Grading: A necessary evil?

reportcardIf it were up to me, I would provide feedback, but not numerical or letter grades to my students.  In my experience, assigning scores to assignments, assessments, and overall achievement often has a negative effect on the learning process.  My more ambitious students are so focused on their scores for various assessments that they tend to disregard the feedback provided to help them increase their proficiency. The less motivated students sometimes regard a low score as an excuse to stop trying, rather than directing their attention to constructive feedback that would help them improve on future performances. Furthermore, parents and other stakeholders are inclined to request opportunities for their students to “earn more points,” rather than suggestions for how these students can improve their proficiency.

As much as I would like to completely eliminate the process of assigning grades to my students, I know this is not a realistic expectation given my current teaching situation.  In my school, as in most large public high schools in the country, grades serve many purposes for the students and stakeholders in their education.  Here are a few that immediately come to mind:

  • Some parents use grades to determine the extent to which they need to become more involved in their child’s schoolwork, limit extra-curricular activities, take disciplinary measures, etc.
  • Grades provide input to guidance counselors when making scheduling decisions.
  • Administrators consider grades when placing students in various educational programs.
  • Coaches make decisions about what types of intervention to provide based on student athletes’ grades.
  • Mental health professionals consider students’ grades when diagnosing certain learning differences or mental health issues.
  • Colleges use students’ grades to make decisions about whom to accept or give scholarships to.
  • Students make decisions about work habits and even whether to remain enrolled in a course based on their grades.

For these reasons, I am required to keep an (electronic) gradebook in which I record numerical scores for various assignments and assessments.  These scores are then used to determine a numerical average, which is then converted to a letter grade based on the district’s grading scale.

Although I cannot totally eliminate the grading process, I do have a fair amount of autonomy in determining how these grades are tabulated.  In my current teaching position, I am able to make the following decisions regarding the grading process:

  • The formula used to convert individual scores into an overall grade
  • The types of assignments/assessments that are graded
  • The methods I use to assign a numerical score to these assignments/assessments

When making choices about these aspects of the grading process, I take many factors into account.  First and foremost, it is of utmost importance that my students’ grades reflect what they can do with language (and therefore their proficiency), rather than their compliance, behavior, effort, etc.  Secondly, it is important that the scores provide targeted feedback on each student’s strengths and areas for improvement. Lastly, I want my grading system provide motivation for those students who are grade-driven, yet not be overly punitive for those students who are less motivated by grades. While I continue to tweak my grading system as my understanding of proficiency evolves, this is the grading system I will implement this year.

Formulating a Quarter Average In order to ensure that my students’ overall grades reflect the extent to which they have met the proficiency goals I have set for them, 80% of each student’s quarter grade is derived from his/her scores on the two or three IPA’s that I administer each quarter. Rather than recording one score for each IPA, however, I assign a separate score for each language skill that is assessed on the IPA.  Therefore, each student will earn a Reading score for the interpretive reading task on the IPA, a Listening score for the interpretive listening task, a Speaking score for the interpersonal communication or presentational speaking task, and a Writing score for the presentational writing task.  Each of these skill categories are worth 20% of the overall grade.  The advantage of recording these scores in separate categories, rather than as a single score, is that I can immediately identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses and provide individualized coaching to help students improve.  While some educators use the communicative modes, rather than language skill areas as their grading categories, my personal experience does not support this configuration.  I have found little transfer, for example, between interpretive listening and interpretive reading skills.  Likewise, my students with strong presentational speaking skills do not necessarily have the accuracy required to be strong writers.  I do find, however, that students are fairly consistent across modes in terms of language skills.  For instance, a student who can communicate effectively in a conversation can usually transfer these same skills to an oral presentation.

In addition to these language skill categories, I have a fifth section which includes all other assignments/assessments.  Grades on classwork/formative assessments, quizzes, etc. are recorded as Miscellaneous scores. While many teachers don’t record scores on formatives assessments, I have found that many of my students are more motivated to complete classwork and to prepare for formative assessments if their scores on these evaluations will appear in the gradebook. Due to the large number of scores in this category, each individual score has only minor mathematical significance.  As a result, a poor score on any of these assignments will have very little effect on a student’s overall grade, ensuring that the student’s quarter grade is primarily derived from his/her summative IPA’s.

Assigning Scores to IPA’s This year I will assess my IPA’s using the Ohio Department of Education’s Presentational Speaking, Presentational Writing and Interpersonal Communication  Scoring Guides and the ACFTL IPA rubric for Interpretive Reading (with the modifications discussed in this earlier post).  As I assess the IPA’s, I will check the appropriate box in each section of these rubrics in order to provide comprehensive feedback to my students.  However, I will not provide a numerical score in order to ensure that the students remain focused on their learning, rather than their grade. As I will need a numerical score for my gradebook, I’ll use these formulas to convert the rubric evaluations into scores for record-keeping purposes.

