Words of Wisdom: What Does a Grade Mean?

Posted on: Thu, 05/24/2018 - 09:00

As I met with high school seniors, I asked for their ideas on how we could improve grading. Many interesting ideas emerged.

Many students do not feel that grades are a true reflection of what they have learned. Students spoke candidly about learning how to "game" the system to get the required points needed for a certain grade. They talked about memorizing information for a test, but then not really remembering that content later. Several students felt that grades were mostly a reflection of a student’s work ethic.

Students understand that a test is a way to demonstrate what you know. However, many students noted they are not "good test takers," which can be challenging when tests are weighted as a major factor in the final grade. I was intrigued by their suggestions on how to address this concern.

  • Consider allowing for an open book test.  In the real world, we will be able to use resources to help us solve a problem so why not in school?
  • Create tests that make us apply what we have learned. These "tests" could be more like a project or task that allows us to show how we would use the content and skills we learned in the class.
  • Allow us to redo the parts of the test we got wrong. Give us feedback on our mistakes and allow us to come in to work on fixing those problems. Then give us a chance to take the test again to show how we have improved.

Students value feedback. There were many suggestions that assignments be graded and returned sooner. Students recognized the importance of knowing where they need to improve and then having time to work to improve on future assignments and tests.

There were passionate comments about the adverse effect of zeroes—not only on the grade but also on the student’s motivation to keep trying. There were requests for more consistency among teachers in how things were weighted and how rounding was applied. There were a few bold ideas for completely rethinking how we approach grading.

  • Students should be able to achieve the grade they desire. Let’s set up a uniform system to make that happen.
  • Eliminate letter grades. Just give us feedback on our mastery of the content, similar to the way elementary report cards are done.
  • Every student is different, so why not allow us to complete a year-end project or task related to how we would use the content instead of taking a test.

And of course, as I heard these comments, I was proud in knowing that through LYNX, we are developing the kind of system they are seeking!

What are your ideas around the issue of grading? Share them with me on Twitter @FCPSMDSuper. And if you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it on Facebook or Twitter.