 100.0 A5.5 91.7 A-Jonathan 53.3 F 2.0 40.0 F 3.5 87.5B+2.5 41.7 FKyle 100.0 A 5.0 100.0 A 4.0 100.0 A6.0 100.0 AChanging to a standards-based assessment and grading system can be difficult for students. Many areanxious; they miss the comfort and familiarity of overall scores and letter grades on assessments. Beforereturning the first assessment, I discuss with students my assessment system and the reasons behind it.
T
his helps us focus on learning and deemphasizes the importance of a grade. I explain that students won'treceive an overall grade on any assessment because it's their progress on learning objectives that'simportant.Students and parents often need help to maintain this perspective, particularly in the beginning of the year.One week before each assessment I send parents an e-mail to inform them of the assessment and share
 
some details. I usually include the kind of information shown in Figure 1 and provide problems from thetextbook that correlate with each learning objective. After an assessment, I make affirming calls to the

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