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GRADING MALPRACTICE:
Why We MUST Align Assessment Practice with Assessment Research
Billie Donegan,, The Center for Secondary School Redesign, www.cssr.us

As American secondary school leaders take on the challenge of preparing students for a challenging world,
they must take on the challenge of guiding their teachers to embrace the state-of-the art research that will
accomplish that goal. One of the quickest and most critical ways to stimulate positive change in the classroom
is by tackling our current traditional grading practice and replacing it with proven best practice in grading and
assessment. It is virtually impossible to maximize student achievement if we fail to redesign how we grade.
There is a preponderance of evidence on assessment and grading that shows how traditional practices not
only produce low yields, but frequently inhibit motivation and academic growth. This session will provide
instructional leaders with research and tools that will allow them to explode the myth of the zero, address the
tyranny of averaging, and lead their faculty to standards-based grading
for learning. Participants will also leave with informative assessment tools that will increase learning and build
student ownership in their own progress. This session provides frequent opportunities for self-assessing and
interacting as we share ways to meet this challenge.

Handouts in this packet include:


1-2. A Preponderance of Evidence
3. The Assessment Experience, Stiggins
4. Ken O’Connor’s 15 Fixes for Broken Grades
5. An Innocent E-mail and an Averaging Quiz
6-7. The Homework Dilemma
8. Charting Progress Example
9-10. Self-Analysis of Assessment Examples
11-12. Developing a Departmental Policy That Aligns with Best Practice

Other handouts will be referred to during the session and available through e-mail request.

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Grade Reflects Take Small Steps to Shift More Toward Right Grade Reflects
Behavior           Learning
Quantity           Quality
Journey           Destination
Individual Preference           Common Agreement
Short-Term Compliance           Long-Term Retention
Teacher Involvement           Student Involvement
Arbitrary Assignments           Authentic Experiences
Building a Knowledge Base on the Link between
Assessment, Grading, Homework and LEARNING

 150 Ways to Increase Motivation in the Classroom, Raffini


 Ahead of the Curve: The Power of Assessment to Transform Teaching and Learning, Reeves-Stiggins-DuFour-Guskey, et al
 Activating the Desire to Learn, Sullo
 Assessing and Reporting on Habits of the Mind, Costa
 Assessment Manifesto, Stiggins
 Boosting Achievement with Messages that Motivate, Dweck
 Building Teachers’ Capacity for Success: A Collaborative Approach for Coaches and School Leaders, Hall and Simeral
 The Case Against Homework, Bennett
 Clarity in the Classroom: Building Learning-Focused Relationships, Absolum
 Classroom Assessment and Grading that Work, Marzano
 Coaching Reluctant Learners, Donegan and Green
 Common Formative Assessment: Connecting to Standards-Based Instruction, Ainsworth
 The Competent Classroom: A Creative Guide to Aligning High School Curriculum, Standards, and Assessment, Zmuda
 Effective Grading Practice: How Small Decisions Make a Big Difference in Achievement and Motivation, Reeves
 Effort and Excellence in Urban Classrooms: Expecting and Getting Success with All Students, Corbett, Wilson and Williams
 Enhancing Student Achievement: A Framework for School Improvement, Danielson
 Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom, Wormeli
 Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students, Cushman
 The Game of School: Why We All Play It, How It Hurts Kids and What It Will Take to Change It, Fried
 Getting to Got It: Helping Struggling Students Learn How to Learn, Garner
 Grading Practices that Work Against Standards and How to Fix Them, Guskey
 The Homework Myth, Kohn
 How to Grade for Learning, O’Connor
 How to Thrive as a Teacher Leader, Gabriel
 Improving Student Learning One Teacher at a Time, Pollock
 The Kids Left Behind, Barr
 The Learner-Centered Classroom, McCombs
 The Learning Leader: How to Focus School Improvement for Better Results, Reeves
 Making Classroom Assessment Work, Davies
 Motivating Students in an Era of Standards, Sagor
 Never Work Harder than Your Students and Other Principles of Great Teaching, Jackson
 The Passionate Teacher: A Practical Guide, Fried
 Personalizing the High School Experience for Each Student, DiMartino and Clarke
 Practical Solutions for Serious Problems in Grading, Guskey
 The Quality School Teacher, Glasser
 A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, O’Connor
 The Standards-Based Teaching to Learning Cycle, Benson
 Test Better-Teach Better: The Instructional Role of Assessment, Popham
 Tranformative Assessment, Popham
 Transforming Classroom Grading, Marzano
 Why Didn’t I Learn This in College?, Rutherford

