Are you tired of talking about COVID-19 and discussing how this pandemic has set your students back? One of the common complaints from teachers who incorporate any virtual learning is that grading is more complicated and challenging to maintain than when students are learning solely in person. I can’t help but wonder if this could be an opportunity to fix some of the philosophically diverse grading issues keeping schools from moving forward with their grading policies and practices.
Robert Marzano, Ken O’Connor, and others have been encouraging educators to update grading practices for decades. It seems as though these shifts happen more easily in the elementary grade levels than they do in secondary schools. There are various reasons for this delay, most notably that parents are more comfortable with the typical A-F system, or 100% grading scale. Another is the fear that colleges won’t admit a student if their grades don’t reflect a traditional grading system. While I can’t speak on behalf of post-secondary institutions, I would like to address the confusion that students and parents have felt while learning/schooling remotely.
The discussion of updating grading practices begins with clarifying what a grade means or should represent. There’s a correct answer to this question, as it’s somewhat rhetorical. The answer is that a grade should represent learning, or what a student knows and can do. A considerable benefit of standards-based/standards-referenced/competency-based grading systems is that what a student knows and can do is clearly identified. Extra factors that could affect a grade, such as late work, extra credit, or student behaviors, are left out.
Additionally, grades align with learning targets or standards rather than assignments. So, if a student cannot succeed on a learning target on one assignment, they can show success at another time. Their grade for that target or standard can then be updated to accurately reflect their current knowledge or ability. When contemplating the purpose of standards-based grading, it’s a no-brainer. But, when factoring in the intended audience’s philosophical and emotional differences, updating grading practices can get a bit more tricky. But, that was before COVID-19. Things are a bit different now.
Here’s how to begin the conversation with your teachers. Ask them what difficulties they’re having with grading that are due to adding the virtual piece. Extend the conversation to parents, too. Is there a parent-teacher organization with whom you could discuss this? Or perhaps you could send out a survey to the parents of your online students. Identify the most significant challenges to grading and analyze whether switching to a standards-based grading system might solve some of these issues. I like doing a book study with Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading. It includes simpler fixes as well as more complex ones. You might be able to develop momentum by fixing some of the simpler issues while working toward shifting to standards-based grading.
The pandemic has forced us to change the way teaching and learning look in our districts. I have yet to meet an educator who claims that these changes have been easy. But, perhaps a silver lining to COVID-19 and requiring a virtual component to education, is that it provides an opportunity to re-evaluate our grading practices to communicate better what our students know and can do. It may give that extra push that some of us need to make the leap to standards-based grading.