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A Dual Approach to Grading

EducationWorld is pleased to feature a variety of book excerpts in collaboration with Stenhouse Publishers. The following excerpt comes from Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom, by Rick Wormeli (2006). The book retails for $25 ($22.50 for e-book) and is available on the Stenhouse Web site.

For more great tips from this book, check out: Differentiating Student Assessments and Let Students Revise and Re-Do Work.

A dual approach to grading, based on both performance and progress, offers a unique way to demonstrate a student’s growth against grade-level standards.

Some schools record a symbol or mark indicating a student’s personal progress as well as a symbol or mark indicating where the student stands against the standards set for everyone in this subject at this grade level. For example, a student might earn an A3. The first symbol, A, represents the typical letter grade (A, B, C, D, F) and refers to how many of the grade-level standards were demonstrated with full proficiency. The second symbol, 3, is a numerical score representing where the student is in her progression. A 3 might mean tremendous growth, a 2 might mean expected growth, and a 1 might mean little or no growth. An A3 demonstrates a nice correlation between standards and the student’s growth—the student mastered a lot of standards and progressed more than expected.

Consider, though, the student who earns an A1. Was it a good year for him or her? No. The child demonstrated a lot of mastery, but grew little or not at all. He or she may have already known the material, in fact. We should have been doing something different with that child, such as providing an advanced program in our class or moving him or her to an advanced class. We can celebrate the A, but if we’re honest, it was a waste of a year. A2 or A3 is preferred.

What about the student who earns D3? He’s not at the same level as his classmates, but wow, what a fantastic year it was for him! The dual grade provides feedback, affirmation, and guidance for instructional decision making.

About Stenhouse Publishers

Stenhouse publishes professional development books and videos by teachers and for teachers. Their titles cover a range of content areas -- from literacy and mathematics to science, social studies, the arts, and environmental education -- as well as a variety of topics, including classroom management, assessment, and differentiation.

Most of the time, there will be a correlation between personal progress and standards achieved. Most progress grades will be a 2. For those situations in which there is a significant discrepancy, however, it’s a red flag that something is amiss and that corrective action needs to be taken.

If we want to create helpful grades, then it makes sense to focus on more specific areas of study within each grading period or school year. Doing so also makes grading fair for students; they’re not penalized in all subtopics of a subject for poor performance in one of them.

One way to create a multiple-categories approach is to identify our essential and enduring standards, objectives, or benchmarks for grading, then provide a grade for each one. For example, in a middle-school science course, students might be graded in the following areas during the first grading period:

  • Consistently demonstrates proper lab procedure
  • Successfully employs the scientific method
  • Properly uses nomenclature and/or taxonomic references
  • Accurately creates and interprets graphs
  • Accurately identifies the difference between science and conjecture
  • Consistently draws reasonable conclusions from given data

If we didn’t provide separate grades for each one, and instead wrote C+ on the report card under one general category called “Science,” we wouldn’t be able to use the grade to provide much feedback, documentation, or guidance for instruction. If we focus on each benchmark, however, we get a better sense of where the student is achieving and not achieving, and with that knowledge, we better meet his or her needs. This approach removes the one overall grade that we normally use, because such an aggregation of varied and important feedback obfuscates mastery.

It takes 15 to 20 percent longer to record such grades for students, but many electronic gradebook programs offer the capacity to record and report grades according to benchmarks and standards. Sure, we have to do the data entry, but isn’t it great to be able to respond with clarity to inquiries about a student’s performances for specific standards?


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