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WHY WE MUST MAKE THE SHIFT!
These Author’s Know Just How Important It Is
“What we now know
“The antiquated grading about effective classroom
assessment and grading is
system in use today has
vastly different practice from
little or no research to the norm.
support its continuation
and is highly ineffective. When teachers make this shift
the impact on subsequent
student success is substantial:
A complete shift in our
improved performance in
practice is needed if we grade-equivalent scores of
are ever to maximize as much as three or four grade
student performance.” levels, which translates on
standardized test scores
to improvement of almost
15 percentile points.”

And from Ahead of the Curve: The Power of Assessment to Transform Teaching and Learning:
“Courage is required. Those who implement changes in assessment, grading, and the professional practices
surrounding it, risk not only confrontation, but also unpopularity, social isolation, and public humiliation.”

Involving students in actively


monitoring their progress on
specific learning targets:
Research results for builds ownership of learning
GOAL SETTING: and responsibility in the
percentile gains of 16 - 21 %. classroom
increases the likelihood
students will avail themselves
Research results for
of support opportunities
TRACKING PROGRESS:
*every 3 weeks +13.5% helps students set goals and
*every week +24.5% devise action plans to
increase their performance
motivates students to stay
Research results for
engaged in the learning
FEEDBACK: process
percentile gains of 10 - 37 %.

And from Transformative Assessment:


“Any time an author predicts that a book can help bring about a fundamental transformation in anything;
you’re likely dealing with someone in need of therapy. So why do I claim classroom assessment can trigger
such a transformation in someone’s teaching? I do it because I know the claim to be stone-cold true.”

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The Assessment Experience
Excerpt from “Assessment Through Students’ Eyes”, by Rick Stiggins, 2007
ETS Assessment Training Institute helps K-12 educators improve student achievement by
integrating student-involved classroom assessment with day-to-day instruction.
www.assessmentinst.com
FOR STUDENTS ON WINNING STREAKS FOR STUDENTS ON LOSING STREAKS
Assessment results provide…
Continual evidence of success Continual evidence of failure
The student feels…
Hopeful and optimistic Hopeless
Empowered to take productive action Initially panicked, giving way to resignation
The student thinks…
It’s all good. I’m doing fine. This hurts. I’m not safe here.
See the trend? I succeed as usual. I just can’t do this . . . again.
I want more success. I’m confused. I don’t like this – help!
School focuses on what I do well. Why is it always about what I can’t do?
I know what to do next. Nothing I try seems to work.
Feedback helps me. Feedback is criticism. It hurts.
Public success feels good. Public failure is embarrassing.
The student becomes more likely to…
Seek challenges. Seek what’s easy.
Seek exciting new ideas. Avoid new concepts and approaches.
Practice with gusto. Become confused about what to practice.
Take initiative. Avoid initiative.
Persist in the face of setbacks. Give up when things become challenging.
Take risks and stretch – go for it! Retreat and escape – trying is too dangerous!
These actions lead to…
Self-enhancement Self-defeat, self-destruction
Positive self-fulfilling prophecy Negative self-fulfilling prophecy
Acceptance of responsibility Denial of responsibility
Manageable stress High stress
Feeling that success is its own reward No feelings of success, no reward
Curiosity, enthusiasm Boredom, frustration, fear, anger
Continuous adaptation Inability to adapt
Resilience Yielding quickly to defeat
Strong foundations for future success Failure to master prerequisites for future success

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From A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor
Educational Testing Service, 2007 ISBN 0-88685-387-7
www.assessmentinst.com

Our current grading practices often not only fail to meet our objectives but also wind up doing the opposite
of what we intend. O’Connor does a great job of setting the stage for the underpinning issues of fairness, motivation, and
objectivity - as well as the importance of student involvement - as we examine and improve grading practices. He
provides excellent research and rationale, plenty of examples, and ways to involve students for each “fix”.

Fixes for Practices that Distort Achievement


1. Don’t include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc.) in grades; include only
achievement.
2. Don’t reduce marks on “work” submitted late; provide alternate deterrents and provide support for the learner.
3. Don’t give points for extra credit or use bonus points; seek only evidence that more work has resulted in a higher
level of achievement.
4. Don’t punish academic dishonesty with reduced grades; apply other consequences and reassess to determine
actual level of achievement.
5. Don’t consider attendance in grade determination; report absences separately.
6. Don’t include group scores in grades; use only individual achievement evidence.

