Monday, January 18, 2010

Non-academic grades

In my ongoing fight to help reform the grading system at my school one of the big sticking points are the non-academic factors. I'm an advocate of standards-based assessment and in this style you only grade based on the level of achievement on standards or topics. When I bring this up, I always hear three things:

  1. Due dates and homework are important because we need to teach responsibility.
  2. It's not just content I'm teaching, I want them to have skills they'll need for school success.
  3. (Writing/Reading/Math/etc) are important even though I don't teach it.
Except for the first one, I can agree with both.  Number 3, I'm not going to directly address now except to say, if you don't teach it, you can't grade it. If you want to grade them for writing in your science class, you need to take time out of your class to teach them how to write and have clear criteria for mastery. If you don't, you can't.

Number 2 boils down to different non-academic factors that teachers value but don't show up on the standards. Organization, neatness, and all that other stuff. Those are perfectly fine to include in their grades but you should separate them out. There always needs to be a chunk (a sizeable one) of your grades that are purely representative of how much the students have learned.

What does that look like? Well for me I'm a science teacher so the topics my students receive grades for this trimester are:
  • Forces in fluids
  • Atoms
  • Chemical reactions
  • Periodic Table
  • Review (I take the main ideas from previous topics and lump them)
Those are my academic grades and are untouched by anything like work completion or neatness. By the way, if I were to include something like Science Literacy or Writing in Science I would separate it out as a grade from the other topics because ability to read/write tends to be such a limiting factor in the expression of knowledge. It's hard to tell what students know about science when you stress them out about punctuation and grammar and being able to write a "correct" hypothesis.

I don't do non-academic grades but if you're big on them, here are some examples:
  • Work completion
  • Organization
  • Behavior
  • Participation
  • Group work
So if you're Sam Shah and you have this great binder check system, go for it. But you should separate it out into an Organization category.

Why separate?

Ultimately if the purpose of grades are to communicate, you need something to communicate how much the student has actually learned.

Completing work does not mean they've learned. A well-organized binder does not mean they've learned. Behaving in class does not mean they've learned. Does it help? Certainly. But it's just like principal checklists that are used for evaluating teachers. Learning goal posted? Check. Bulletin board organized? Check.

I can do that stuff, but that definitely doesn't mean I'm automatically a good teacher.

The non-academic factors are just indicators, just like those checklists we make fun of. We need to separate out the actual learning a student has achieved.

1 comment:

  1. "Ultimately if the purpose of grades are to communicate, you need something to communicate how much the student has actually learned."

    Keep preachin' it, Jason.