Michele Whaley – Grading

Dear Ben,
I’m wondering what everyone else in this group is doing about grades. Our district now has Zangle, which has a serious disadvantage in that whatever way you set it up at the beginning of the year is the way it will stay all year. No tweaking, unless you want it to affect the entire year for that class.
This year and last, I went for Standards-Based grading the way I understood it from Scott Benedict. I really liked setting what I thought was important in the heaviest weight: speaking. Then came writing. The next highest couple of weights were listening and reading. After that were structures, vocabulary and culture. At the bottom of the pile (or the top, but in any case, having the least weight), was citizenship. SBG meant that anyone could look at a grade report and see which areas kids excelled in or needed to build up.
I liked doing that a lot, but had to keep remembering to keep grades going into the different categories. I felt that the grades were as fair as they could be and reflected what the kids were really doing.
But it took a lot of effort, and part of me wants to just do points, with the daily and occasional bigger quizzes and speaking assignments. It seems to me that grades are such an imperfect measure, and that we know better grades (success) motivate better than poor grades, so why not make it possible for every kid to get good grades…if they’re there and paying attention.
I talked recently with a colleague who uses standard-based grading in her math and English classes. She does it in this way: she enters the standard, and gives the kids multiple chances to prove mastery of that standard. She records their most recent grade (B for mastered, A for excelled, C for progress, and so on). She gives kids warning when it’s about to be their last chance to prove it. I really like this idea, but am a bit at a loss how to do it in language–because it seems as though one would have to put standards in terms of themes, and I don’t do themes any more. I could see “lists ten foods she likes” or “can read and respond to story on family” but without the themes, I’d be back to what I do–“retold Monkey story,” or “vocabulary/structure/listening quiz on president story.”
Now that I’ve watched the Susie DVD’s, I’m interested in limiting the time I spend on formal assessment and grading even more. In real life, I would prefer not to grade at all. Because I’m in public school, I have to have a system. If I have to have a system, I want to make it as motivating, simple and transparent as possible for all involved.



16 thoughts on “Michele Whaley – Grading”

  1. I’ve been reading “Grading for Learning” by Ken O’Connor, which was highly recommended by Scott Benedict. I LOVE this book! I plan to implement many of his suggestions next year. I know his Standards-based Grading may go against the more free-spirited inclinations of many TPRSers, but after a couple years of casual grading, I see two main benefits to the change.
    1) Many kids are suspicious of my teaching method. They get A’s and B’s but don’t feel competent. Having clearly stated standards and assessing those standards should boost their confidence, because they’ll have a clearer understanding of the progress they are making.
    2) I have included participation and class activities in the grades, which distorts the value of grades for communicating achievement. Why do I have kids getting A’s who can’t hold a conversation or C’s who can? I want to make sure I’m grading achievement, not compliance.

  2. O’Connor’s book was my grading bible over the last two years, because of Scott. I got so excited about it that our principal bought five extra copies for me to spread around the rest of the staff (in a school of 100 teachers, it isn’t exactly a lot, but still). I love that book too.
    I put participation, homework, and such things into the citizenship area. It didn’t much affect the grades, which were based mostly on speaking/writing as above, but the parents took note if the citizenship grades dropped. It was perfect for me–a way to share great or awful behavior without having it affect the grades, which were supposed to show level of mastery. But still, I’m trying to figure out what to say in those standard-based grading sections. O’Connor says that grades should change (that we should all mark in pencil) as the kids gain mastery. My colleague’s approach fits that idea beautifully, because in Zangle, you can’t erase grades later. You can change them, and put in the most recent date–

