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Weighted Grading Can Work

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Voice of Experience

Each week, an educator takes a stand or shares an Aha! moment in the classroom in the Education World Voice of Experience column. This week, educator Max Fischer shares his approach to grading, which takes into account all elements of his students' performance. It's a weighted system that Fischer believes truly reflects the needs of his students -- and it has the support of parents too. "No grading procedure completely shields a teacher from parental criticism," writes Fischer. "However, weighted grading categories offer teachers the opportunity to tailor their assessment practices to the skills they believe are most critical to student success within their classroom."


Fischer
A teacher for nearly three decades, Max Fischer currently teaches seventh graders the marvels of ancient history. A National Board Certified teacher in the area of Early Adolescence Social Studies/History, Max has written nine resource books for teachers in the fields of social studies, health and math.
A Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet from the third millennium B.C. describes the plight of a well-to-do but underachieving student at the hands of a strict teacher. The student can do little to please the instructor, so the aristocratic father invites the teacher to dine with him. After the lavish feast, the father presents various opulent gifts to the teacher, such as a gold ring. After being swept off his feet with the father's magnanimity, the teacher pronounces boldly that this boy will become a superior student!

I've yet to hear of a colleague of mine being bribed with material largess to pass a student. Yet, parents are still prone to passionate protection of their offspring if they sense a threat to their welfare. In contemporary education, that might propel the teacher into hostile meetings in an administrator's office or, in extreme situations, confrontations with the board of education.

When a teacher assumes the role of in loco parentis, one of the most incendiary flashpoints in parental relations can be, and often is, grades. To avert conflicts over grades, teachers need to effectively communicate a grading system that is interwoven with a well-thought-out philosophy of teaching and general goals for learning.

At the start of each year, usually through a letter to parents before school begins and augmented by parent orientation in the first week, I explain to parents my views on how I believe students learn. I also relate to parents what goals I have for the students in general because those aspirations are the fabric that holds my evaluation together and up to scrutiny.

A GRADING SYSTEM FOCUSED ON STUDENTS' NEEDS

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As a social studies teacher whose curriculum covers early western civilizations of antiquity, I am not concerned in creating robotic date spitters or future Jeopardy contestants. Helping students appreciate the relevance of ancient history to the present and honing their ability to locate information and effectively communicate rational perspectives of that information in oral and written forms are my ultimate objectives. To give as complete an overall evaluation of a student as a learner in my class, I use a weighted category method, which is greatly enabled by a computerized grading program.

  • Testing is a necessary component in evaluation, but it does not dominate the equation. Tests and associated quizzes (half the value of a test) equal 33 percent of a student's grade.
  • I believe "production," or performance objectives, if you will, to be as important as tests. Therefore, scores students receive on extended projects, written essays, and other assignments with clearly stated scoring rubrics amount to 34 percent of their total grade.
  • Finally, I am dealing with seventh graders who, by and large, are in their first year removed from an insulated, neighborhood elementary school setting. This is a year of dramatic changes; in fact, no other year in a student's primary and secondary education will challenge the degree of social adjustment and stress as this year. I account for that in my evaluation with the "effort" factor. The remaining 33 percent of a student's grade in my class comprises completion of routine nightly homework assignments (23 percent) and classroom participation (10 percent).

If my students were high school juniors or seniors, the "effort" factor would have significantly less impact. However, teachers must be cognizant of the characteristics of the students we face each day and their particular needs. For many seventh graders, getting homework done on a regular basis is a primary lesson in responsibility that, if mastered this year, can be a boon to them in the future. For the present, the 33 percent "effort" factor sends a powerful message: "Work with me while I work with you, and you will succeed."

Through the course of a nine-week quarter, I routinely meet with students every two to three weeks to inform them of their progress and counsel them on the specific areas where they need to improve in order to positively affect their grade.

Since I incorporated an electronic grading program six years ago, my approach to grading has been positively received by parents. Foremost, parents realize the grading system I employ is not arbitrary or capricious. They understand that numerous elements that can be objectively monitored go into their son or daughter's quarterly grade. During conferences, a printout that contains their child's categorized grades readily pinpoints any specific area of concern for discussion. With upward of 125 students, it also helps me maintain my focus in parent conferences.

No grading procedure completely shields a teacher from parental criticism. However, weighted grading categories offer teachers the opportunity to tailor their assessment practices to the skills they believe are most critical to student success within their classroom.




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