The Grading Revolution: Are Teachers Doing it Right?

Clare Hardiman From the newly implemented AAPPL language exam to standard-based grading, the Latin faculty has been changing things up for its students over the past couple of years. In fact, some new scientific studies and books about student behavior have inspired teachers to change their grading systems to best suit their students. However, new ways of teaching and new grading systems can cause confusion in student expectations. Does it benefit or hinder students, as they move from teacher to teacher and style to style? In an attempt to find out why teachers believe their respective grading systems are beneficial to students, I talked with Ms. McGlinn and Ms. Callis (both English teachers), Mr. McArthur (Math teacher), and Mr. Marshall (History and English Teacher). Ms. McGlinn teaches English 9 and the senior Modern and Contemporary Poetry elective and uses a skill-mastery approach “to encourage students,” but never makes it “punitive.” She explains that her “grading is pretty much the same for both classes in terms of encouraging students to feel comfortable with their writing.” Since freshmen “feel really intimidated writing analytical pieces,” she tries to “nurture their writing” and “de-emphasize grades.” Similarly, “a lot of students who take Modern and Contemporary Poetry are intimidated by poetry.” Because Ms. McGlinn wants students to feel comfortable implementing new writing skills, she gives letter-based grades for each skill taught, and by the end of the year, students are expected to use all skills cohesively. Ms. Callis teaches English 9 and Senior Shakespeare, LGBTQ+ Lit, and Disenchantment and Fantasy Literature electives. She uses “standard based assessment, however, the standards look different based on the level of the class, though they are all focused on the three major skills in writing: focus, support, and structure.” Ms. Callis has a particular opinion on the purpose of grades. “I believe,” she says, “that grades should be reflective of students’ skills so that we should be able to look at a grade and know where that student is in terms of learning.” In the past, grades have reflected “skill, effort, timeliness, and time management,” which Ms. Callis believes distracts from a student’s writing growth over the year; this is why she doesn’t take off points for tardiness. “The benefit to communicating in terms of what skills a student has acquired shows what they have worked on and what they need to work on.” Due to this outlook, Ms. Callis does not average students’ grades which could be “more damaging to student and a student’s grade than beneficial.” Instead, she takes the mode of their grade, which consists of “emerging, proficient, and command” standards and converts the student’s highest achieved standard into a letter grade. Mr. McArthur teaches teaches Algebra I, Honors Precalculus, and Honors Accelerated Precalculus. A staple of his grading technique is that he utilizes student corrections before assigning grades. “My teaching system is generally the same for all classes,” said McArthur. “A student’s grade is a combination of homework, quizzes, and tests,” varying based on course and student needs. Mr. McArthur has implemented a new system where he “hands back assessments without grades on them because it has been shown to make students more willing to correct their errors. After they correct it, they get some points back.” Not putting grades on tests when first handing them back “motivates students to improve; they just see what’s wrong and want to fix it.” Mr. MacArthur wants students to master a skill rather than focus on getting every problem right for the grade. “Reflecting on your mistakes is a powerful way to grow and learn and anything I can do as a teacher to get students to improve on their weakness, I tend to do. If one of those things is giving them points back, I will do that.” Mr. Marshall teaches the English portion of American Civilization, English 9, and U.S. Social History, relying on a twenty-five point system for quizzes and other assessments. “In my class, all assessments are divided into a certain number of sections with each section worth twenty-five points and assessing a different skill. Once a student has six separate 25-point assignments in the gradebook, the lowest score out of those six gets dropped. The more 25-point units I can give out, the less important each will be which allows a student room for error.” Not only does this grading system make students less nervous, but, after some assignments, he also gives “recovery points” through additional assignments. Mr. Marshall, like McArthur, is not so much concerned with students’ grades than their ability to learn new concepts. He recognizes the people who do the recovery assignment to improve their skills versus the ones who do it simply for the grade. He wants to see students “making an effort to improve” because he relies on the Bicycle Theory. “If you don’t learn to ride a bicycle one day, we don’t say ‘too bad.’You can just go out and try the next day until you learn to do it.” Similarly, Mr. Marshall gives his students “another opportunity to show they know the information. Riding a bicycle for the first time is like taking a test—you get another chance.” However, like many other teachers, he knows that letter grades are a “necessary evil.” For them, the real hope is for students “who understand your standards, believe they’re good standards, and wants to achieve them for themselves, not for grades.” As many teachers stated, there is no one best way to teach. Most teachers grade differently, in and out of each department, and each respective way of grading and teaching is beneficial to students in a different way. As students move throughout high school, it is important that they are taught individually because it helps each student learn as much as possible. Ms. McGlinn summed the teacher perspective very well. “It is really important that teachers have different grading systems. It is incredibly healthy. Students need to be exposed to a range of styles and methodologies because that’s what life is. You will have professors who have a range of ways of teaching. When you go into the workforce, you will have bosses who teach in different ways. We don’t have to adhere to a single way of teaching, to a single way of grading, to a single way of assessing students.” ]]>