  3. Most kids have to want to be in the classroom in order for most approaches to grading to be accurate and honest and true indicators of progress. In my view, that one fact changes everything about grading.
    If it were clear to me that all my kids wanted to be in my classroom, I would then use standards based grading in a heartbeat, because both my students and I would see it as fair and helpful – we would want to know how we are doing in this acquisition of language process.
    But, since all the kids don’t really want to be there (maybe 20% really do), then why should I go to the trouble of assessing them relative to various standards when heart/mind effort isn’t there?
    When they walked into my classroom for the first time they didn’t just drop what they have learned to do to survive in all their other classes since about fifth grade, which was to find out what the teacher wants and provide it. I’m not talking about the four percenters – just the majority of them.
    Maybe I have different kinds of students than y’all. The fact is that it just isn’t worth my time to put all that effort into thinking about their work for me when, in my opinion, it is not reflective of real effort from them.
    It’s like getting all excited about keeping stats on a basketball team in a gym class. I would do it for a real basketball team where a lot is at stake and the athletes are really into it, but not in a gym class where the confidence and the desire to excel is there in only a few of the athletes.
    Honestly, Susie has talked all along about simplicity in grading and I do that and it saves me so much time and is at the same time, in my opinion, extremely accurate – more accurate than all the comlicated stuff I did before. Of course, I had to adopt Susie’s simple approach because this past year I had 165 students, and some were fairly rough individuals for whom French was not the number one item of their day.
    Now all I have to do is pop some quiz grades in from readings and stories, simple quizzes written by kids for kids, and evaluate what I see in their eyes (to me, the true barometer), and throw in a few dictations and such, which I use largely to make sure that they come to class on time. En bref, I make it more than simple so that I can relax and not be a flailingly accurate teacher.
    [Note: Honestly, as we move now into deeper and more destructive levels of assessment in our country, into deeper and more destructive levels of control of kids’ minds, the entire assessment discussion – proving things to higher ups via numbers in a Nazi kind of way – is turning into a kind of Babelesque – if that is a word – activity. It isn’t accurate assessment. It is a kind of lie. All kids learn in different ways and at different rates. It will never be accurate until the kids’ hearts are into what they are learning. And the only way we can make that happen is to offer kids something that they can buy into. The only thing I have ever seen that even has the potential to do that can be found in Krashen’s work. That is one reason I am so passionate about working with my like minded colleagues here in Denver Public Schools – some truly wonderful people – to bring comprehensible input more and more into my classroom. It is the only thing that I feel I can get behind, among what have been some largely crazy things – pure wastes of time like the book, that is only for the few and doesn’t lead to verbal acquisition – that I have seen in my teaching career].

  4. Your system and explanation and Susie’s words are exactly why I’m rethinking and questioning this whole thing. The analogy of a gym team and a professional team are spot on.

  5. “Spot on” exactly. Thanks for writing that Ben, it articulated perfectly what I have been fumbling with in my head for awhile, and more. You should consider blogging that one.

  6. Ben, do you still grade for participation per Diane Noonan’s format?
    Participation assessment would be formative assessment. According to Mr. O’conner no mere formative assessments should be included in overall grading. Nevertheless, he does say that grades should be supportive of learning. Yet, how then do students maximize their ability to comprehend language and interact with others in its use if they are not held to appropriate participation in such interaction? He appears not not see the contradiction.

  7. Aha, of course he can’t see the contradiction! He’s too intent on enforcement of learning: school as chain gang. He doesn’t appear to see that chain-gang learning is not the same as acquiring a language.
    He’s also a private consultant on learning assessment, an entrepreneur with something, at least himself, to sell for money. New teacher gradebooks and related training to be sold to schools every year and perpetually upgraded as deficiencies are forever found in the former versions! All that money to be uselessly spent when school districts say they can’t afford to pay for enough teachers!

  8. Your point (our point) is that if students are really participating, thay are really acquiring. So a brief formative quizz on the content of a day’s class is, among one or more informal formative assessments as check and balance, basically one relatively unobtrusive check-up upon the degree of participation.

  9. I did something similar this past year and I liked the way it worked out.
    I had a LOT of students who probably wouldn’t have been successful in the typical paper-quiz, verb conjugation, grammar worksheet classroom earning A’s and B’s. They may not have liked doing worksheets and homework, but they were able to speak/read/write/understand French – and it was very easy to tell them where they needed to improve.
    I did use some of the textbook dialogs for the speaking tests. the ones that were useful, that had things like introducing yourself and talking about likes/dislikes; ordering in a cafe, etc. Other times we did more free situations (this more for the upper levels than level 1). For reading, sometimes we did a quiz on pauvre anne, etc. Other times I gave them an article from a newspaper, magazine, etc. and asked very simple questions about it.
    I found difficulty with the whole standards/themes thing as well. I did want to do it that the standard might be “introducing yourself” and then have 2-3 opportunities for students to do that. Students who had already excelled didn’t have to do the second or third assessment, but that became quite a bit of hassle as far as record-keeping. And then the ones who didn’t have to do the next assessment ended up wanting to sit and goof off during the time given to the assessment.
    what I ended up doing was giving the assignment and giving time during class during the first time around. If a student did not get an exceeds score, they were welcome to come in and do a re-take – but it would be on their own time. so they may choose to keep the lower score, but most of them would come in and do a retake. Since it was after school, I was also able to sit and work with them if they weren’t going to do well on the retake. So for dialogs, etc. if a student came in and seemed to be not that much better at something, they would sit with me and we’d do some practice together, working on whatever was giving them trouble.
    This had a few consequences that I really liked. First, no more rush at the end of the semester to turn in as many papers as possible to bring the grade up. If you have a B, you can’t just turn in 8000 missing assignments to bring it up to an A. You had to be capable of doing A work. That was great.
    second, the grades reflected what kids could do rather than how much they had done. No more A’s for the kids who just turned in more papers than the kid the next seat over. Some kids didn’t do much practice (the few times I did give them practice assignments) but they were able to do the assessment and that was fine with me. I know that if I were in their shoes, I would appreciate a teacher who allowed me to earn an A without having to do busy work – if I know how to do what you want me to do, don’t make me practice it beyond mastery!
    The one thing I didn’t like was that going into the final exam (district CRT) I felt like I was wasting so much time. I knew how the kids were going to do before the final – the A kids were going to get an A on the final because they had A skills! And the F kids were going to get F’s on the final because they didn’t have any skills. So I was just doing a bit of time-wasting, I didn’t learn anything new from the final nor did the kids feel that they had accomplished anything.