Fixes for Low-Quality or Poorly Organized Evidence


7. Don’t organize information in grading reports by assessment methods (quizzes, tests, homework, etc.) or simply
summarize into a single grade; organize and report evidence by standards/learning goals.
8. Don’t assign grades using inappropriate or unclear performance standards; provide clear descriptions of
achievement expectations.
9. Don’t assign grades based on student’s achievement compared to other students; compare each student’s
performance to preset standards.
10. Don’t rely on evidence gathered using assessments that fail to meet standards of quality; rely only on quality
assessments.

Fixes for Inappropriate Grade Calculation


11. Don’t rely only on the mean; consider other measures of central tendency and use professional judgment.
12. Don’t include zeros in grade determination when evidence is missing or as punishment; use alternative deterrents
and use alternative grading such as reassessing to determine real achievement or use “I” for Incomplete or
Insufficient Evidence.

Fixes to Support Learning


13. Don’t use information from formative assessments and practice to determine grades; use only summative
evidence.
14. Don’t summarize evidence accumulated over time when learning is developmental and will grow with time and
repeated opportunities; in those instances, emphasize more recent achievement.
15. Don’t leave students out of the grading process. Involve students; they can – and should – play key roles in
assessment and grading that promotes achievement.

Date: Thurs, 11 Nov 2007 21:12 (PDT)


From: Linda Anderson <kljjand@peakinet.com>
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Subject: Thank you for contacting us!
To: <dschurmann@XXXschools.k12.il.us>
Dear Ms. Shurmann,

Jeff's father and I both appreciate that you let us know about the failing grade he is making in German. We are sorry he
has not been living up to his potential, and we will have a family meeting/“talking to” this weekend to make certain the Jeff
begins to take his education responsibilities more seriously from this point on. We assure you it will include grounding
until his grade comes up.

If possible, can you provide us with some more information and ammunition for this conversation? What are some
behaviors, assignments, or skills that are lacking? What assignments or behaviors do you need to see from him so he
can begin passing? And if he can turn himself around – and we assure you he WILL – what is the highest projected grade
he can reach by the time report cards come out?

Thank you again for taking the time to notify us. If for any reason, you don't see a change in Jeff's performance, please
let us know and we will see to it he makes the most of your class.

Sincerely,
Linda and Kenneth Anderson
642-1314
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Date: Fri, 12 Nov 2007 11:09 (PDT)
From: <dschurmann@XXXschools.k12.il.us>
Subject: RE: Thank you for contacting us!
To: kljjand@peakinet.com

Dear Mrs. Anderson,


Thank you for your support. I am sure that working together we can help Jeff pass. As you know, Jeff’s current average
is 44.31% which is significantly below what he is capable of. As of today, he is missing 13 homework assignments. For
six of those assignments, he is beyond the window of opportunity to turn those in late and will receive a zero for those
assignments. Four of those assignments are still within that “late” window, and if he will turn them in by the end of next
week I can allow him to receive a 50 on each of those. I am willing to accept the final three assignments by the end of
next week for full credit. You can look in Jeff’s notebook at the homework assignment list and it is also posted on our
German II webpage on the school website.

We have one remaining chapter left before the final. If Jeff will complete those seven assignments, continue to participate
in class, and stay at the same level on tests, he has the ability to receive a projected potential grade of 72.1% by report
card time. Jeff’s main problem is he believes he is “above” doing the homework. His attitude has been of concern on this
topic and he is perfectly capable of completing them on his own. His test and quiz average so far this semester is
96.67%. If he had completed the required homework, his scores could have been in the high A level. Once again, I
appreciate your interest and your support. I look forward to working this out for Jeff’s behalf,
Doris Schurmann
XXX High School, 642-2001
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CLASS GRADING POLICY Susan’s Grades Resulted In… Kyle’s Unit 3 Quizzes/Test…
Class Participation = 15% Class Participation = 7% 1 Quiz 1: 88
Homework = 15% Homework = 12% 3 Quiz 2: 78
In-Class Assignments = 20% In-Class Assignments = 18% 4 Quiz 3: 0
Tests and Quizes = 30% Tests and Quizzes = 23% 2 Quiz 4: 91
Final Project = 10% Final Project = 10% 4 Unit Test: 87 (x4)
Final Exam = 10% Final Exam = 9% 4
100% Total Points Possible What grade should Susan get? What grade should Kyle get?

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Here’s what we usually try…

Experience
 This approach worked for me as a student.

 This approach works successfully for some students I teach now.

Logic and Reason


 You’re in high school now, you need to learn to be responsible.

 Homework will help you learn more and make better grades.

 You need to learn to do homework now, so you’ll be prepared to


do homework in college.

Consequences
 Your grades will suffer if you don’t do homework.

 If you don’t do homework, you’ll be in trouble with


…me …parents …front office …college …screwed up for life.

Take a deep breath and let go!

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So…then what CAN improve their
application of homework so that
their learning CAN improve ? ? ? ?

SOME GIVENS:
 Assessment is the process of gathering evidence to inform instructional decisions.
It is rarely used that way. Shift!

 Homework- when designed and used correctly - can be a key instructional tool and assessment
tool. It is rarely designed and used for maximum effectiveness. Shift!

 One size can not fit all. Personalized performance assessment works best to increase learning and
to measure learning. Homework is almost never used this way. Shift!

SOME STRATEGIES THAT HAVE A PROVEN TRACK RECORD:


 Community-Based, Problem-Based, Performance-Based, and Service-Based Assignments

 Student Voice in Homework Design

 Differentiation as Part of Homework Design

 Interesting and Integral Use of Homework Application in Class

 Study Teams

 Use of Homework in Action Research – classroom or individual

 Students Involved in Monitoring Progress through Assessments FOR Learning.

 Personalized Negotiation

 Proactive Parent Outreach on Front End

 Frequent, Positive, and Purposeful Intervention with Student

 Frequent, Positive, and Purposeful Communication with Parents

 Celebration and Intrinsic Rewarding of Progress on Homework

 Interdisciplinary Extension and Enrichment

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METACOGNITION: The Importance of Charting Progress

Traditional progress reports rarely show progress. Students and teachers both benefit from seeing visual and periodic progress, and use that documentation
in “micro-feedback” loops. When students take a moment to chart their own progress you are automatically building ownership and responsibility for
their own learning and their own results. You could do it weekly as in the chart below, but you need to at least do it every three weeks (easier.)

“Metacognition” in this context means we teach students to make connections between their actions and their results. Students write on the slanted line the
actions and behaviors that created the result. Teachers may need to help them see those relationships in the beginning – Did they attend tutoring? Did the
study with a partner? Did they turn in homework? Did they forget to do make-up work? Were they absent three days in a row? Include adult supports!

In a traditional classroom, students are competing against every other student for a “grade”. Where you stand in relation to 35 other kids matters. In a
personalized classroom, students are competing against themselves. Where they stand this week compared to where they stood last week matters.
Students see the teacher and fellow students as part of team that provides support for everyone else’s personal improvement.

Creating the “first” measurement as a baseline score allows you to start from a neutral position and recognize effort, helping students make the connection
that “work works.” Because it is a neutral scoring system, it can be posted for teams within a period and/or in period-by-period chart in “healthy
competition” between one class and another.

End of Week: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
+36
+33
+30
+27
+24
+21
+18
+15
*12
+9
+6
+3
Baseline Growth: up 2 Growth: up 4 Growth: down 9 Growth: up 12 Growth: up 9 Growth: Growth: Growth: Growth:
-3
-6
-9
-12
-15

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Biology Success Tracker: UNDERSTANDING ECOSYSTEMS
Unit Test Questions Current Final
MUST Knows Question # Right
What I want to learn and do before final rubric score ---- 1 - 4 SCORE SCORE

Able to describe how energy


becomes available within the
ecosystem
Able to describe what
happens to energy as it flows
and to matter as it cycles
through the ecosystem
Able to identify and describe
the relationship between
living and non-living factors
in an ecosystem

Able to identify trends

Able to create graph

Able to use graphs to identify


and analyze problems

Able to make predictions


about environmental changes

Recall, interpret, and use the


twelve key vocabulary related
to ecosystem

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________________________________
World History Period ______
LEARNING JOURNEY:_______________________________________________________________

I’m under water!! I’d float with a Treading water Swimming to Land Ho!
SKILL “Glub-Glub” life jacket. on my own Shore
CONCEPT
TERM

==================================

Test Analysis on
Q# IN YOUR OWN WORDS (short), What do we need to teach/do/learn
By when??
missed what was this question asking? to get it right when you see it again?

