My Grading Policy v. 2.0

At the end of 2009-2010, I wrote a modified draft of my course expectations. Here’s what my grading policy looked like then. Horrific. Most point penalties were designed to address behaviorial issues, rather than academic. It took nearly getting run over by the SBG express to realize just how unhelpful this grading policy was.

Over the summer I’ve read a half dozen books, found a couple dozen tweeps who are using or pursuing standards-based grading. I’ve done some serious reflecting on my grading and assessment practices. As school is beginning in about a week, I feel almost prepared to embark on the SBG journey.

Major Policy Changes

Old Version: “All grades are weighted on a point system”

This system was common in most of my own classes growing up. My fellow teachers use a similar system, so I always assumed that this was the best system to use. Using a total point system over percent weighting was preferred because the number of different types of assignments varied from quarter to quarter.  It also made it easy for students to keep track of their grades. By nature, every grade in a points-based system is quasi-summative.

New Version: The course grade will be determined by mastery of content standards (85%) and ability to retain knowledge on midterm and final exams (15%).

Limiting grades to those ideas that are important will make the process of grading more transparent for me and my students. Students will be able to look at a a quiz/test and have an idea of where they need to study.

Old Version: Different types of assignments (labs, tests, quizzes, homework) are weighted differently

Weighting has its own issues, but the primary issue here was the necessarily arbitrary assigning of point values for various items. In a lab report, for instance, why is an abstract “worth” less than results? Discussion was weighted most, but why? If a test and a lab both test the relationship of pressure and volume, shouldn’t that concept carry equal weight?  Even with elaborate rubrics explaining different parts of lab reports, where it mattered most, it was very unclear why two completely different discussions could receive the same number of points.

New Version: All types of assignments are on the same level, as they are broken down into standards.

If the purpose of an early lab is to test the student’s ability to organize data into a table and prepare a graph, then they will receive scores for those standards. No freebie points for format, names, formulas, etc. I hope to make my expectations more explicit, and resulting scores more transparent.

Old Version: Check +/ Check/ Check -/ method of grading daily homework

Problem #1 was that assigning homework was a default policy, based on expectations of my school. The pressure to assign homework daily more often than not led to meaningless, dull assignments that did nothing to add to student understanding.

Problem #2 was the act of grading something that I clearly described as “practice.”  The Check +/Check/Check – system was meant to let the students know whether they had practiced “enough. ” My attempt to make grading homework more fair was to stop grading correctness (it is homework, afterall), but start grading based on the amount of effort they made. Not a bad stepping stone, but students still received an academic grade for practice.

New Version: Homework is no longer a default policy; out-of-class assignments will only be assigned as needed. Practice problems (organized by standard) will always be made available with answers or solutions.

This opens up room for more non-traditional homework assignments, and student input on what types of assignments will help to improve understanding of content. Homework will only be graded as one piece of evidence out of many of maintaining mastery of content standards. Written and oral feedback will be most important.

Old Version: Late Penalty

Words can't explain.

New Version: Lateness is addressed in participation grade, not academic grade.

The nightmare of keeping track of late work was enough to make this change. However, if I am serious about wanting a student’s grade to reflect their mastery of the course content, it makes no sense to saddle grades with penalties. A common objection to standards-based grading is that  future employers won’t tolerate late work. To which I respond:

  1. I’m not in the business of preparing future employees, I’m in the business of educating youth.
  2. Students are smart enough to know the difference between work and school. Just because a student shows up late to your class every day doesn’t mean that they show up to work late. They know that showing up for work late will get them fired, but they know that if they show up or turn in work late, you will have to let them in no matter what.
  3. Shouldn’t parents be the primary teachers of life skills? Certainly every home environment isn’t ideal, but improved mentoring would be more effective than punitive penalties on every assignment.
  4. Timeliness is certainly an important skill, and in the interest of useful feedback, is essential. Certainly there must be a better way to motivate students to complete work on time than mild extortion.

