I know what you're thinking, but no, this is not a blog about the holidays. It is the time of year most teachers dread. Time for grades and report cards. Ok, many students and parents aren't too thrilled about it either. On Sunday, I am co-modding the #svtchat with the wonderful @ms_woz. Both of us wanted to do this topic because we are both confused, passionate, and at times angry about grading. We came up with all the questions for the chat within 5 minutes. This is unheard of for at least me. Usually, I spend some solid time thinking about what I want to ask my PLN about a topic, even one I am passionate about. So why is this topic such an important one?
Grades are personal to everyone involved. Students want to know if they "passed". Parents want to know how their child compares to themselves, other children, or what society says is above or below average. Adminstrators want to keep an eye on what is going on in their school. Teachers have to find a way to convey how the students are actually learning. If we are all working toward the same goal, why should it be so hard.
One of the reasons I am finding it difficult to convey what the students know is that I have to use number grades. We are a standards-based district for our elementary report cards. (This causes some problems for our middle school teachers who use A-F, but I'll save that blog post for one more qualified to discuss it.) While the idea that students can fall on a number scale should be easy to do, it is anything but. Parents (and some students) want their child to be at the highest level of grades. For us, that means a 4, exceeds expectation. Conveying to others that (for me at least) students are not exceeding just because they got all answers correct is a very difficult concept. Giving more work ("extra credit") doesn't work either. As many times as I have tried to explain to some parents what exceeding the standards means, it is still a very high goal for many. The same goes for the other end of the spectrum. A 1 means does not mean the standards. Do you base it on the fact that some students are missing so much work that there is little to score so they earn a 1 or is it for those kids who really have no understanding of the concept. A 2, close to meeting, is not much better. Is a child close to meeting when they can get some of the problems or is it for that child who is ALMOST there, but makes the same mistakes over and over? While a 3, meeting the standards, is the true goal, there is even confusion among the teachers about what that looks like.
Why should it be so difficult? If I talk with a parent about what their child can do or struggles with, it is pretty clear for everyone what to do next. Narrative report cards can give much more information than a letter or number. I tend to write more specific comments on the report card than might be necessary. However, there isn't always enough room to truly convey what I see in each student. I also have 35 students I have to report on. This makes for a lot of work. Is it worth it, yes. Do I always have the energy just before winter break or the end of the school year to do it? Maybe not.
There is no definitive way to do grades. Our district requires certain things for the report card. That usually defines how I grade at the end of the semester each year. Would I like to see it changed. Definitely. Do I know a better way that doesn't put extra work on the teachers and conveys accurately all that is going on with a student. Definitely not.
The chat this week ought to be very interesting to hear the different perspectives on this topic. There are a wide variety of grade levels and others involoved in education. Please join us with your thoughts about grades or leave a comment here.
What I learned:
- There is no right answer when it comes to grades.
- Students are more than a number or a letter.
- This is a much more passionate topic than I ever thought when I was a beginning teacher.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching