Tag Archives: Grading

The Problem With Grades Based on Averages

Our district is working towards customized learning, which includes changes in school structures to allow students flexibility of pace and approach to learning, demonstrating proficiency in a progression of learning targets, within an environment that keeps kids interested in coming back to learn each day.

During a conversation at our School Committee meeting this evening, about why high school students had gaps in their learning, our high school principal suggested it was because of our inefficient system of basing grades on averages. He provided an analogy for why schools should move away from averaged grades and toward a proficiency based system. (Which, in my opinion, was one of the best explanations I've heard of why we need to change that.)

His example:

Imagine taking your car to be inspected. It comes out from the inspection with a new sticker, and the mechanic tells you, “Your lights work great, and your blinkers work great, and your tires are in good shape. But your breaks don't work. But when we averaged the performance of each component, you passed.”

Moving Towards Standards-Based Grading

One aspect of transitioning to Customized Learning is finding systems for tracking and monitoring student learning, as well as, ways to report learning progress, especially to parents. One piece of this is some sort of standards-based grading system.

But moving too quickly to a new system of grading (and report cards) can be problematic. For example, it takes time for parents to be ready for iconic changes like approaches to grading. They might need to see other Customized Learning changes work first (like student pacing, multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery, etc.) before they believe that a new grading system is needed. In fact, we put making structural changes to school one of the last steps of transitioning to Customized Learning.

(Note: a colleague in another district believes that moving early to a new grading system forces important community dialog about the changes toward customizing learning. I think there is much to learn about doing school change work well by following the multiple approaches and how they evolve over time. I may write about how we are approaching school change, but that doesn't mean I believe it is the only effective way to do the work.)

Saving large scale change in grading practices until late in the Customized Learning implementation process that doesn't mean in the meantime teachers shouldn't find ways to move toward standards-based grading practices. There are a couple key intermediate steps that can be pursued:

  • Trying standards-based grading-like practices within the traditional system
  • Looking for models and examples of how others are doing standards-based grading practices
  • Getting feedback from the students on how it is going (to let you know when you are on track, or what course corrections need to be made)

I recently came across Frank Noschese's blog, Action-Reaction. Clearly, he is not only working on standards-based grading in his classroom (among other things), but he is sharing what he is learning via his blog. He may not know it, but he is addressing the three intermediate steps above: