Wednesday, March 4, 2020

There Are Two Kinds of Grading Systems

Often educators and parents worry that if we accept late work or allow redos, then students will become lazy and abuse the system. As educators, we have to ask ourselves what is more important, sticking to due dates and entering zeros or sticking to learning by allowing opportunities for growth and success? The answer is all of the above.

Deadlines & Zeros

I have due dates in my course. When students do not complete the work by a due date the grade typically goes to a zero. However, here is what I tell students. 
These due dates are set to help you pace your learning for the unit. The goal is to turn in the work by each due date. However, let’s say you have to work late, or you have a game, and/or you have a lot of homework. If you need to turn in an assignment after the due date, that is ok. That being said, if you do not communicate with me in advance, your grade for that assignment will remain a zero until submitted. No, I do not deduct points for turning in work late. You simply need to realize that with each assignment that you turn in late, you create a pile-up of work. The due dates are there to help keep you on track. 
Let me pause for a moment. I have taught for 23 years. I have used both traditional and standards-based grading. At one point, I even entered 50% in lieu of zeros because after all failing is failing. However, I have parted ways with that practice. Let’s face it, for those going off to the university, there isn’t a professor in the universe that is going to give a student 50% for nothing. They will, however, encounter professors that accept late work and some that do not. I choose to be one that accepts late work because quite frankly teenagers are still kids. If I as an adult needed an extension a few times during my doctoral work, then for goodness sakes you can sure bet that teenagers deserve the same grace. 

Now, let’s chat about full credit versus point deductions for late work. I have implemented various grading policies when it comes to late work. Early in my career, I deducted late-work for up to 30%. In the midst of standards-based grading, I accepted all work for full credit right up to the end of the course. These days I have a blend of both. I think it important that we instill a sense of urgency with our youth. At the same time, I think it ridiculous to deduct points when full knowledge/understanding is demonstrated. And thus, my current policy allows students to turn in work late for full credit. However, mid-semester there is a deadline for all work up to that date and then, another deadline prior to finals.

Before I proceed further, there is no perfect grading system out there. Despite what people will try to tell you, there just isn’t. In reality, there are two types of grading systems, one that fosters learning and one that hinders. You just have to ask yourself if your policies are creating opportunities for growth or are they setting up roadblocks for learning? 

Opportunities for Growth
Let’s chat about assessments. I allow students to retake quizzes (formative assessments) and exams (summative assessments). I also allow them to rework portions of projects. However, I require all classwork/homework to be completed prior to these learning opportunities. I require this simply to demonstrate that the work assigned helps support them with the practice they need to fully understand the content thus helping them perform well on the assessment. I also require students to attend tutoring sessions with me to ensure they are ready for retakes instead of retaking it blindly on a wing and a prayer. 

Recently, I heard a teacher announce that there is no way she will ever allow retakes. However, she does allow students to complete test corrections and identify what type of error they made. Students are not required to do this, however, if they make the corrections then it is entered as 20 points in the grade book. I think this is fantastic! Is it done like me? Nope! And yet, it creates opportunities for growth!

I once had a student failing at semester. Now, I could have left the grade at failing, but instead here is what I did. I called home and spoke with the mom. I explained that if the student would complete some assignments and a project over the winter break that her grade would likely raise to passing. Here is what I learned, the family recently lost their grandmother due to brain cancer. Soon after, the student’s mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor and although it was not cancerous it would require brain surgery. The mom was beyond grateful for her child to have the opportunity to pass the course. The student was less than thrilled to still be held accountable for her learning. After all, it is much easier to cope with failure by throwing one’s hand in the air and say, “Well, nothing I can do now!” It is actually much harder to look at failure full-on in the face and decide to take action to change the outcome. 

The student did the work and brought her grade to passing. The next semester the student did not turn assignments late. I was so proud that I spoke with her individually to tell her how proud I was of her new work ethic. Soon after, she was telling her project partner to participate! I was so excited that I took a moment to email her mom to express how proud I was of her progress. As evidenced, she learned the value of perseverance and hard work. Even more importantly, the student learned about self-worth and unlimited potential.

What our kids need most are acts of grace, compassion and supportive learning environments that consider the whole child! On the days when it seems easier to give a zero, moments like this remind me why choosing grace, compassion and co-created opportunities for growth will always be best for kids; co-created because, with encouragement, students must ultimately own their growth.