Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How do I grade homework?

Short answer: I don't.

Not as short answer: I don't, at least, not directly.

Long answer:

In my previous post, I mentioned that the primary problem with grades is the misalignment of the purpose of assignments (what you were supposed to learn) and the grade it receives (what you actually learned). The question of how to grade homework should come down to purpose. There are many reasons for homework but usually it falls into one of three categories:
  1. To preview future learning
  2. To practice current skills
  3. To deepen subject matter knowledge
An example of number 1 might be reading a passage in a book for discussion the next day. An example of number 2 is a math skills worksheet. Number 3 might be an extension activity, like performing a science experiment at home.

None of these should affect your final grade in the class.

Number 2 is probably the most common and I'm going to throw it out right away. Clearly you shouldn't be graded for practice. I don't shoot 100 free throws in practice and then get credit for it in a game.

Number 1 and number 3 are a little different. In standards-based grading, the grade represents level of mastery in certain standards or topics. Your ability to complete homework should not show up in your grade directly, however it will show up in your mastery of the content. If you don't read the passage in the book or do the science experiment at home, you will lose out on an opportunity to improve your mastery. Similarly, if I don't shoot my free throws in practice I don't get punished. But I am also less likely to make them when it really matters.

What I actually do:

Anytime I assign homework I write it down in my gradebook. When it's turned in, I mark it completed. That's it. I report to the students their completion percentage every few weeks but it does not affect the grade. However, I make it as clear as possible that the homework is there to help them learn. I assign homework individually based on their needs and every few weeks I throw up a bar graph that shows the relationship in the class between grades and work completion. Eventually, most of the students see that the homework/classwork is not there just to get points. They stop asking about it. The homework/classwork is there to help them learn. That's it. As an added bonus, copying drops to almost zero because they realize they're not getting credit just for turning something in. Once students move away from points and percentages and towards levels of mastery, they begin to lose those "doing school" habits and focus just on the learning.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What is standards-based grading?

It's probably easiest to describe standards-based grading in comparison to traditional grading. Yesterday, as an introductory lab, I asked the kids to try to figure out how fast a toy car goes. My kids didn't have any real background knowledge yet, but I did provide them with a meter stick and stopwatch.

Traditional grading:
In traditional grading I might have made this lab worth 50 points. Usually in science we require a lab report and assign point values to each section of the lab report. For example, I might have made a correctly written hypothesis worth 10 points, the procedure worth 5 points, and graph and data table worth 15 points. In the end, a student would receive a grade based on their lab report and some sort of point amount for "getting the right answer" that s=d/t.

There are many problems with this grading system and I will comment on them as I progress in this blog. I think the main problem is the misalignment of the purpose and the grading of the lab. The purpose of the lab was for students to attempt to figure out how to calculate the speed of a toy car and hopefully create a general rule or formula. What did I grade the students on? I graded them on how well they could follow a pre-assigned lab format. Imagine a student who was able to both calculate the speed of a toy car and figure out that s=d/t but for some reason decided not to number his procedure. On the other hand, you could have a student create the most beautiful data table in the world but completely miss the point of the lab. It's this misalignment of purpose and grade that is the primary failing of traditional grading.

Standards-based grading:
Here's where I always lose the holdouts on the teaching staff when I present standards-based grading to them. In standards-based grading, you only grade how well they have mastered a specific standard or topic. The grade completely ignores the format of the lab report1. Their grade is aligned with the purpose of the lab. The grade should answer the question,"How well do they understand the concept and calculation of speed?"

The grade reflects their level of understanding on that specific topic or standard and nothing else. It seems obvious, but in practice it's a huge paradigm shift.

1. Well, you might actually have a separate standard for writing a lab report in which case you would give two scores, one for the content and one for the format.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Into the breach

I guess introductions are needed. My name is Jason and I teach 8th grade science August Boeger Middle School. It's in San Jose, CA.

Why does the world need another blog?

Short answer is, "It doesn't." However, the reason I started this blog is to keep track of my progress with standards-based grading. I'm using a system laid out in the book Classroom Assessment and Grading that Work by Robert Marzano. It's my second year trying it out. I really like it and a few other teachers at my school are giving it a shot this year as well.

My students are also doing Scribe Posts this year and I wanted to be sure that I kept a record for next year.

Hopefully I'll actually put up posts. But if assessment is your thing, come back soon.