Have you ever stopped and asked yourself “why do I grade?” It may be to communicate the understanding of the child, or even to group children for educational programs (gifted, special needs, RTI). However, grading is just one method of feedback. It is NOT essential for educating (however, checking for understanding is essential and used for diagnostic purposes) – without grading students still learn and teachers still teach. However, since we have to do it per our districts, let’s see if you are making some grading mistakes.
1.) Giving Zeros. Zeros are often given for missing work. Grading should reflect the student’s understanding of the work. By giving a zero, it’s seldom an accurate representation of what the student knows or is able to do. Additionally, by giving a zero, it takes 9 perfect scores in order to recover from that one zero! Can you imagine? That’s a lot of work to recover… And almost feels hopeless to some of our kiddos. Our grading scale is horribly inaccurate (0-50 for an F – an interval of 50 points, while the rest of the grades have approximately an interval of 10 points). It can very quickly skew the average and definitely not demonstrate the student’s level of knowledge.
Alternative: I know, what are you to do then!? Well, first, ask yourself if you are using that zero as a punishment. If so, definitely read number two next. An alternative to giving a zero for missing work is to either provide the student with an I for incomplete and make a strict policy to complete it to get a grade (provide early morning time, lunch time, or after school time to complete it if necessary), or give the student a 50%. (I always placed a 50% in the computer but placed a note in the comments that this work is missing.) Until our grading system becomes a bit more accurate – such as a scale similar to colleges (A = 4, B = 3, C = 2, D = 1, F = 0), we need to come up with something different to supplement grading mistakes.
2.) Use Grades as a Form of Punishment. Many teachers don’t necessarily mean to use grades as a punishment or even know they are doing it. But ask yourself – do you feel if you give students a low grade, maybe it will somehow get their parents on board to “kick the student in gear?” If you are giving a zero to teach responsibility, then really you are punishing. (I know, I’m going to ruffle feathers here.) Some teachers will even take points away for infractions. There are actually no studies that have shown that punishment for low grades are effective. In fact, students often withdraw rather than put forth greater effort.
Alternative: Grades should never be used as a “weapon.” If students aren’t turning in their work consider the above, but also consider a reward instead. What I mean is, tell students “if all your work is in by the test (or whatever) then you’ll add 5% to their score. If you have one missing assignment, I’ll only add 4%.” So on. Additionally, you should grade behavior and work ethics separately.
3.) Only Contact Parents at Reporting Time. Some teachers, unfortunately, do not keep parents aware of their child’s grades until progress report and report card time. I know when they first started coming out with the online reporting for parents, I assumed that parents would just look it up if they wanted to know. That was a big mistake. There is nothing more embarrassing than having a parent sitting across from you at conferences furious because they knew “nothing” about the grades going south. This is one of the biggest grading mistakes you can make!
Alternative: Keep parents informed at all times. Do not assume (a huge issue I struggle with) that they saw any graded papers coming home, read the parental portal, or whatever. Parents are busy and not always on top of it. Give them the heads up through various methods such as phone calls, newsletters, personal letters, conferences, or weekly progress reports. I have a method where I use Friday Folders to assist parents on how their child is doing both academically and behaviorally each week. You can read about it (and download it free) here. Parents need that time to help their child recover. Give plenty of it. (Plus it’s a good CYB.)
4.) Grading Everything! Oh my goodness. When I first started teaching, I collected everything and graded everything. I’m pretty sure I easily had 35 papers or more a week per student. Talk about crazy excessive! I have since learned that you should NEVER grade that much! Most importantly, you should never grade anything until your students have had plenty of practice opportunities. Imagine your first driving experience and being graded on it. It seems unfair because you are still learning. It’s the same with practice work.
Alternative: Do yourself and your students a favor – check together. Students need feedback immediately, and this is the perfect opportunity. Or, my favorite – sometimes you can just give a check for doing it (students love stars too!) and call it good. Of course, there is this beautiful can over by your desk called a trashcan. It sometimes eats papers. 🙂
5.) Only Provide a Grade. Do you just give students a grade on their paper and not tell them what specifically they need to work on? Do you provide parents with a grade on the report card (or progress report) but don’t provide comments that explain anything? I always like to document everything. By writing on the report card a comment such as “student needs to learn basic facts” or something similar, you are not only providing parents with specifics (including parents that may be separated and both get the card) but also the next year’s teacher. We file report cards in our files and that is a great way for me to see what was going on. Students need feedback on their papers. Most look at the grade and toss it in the trash. They don’t look beyond that. Next to the grade write something quick like “Basic errors” or “struggling with ___” I have even talked to the student myself when I handed it back.
Alternative: Give comments on the report card, paper, or talk to the student personally.
6.) Grading Homework. If you are grading homework, you may want to reconsider. Since the work goes home, you aren’t always sure who is completing the homework and just how much assistance a child is receiving. It’s truly not an accurate representation of the student’s understanding. I can think of many times that homework was returning to me in the parent’s handwriting! After talking to the parent, the reasoning was the child was too tired to do it.
Alternative: Keep a checklist of homework turned it and just collect it as a participation grade.
Grading should reflect not only the student’s performance and understanding but also your quality of teaching. If every student has an A, are you being challenging enough? The reality is, if you don’t give enrichment to the higher end students, they will sail through education thinking it’s super easy and be crushed when they finally hit that “challenge.” I have seen it personally with my own child. Grading should enhance your learning and teaching.