Sunday, December 16, 2007

To Grade or Not To Grade

It's the end of the second quarter for us. That makes it my least favorite time each quarter. Most elementary school teachers in my district will tell you that report card time stinks because it requires bubbling grades in eight content areas (an academic grade and an effort grade) and ten word study areas. Then comments also have to be bubbled in. It is very time consuming and mind numbing.

I, however, hate it with an even greater passion. I can't figure out why I'm doing it (aside from the fact that I'm required to as a part of my job). What is the purpose of these grades? My husband, a college professor, firmly believes that grades are what motivates his students to do the work. He's probably right. But, I think it's true because we've trained kids with that motivation. I want my fifth graders to work because they want to learn, not because I'm going to judge them.

Another argument is that we use report cards to communicate with parents. Again, probably true. But, does a report card really communicate effectively? Telling a parent that their child earned a B in math with a G (good) for effort doesn't really say much. It doesn't let them know that the student excelled in geometry that quarter, but is still struggling to understand how to multiply and divide with decimals. It does a much better job of ranking students and making it easy to compare them to one another.

I would much rather spend two or three times as long on a more effective mode of communication for parents than to use a report card. I'd rather have to work even harder to make my lessons engaging and relevant to my students than to expect them to do the work in the hope of earning an A. One of my goals as a teacher is that my students love to learn. I think grades are in conflict with that goal.

(I think I'm in the minority in this area and I'd love to hear others' thoughts.)


Humane Teaching said...

You may be in the minority, but I agree with you. I've been really influenced by Rick Wormeli. You might want to read his books.

I still post the "A" or "B" on the official report card, but I also include a page that shows what standards we've worked with in each subject. Then, if a child is struggling with a concept, I check it, so that the parent can see that. It does take more work, but I have it that way in my gradebook anyway, so it's not too much more work.

My gradebook does not say "Planet Worksheet" or "Page 31 in text." Instead it says, "Can list unique characteristics of Earth" and "Can list positive and negative consequences of colonization." So it's easy to share this with parents.

S said...

i'm not in the field of education, but as a parent, i'd have to say that i agree with you!

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's in conflict with actual teaching but certainly it's a diversion and distraction that doesn't always help.

Anonymous said...

I have to grade children's artwork. It's no fun having to explain to a parent that their child got a "C" in art because "C" means "on grade level." If they are above average they get a "B" and if they are a little Picasso they may get an "A." And how bad it feels to keep a child off the honor roll because their artwork is "on grade level."

AMY T said...

Our district recently revamped our 1-6 report cards and eliminated letter grades. For each subject we let parents know if students are "achieving grade level standards" or "approaching grade level standards" or "making progress toward grade level standards." There are a couple other choices, but, in general, I really like this system--as both a parent and as a teacher in our district.

Many of my students like to get A's, so I slap them on well done math and spelling tests--even though they don't relate to the report cards---and simply mean that they're "achieving grade level standards."

Anonymous said...

Such is the dilemma in the world of standards. In my district, grades K-4 have standards based report cards using performance bands such as Advanced, Proficient or Basic, etc. Beginning with my students in 5th grade, we give a traditional report card with letter grades. Imagine parent conferences when you have to tell the parent of a formerly "Proficient" 4th grader that their now 5th grader has a D in math but is still "Proficient" because letter grades and performance bands don't truly correspond. In fact, a student can score 63% on a benchmark and still be "Proficient". Or worse yet, a student who is "Basic" sees an F on her report card because the Basic band goes all the way down into the 40% range. Talk about a rude awakening!

I would so much rather have a standards/concept based report to give parents and students. Much more useful for students and parents to gauge growth, strengths and weaknesses.

damned_cat said...

Hawaii public schools use a "standards-based" report card that is supposed to do away with ambiguous and arbitrary grading. The four marks for each state standard are: Meets Proficiency w/Excellence; Meets Proficiency; Approaches Proficiency; Well-Below Proficiency. If you ask me, there are still all sorts of ambiguity. Any report card designed to communicate progress in a single page is going to be deficient somehow. Yet so many hopes (and private school and college acceptances) hang in the balance of that single page.