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Developing Departmental Assessment and Grading Practices
Remember:
*What works for one department may not work for another department. For example, in a course such as
speech, foreign language, or music, “participation” may need to be very specific, serve a very critical role in
learning, and thus be given larger weight than it would in mathematics. Likewise, practice at home may be
more potent and prevalent for some courses than for others, etc.

*Let some departments move more quickly than others. Another contributing factor is “departmental culture”
– some departments may be more willing and ready to embrace best practice than others, and thus their first
year work surrounding effective grading and assessment practice may be ahead of other departments. That is
okay, as long as each department is beginning to take steps to align their current practice with proven best
practice.
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Our current practices are not only strongly rooted in tradition, they are strongly rooted in a belief it is the right
thing to do. Like “urban myths”, many of our strongly held beliefs have actually been clearly shown to be
untrue. The following beliefs, however, have been shown to be true. If you don’t agree with at least the first
three statements (that are verified by overwhelming evidence), then it will be virtually impossible to develop
assessment and grading practices that maximize student learning and motivation.
1) Human beings make significant changes in their lives only when they are in an environment where they
feel genuinely cared about.
2) The threat of a low grade is much more likely to motivate high achieving students than low achieving
students.
3) There is little or no evidence that repeated failure makes people more responsible.
4) One of the easiest ways for human beings to avoid the responsibility of failure is to quit trying.
5) There is a major difference between making it difficult for students to fail and making it easy to get
passing grades without much work and rework.

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To wind up with the highest quality outcome, follow these seven steps:

1st: ASSESSMENT LITERACY – There is a preponderance of clear evidence about “what works” and what
doesn’t; what is good for student motivation and learning, and what is detrimental. Any discussion or decision
about grading and assessment practices must not take place until at least a foundational understanding of
proven best practice is clearly communicated and understood within a department. Department Chair can
expose (or revisit) a few key articles with their teachers through jigsaw reading, joint reading, or their own
synthesis of the research and practice about what we know works best to both increase learning, and increase
motivation and responsibility.

2nd: ASSESSMENT PHILOSOPY – Department Chair should work with their teachers to develop a
departmental philosophy surrounding the “Integrity of the Grade,” by answering the following questions:
 Why do we grade? Which of those reasons is most important? (rank order)
 What do we want a grade to represent about what a student has mastered in our content area and
will remember and be able to use later?
 Are we confident we have a quality over quantity approach? (no more than 6-7 top notch assignments
per unit.) Have we “bundled” where possible and appropriate?
 Are we proud of our assignments and assessments? (proficient or above, engaging, personalized)
Have we compared and analyzed? When, how, and how much do we want to work on those together?
 Are we using homework as assessments FOR learning adequately?
 Can we ethically and concretely show others that we have parity in grading and equity of service?
To what extent are we willing to do so?
 How do we want to communicate our philosophy to students and parents?
 How do we want to communicate progress to students and parents?
 Where on the “philosophical continuum” are we willing to be this year on the key issues that increase
student learning and motivation?
 Is this lip service or will it become a deeply held departmental belief and our professional practice?
How can we support each other to live up to this philosophy?

There are a whole set of top-notch practices

}
3rd: ASSESSMENTS OF LEARNING
that yield high results in these four categories.
4th: ASSESSMENTS FOR LEARNING
It is helpful, but not mandatory, for these to be
5th: PERSONALIZED PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENTS
developed before #7, as long as you intend to
6th: SUPPORT SYSTEMATIZED & NONINVITATIONAL
begin developing and addressing them ASAP.

Then...7th: GRADING PROTOCOLS


 Determine how assignments and grades will match up with powerful standards.
 Determine which items are formative and which are summative.
 Determine the number of authentic assessment experiences to be expected each term.
 Determine appropriate weight for key components of our content learning design.
 Develop appropriate rubric or description of basic, proficient, above proficient, and exceeds
expectations (or A,B,C, F or 4,3,2,1 – etc.).
 Develop our practice regarding “I”nsufficient evidence versus “opting out”.
 Establish appropriate grade determination practices versus “averaging”.
 Determine how best to give specific feedback on 21st Century Skills.
 Determine how we want our “grade books” to look.

For more information, contact Billie Donegan or Joe DiMartino at 401-828-0077 – info@cssr.us.

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