Timeliness and effort are now addressed in the participation grade, which is separate from the academic grade on the report card. This will help to distinguish rare and chronic late work. In addition, it makes the academic grade a more accurate representation of understanding.

New Grading Policy

My new grading policy is here. I’ve chosen to adapt Shawn Cornally‘s simplistic approach to describing the policy in writing rather than front-loading the details. In addition to what is described above, I’ve made the participation grade more robust. The reassessment policy encourages learning, but implementing it without reigniting the “point grubbing” mentality will be difficult.

Being the only teacher pursuing this grading system will be a challenge, but I have the enthusiastic support of members of the administration.  I will be posting my experiences and challenges here, and look forward to using your feedback and suggestions to make the most of SBG.

11 thoughts on “My Grading Policy v. 2.0”

  1. V. 2.0 is right! I know exactly how you feel. Looking back at my old grading policies, my v. 1.0, I can’t believe I didn’t think of SBG sooner. Instead I spent years trying to fix v. 1.0 with v. 1.01, 1.01a, 1.02, etc. I’m glad that’s over with! I actually started my v. 2.0 the last trimester of the last school year and it was a huge success. Students responded positively and we all focused on the learning instead of punishments and rewards.

  2. What’s the weight differential between the Academic and Participation Grade? Do you see the Participation Grade as an area of subjectivity for you to use your own observations to raise/lower a student’s grade?

    1. Participation is completely separate, and does not affect grade or GPA. It is subjective in the same sense that the academic grade is subjective, because the teacher decides exactly what it means (within the guidelines of school policy). Its an E/S/U/NI type of scale, and anything less than satisfactory is accompanied by a written comment.

      I believe that the participation grade is simply for communication with students/parents/advisors/college counselors, and as far as I know is not seen by colleges.

      1. This is great. I wish our school had a channel to succinctly and separately communicate information about a student’s engagement in class. We have comments 2x/year, but many teachers tend to use that to give the “play by play” on how kids did on tests, or equally unhelpful “Johnny is doing really well in English,” and some students have admitted they don’t really look at them at all. Perhaps a grade would have more of an impact.

  3. It should already be apparent how much better this blog is than mine. If anyone needed evidence: the double face palm is the best joke I’ve ever seen in a blog. I’m so happy that it exists. All aboard the SBG Express, toot! toot!


  4. I really don’t think that I have the same courage as you are to admit my previous mistakes. Sometimes, when I look back I find myself cruel related to grades. Funny thing about this when I was a student I really hated teachers who were picky about grades. Thanks for such detailed reflective post.

  5. I just found this site and I am intrigued. I teach 5th grade (3-Rs) in a traditional school in Denver, CO. I like the idea of moving toward SBG. My own pet peeve is that we are supposed to give an Effort grade as well. Years ago this was created as a way to “recognize” those students who did not earn “good enough” academic grades to be recognized. Now it is somewhat hazy in its purpose. But we are not giving it up, it is part of our tradition.(Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to traditions, I am mostly bothered by this one.) I would love others’ thoughts on Effort grades, as opposed to Participation or Work Habits or what have you.

    1. I see nothing wrong with a separate “effort” grade, as long as it isn’t confused with achieving any of the required standards and isn’t used as an excuse to do social passes.

      You do have to ensure that your instruction is differentiated enough that everyone can earn an “effort” grade—that you don’t have students so far outside the instructional level at either end that doing the work of the class is ridiculous.

    2. Bill,
      I agree with @gasstationswithoutpumps, an effort standard can be used, as long as it is clear, and separate from other standards.

      Assigning a number or letter to “effort” seems troublesome, as comments would communicate it in a much clearer and informative way. Is it making an honest effort on every assignment? Is it not falling asleep in class? How do you make it work? Do you have a rubric?

    1. Jeff,
      It should. I almost certainly stole it from your site in my first year of teaching. I’m interested if the changes you made were similar in your criteria-based system.

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