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Understanding the Value of Grades

Transparency in grading means clearly communicating the values behind the scores. Grades reveal two things: the value a teacher places on particular components of learning and how well the student has interpreted and adapted to that value system.

While today was the last day of school before the Christmas break, it is also the end of another grading period. Teachers will be compiling all the last scores, entering everything into the grade book, and sending report cards home.

I have students who rejoice over a "B" while others weep for the same grade. In the final weeks, some students will do vast amounts of work to raise their letter grade, usually at the prompting of parents. But for me, the grade is more than the volume of work competed.

I believe grades should reflect a student's mastery of the content. Some students understand but decide not to demonstrate their knowledge by turning in halfhearted work. This usually results in the frantic attempt to turn in missing assignments at the end of a grading period.

Some students take longer to grasp all the content. That's fine by me. If they get it within the grading period, give them full credit for mastering the concepts. These students learn that sticking with it can be rewarded, as opposed to punishing them with a permanent low score because they didn't get it by the predetermined test date.

But then there is the mathematics used for calculating a letter grade. Totaling points earned and averaging them gives different weight to each assignment, unless every task carries the same point value. This means that two incorrect items on a ten point assignment (or 80%) is not really bad when listed with 100 point projects.

If students understand that assignments are weighted differently, they can spend a comparable amount of time and effort on each task. But if every grade is adjusted to a percent, it evens out the thirty point project with the 87 point test. In this case, students should spend equal effort on all items as they are all valued equally in their grade.

The same is true for weighted categories. Some teachers will issue daily homework with over thirty scores in a category that together accounts for less than twenty percent of a students grade. Students will spend hours every night working for points that carry very little meaning for their overall grade. It's the few tests that carry more weight that should consume more of student's study effort.

Either way, how much value an assignment, quiz, project or test contributes to a student's grade should be clearly communicated to both students and parents. Inequity in grading can often be eliminated with clearer communication.

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