How do you balance your grading?
I’m not just talking about the balance of homework, classwork, quizzes, et cetera (though that’s part of it). I’m talking about the dichotomy between assessing content and assessing personal responsibility.
I ask because I’ve been thinking about grading a lot for a while, and any time I talk to anyone about it, they are absolutely convinced that their way is the number one best way to do it, and every other way is so sucktastic that it makes them throw up in their mouth a little bit to even consider it. (That’s assuming, of course, that they get to choose their own way of grading and don’t just have to do whatever their district dictates. That seems to automatically make everyone angry.)
At my school, we have two choices of how to grade: total points (which is, obviously, the total points a student can earn) and what we call standards-based weighted grading (which means that 80% of a student’s grade is from assessments, which are supposed to be of the standards, and 20% is participation, or basically the formative assessments like homework and classwork – all the practice to get you to the summative).
I use 80/20, and I like it. It means that the super smart kids who never do any homework but still know all the material and can still do really well on tests can still get a decent grade, but the kids who are hard workers and do every single assignment get rewarded for their work ethic. That to me seems fair.
When I was in 9th grade, I came really close to failing math, based solely on my non-completion of homework. I got As on every single test (literally EVERY SINGLE ONE – I am damn good at math, I just don’t like it), but I didn’t do my homework. My feeling was, I already understood the material and how to do it, and homework was supposed to be practice. If I didn’t need the practice to succeed on the test, why waste my time doing it? My teacher’s opinion differed – he used total points, and assigned sufficient points to the homework so that it was about half the grade for the semester. I assume his philosophy was the ever-popular one about teaching kids responsibility and that you have to do stuff that you don’t want to because in life you have to do stuff you don’t want to sometimes, and you better learn how to just suck it up and do it.
I get that perspective, I do. Colleagues frequently express that view to me, and I understand where they’re coming from. But…I have a hard time with it to some extent, partially because of my own experience, and partially because of what I’m supposed to teach. According to my school, my district, my state, my country, I’m supposed to be teaching standards of Language Arts. You know, about reading, writing, speaking, listening…all that jazz. I know my state standards very well, and I know my district’s curriculum framework very well, and nowhere in either is there anything about teaching responsibility. My standards are about content, and that’s it.
So I give my kids a lot of chances to demonstrate their knowledge about content. I take late work with no penalty, because 10% off for every day late has nothing to do with how well the kid can write a personal narrative, and that’s what I’m supposed to be assessing. Plus I harass the crap out of them to get the work done at all – I yank ‘em out of lunch, track ‘em down before and after school, call parents to enlist their support…anything that gets the work in. Some of my colleagues get all squicky about this and huff and puff about how then the kids aren’t learning to be responsible. Yep. That’s probably true. But they’re learning to write, and that’s what I’m supposed to be teaching them.
Now, do I think that responsibility is an important thing for kids to learn? Absolutely. If they’re going to go to college, they have to know how to be at least somewhat self-directed in their learning and get their work done on their own. Even if they don’t go to college, they’ll have to take responsibility for meeting deadlines in their jobs and in their personal lives. If your rent gets in late, well, your landlord probably isn’t going to be very understanding about that. So, yes, I want them to learn responsibility. But I want some guidelines on what it means to teach that. Some consistency. Some standards, if you will.
So that’d be my request. As this movement towards national standards keeps barreling forward, add some standards about responsibility. What that looks like in each grade level. What we expect kids to be able to do when they get out of public education. Whether that’s a general set of standards or part of each specific content area, I don’t know, but I’d be open to whatever. I think many people would agree that teaching kids to be productive members of society is part of the school system’s mission. Let’s formalize that so I can stop arguing with my colleagues over it.
What do you think? Do you consider teaching responsibility part of your job? Would you support standards around that goal?
(Photo credit to nosha)