  10. Heather, it sounds as though you found a great compromise. I think I came to a similar compromise second semester this year–more of the Ben-type assignments. A colleague asked me how many assignments I had in my grade book, saying that she had upwards of 80-90 for the semester, in part because she gave daily homework. That’s just way too many assignments to be putting into the book, not to mention the time spent grading, even if they do fit Susie’s 30-second rule. I think I might have had 20 assignments for one class, which was too few by many accounts, but the kids were the ones who then tested really high, maybe because we wasted little time doing and grading and recording and responding to assignments.

  11. I’ve always figured that if I had an average of at least one grade per week I was okay. No one has complained yet. That means about 18 grades per semester; I usually have in the low-to-mid twenties.

  12. I don’t think Scott Benedict or O’Connor would have tons of scores in the gradebook. Scott suggests 3 scores for each skill area. Adding vocab., structure and culture to the 4 skills, that means just 21 entries in the gradebook. Well, maybe Scott’s method would have more than some of you, since he says 3 per grading period–I’m thinking that would be each quarter, not each semester. O’Connor would have very few, since he only likes summative assessments to count for the grade.
    OK, Frank, he may be a consultant, but I STILL love that book! Several of my students benefitted when I realized he was right about the devastation of zeros for work not turned in and that being punishment, not assessment.

  13. I love that book for the same reason, and because he explains why it’s not fair to . . .
    grade kids by how their group does
    grade kids on the curve
    grade kids by any other sort of grouping
    grade kids in a language class on how well they make pinatas (sp, sorry)
    and so on. . .
    and so on. He lays out how to fairly assess kids based on what they know. I do agree with the idea that participation is going to make a huge difference in a language class, and so I need to think about how to handle that.
    This blog is helping me get my grading thoughts together!! As always, thank you Ben and everyone else.

  14. Rita, can you expand on that? What do you do if a student doesn’t turn things in? If kids know it won’t count against them why would they bother to do it? Like you I also am troubled by the kid who just doesn’t make the effort to turn things in and how much it can impact the grade, but how do we make sure we are fair to the kids that do turn it in?
    Our administrators are reading the O’Connor book this year. I worry because as Frank says there is always something new they will buy into that really never results in any good for anyone, yet the money gets spent. Our district, concerned about improvement has spent money training all of the dept. chairs to do “walk throughs” (I know that is not proper English) They are training them to come into all of our classes for about 3-5 minutes and make tick marks about what they see going on. How will this improve anything for anyone?
    I was troubled today looking at my grades on the second to last day. I really only have a couple of kids failing the particular class I was working on. One student has been sick and missed a lot of time. The other has been in class but just hasn’t turned things in (even things we have had class time to work on). He also talks a lot and doesn’t listen like he should so struggles on tests and quizzes. On the other hand there is another student who has failed all but one of my tests but turns everything else in and is at a C- currently. Is my assessment too easy? I really struggle with this! I am somewhat concerned about the C- from a student who clearly is not getting much of anything and who may really struggle next year?
    This is another really good and really important thread that we should work together on this summer! My thought today is more quizzes and tests and less class work. Even though much of the classwork was good and worthy stuff. (Writing and illustrating stories together, writing about their families, etc.)
    Thanks for all your thoughts and ideas!

  15. Ruth, I recommend you read the book, especially since your adminstrators are reading it. I came to teaching through the “back door”–I was originally a social worker–and although I’m nearly finished with a MAT, this book explained grading in ways I hadn’t thought through. So maybe someone who was better prepared won’t find the book as revolutionary as I did. But my grades really weren’t reflecting achievement and I needed to change something. I will not be giving “points” for any class activities next year. I will do lots of little quizzes over material that my students know well. “Nothing motivates like success” is still true with this grading system. Then I’ll use those quizzes as a springboard for creating the final exam for the quarter, so they should do well on the final if they’ve paid attention during class. I think I’m still going to have 10% of the grade be participation, attendance and homework. O’Connor would disagree, but I’m not quite willing to take all the accountability out and my school doesn’t have a citizensip grade where that can be reflected.

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