Interpretive Listening: Because I have not found the ACTFL template to be an effective method of assessing interpretive listening skills (see this post), I am currently using a variety of comprehension questions to assess listening.  My method for determining a grade based on student responses to these questions is, however, a work in progress.  Although I try to create questions that could be answered using previously-learned vocabulary and context clues, my students’ performances have demonstrated that I am not always realistic in my expectations.  It is clearly not reasonable to expect Novice students to answer all questions about an authentic video when “I can understand basic information in ads, announcements, and other simple recordings.” is an Intermediate Mid NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do statement. Therefore, I used data from my students’ responses on IPA’s (all of which were new last year) to inform my calculations. I then create a table such as this one.  Because this process is norm-referenced rather than criterion-referenced, I am not entirely satisfied with this process and will continue to reflect on how best to assess my students on interpretive listening.

Assigning Scores to Formative Assessments While the primary purpose of my formative assessments is to provide feedback, I also assign scores to some of these assignments.  Doing so provides additional motivation to some students as well as encourages absent students to make up their missed work. On most days, my students will complete at least one of the following, which may be scored as a formative assessment.  I use these rubrics to formulate a score on the following types of formative assessments.

  1. Presentational Speaking – I sometimes choose 2-3 students to present on a topic that was assigned as homework (Novice) or to present what they have learned from a reading or conversation (Intermediate).
  2. Interpersonal Speaking – I circulate among my students as they are completing the interpersonal speaking activities during the unit. While I cannot spend enough time with each pair/group to adequately assess them, I do choose to 3-4 groups to assess during each interpersonal speaking activity.
  3. Presentational Writing – My students complete several presentational writing assignments throughout the unit that are designed to help them practice the skills they will need to be successful on the IPA. While I cannot assess all of these assignments, I will provide feedback (or use peer feedback) as often as possible. In addition, by randomly selecting several papers to score on each assignment, I can ensure that all students will have at least one writing formative assessment score for each unit.
  4. Interpretive Reading/Listening – In many cases, I provide whole class feedback by going over the correct responses to interpretive activities. However, I do sometimes collect student work in order to evaluate and provide feedback on individual performance. Depending on how much time I have available, I might correct all or parts of an interpretive task for feedback purposes and then assign a score using the interpretive formative assessment rubric.

While I will continue to evaluate my grading practices, it is hoped that this system will allow me to assess my students’ progress on the goals I have established and to provide the necessary feedback that will enable them to make continued progress along the path to proficiency.

 

4 thoughts on “Grading: A necessary evil?

  1. Cecile

    Hi Lisa, this is a very interesting post and I completely agree that using the 4 skills (instead of the 3 modes) for grade book is the way to go! I have a specific question for you: Have you done any “test run” on students with the ODE rubrics? How do you plan to move your students (and any colleague you work with) from your previous rubrics to the ODE ones? I have been using a modified version of the OFLA rubrics (which I helped design based on the ACTFL ones) and I am now pondering whether to evolve again using the ODE ones or not. I am not married to the ones I designed but it did take a while to implement with students and teachers across the curriculum. I would love to hear your perspective. Great to see that you are based in Ohio! I hope to see at the CSCTFL/OFLA conference next year!

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Cecile. I’m thrilled that someone whose work I admire so much agrees with me about skills and modes! I haven’t yet used the ODE rubrics with my students. While I would love to say that I thought implementing them would be a challenge, I’m not so sure that it will be. Most of my students are very much focused on the grade, and much less interested in how the grade was derived. I’m really hoping that by 1) using these very detailed rubrics and 2) avoiding number/letter grades on the rubric, my students will focus more on how they can improve their individual performance. As far as colleagues, our methodologies are quite diverse and I’m not sure that there will be a lot of interest in the ODE rubrics at this point.
      I think the OFLA rubrics are great, too. I was so new to IPA’s when I first saw them that I think I was too overwhelmed to consider changing to such a detailed rubric. I had been using a very simple holistic rubric that I had created and didn’t have enough experience in proficiency-based instruction to realize the importance of including more detail and analysis.
      I will look forward to meeting you at Central States. I’m offering a session on IPA’s (my first large presentation) so I’ll definitely be there!

      Reply
  2. Andrea

    Hi Lisa,

    I’ve followed some of your posts and have admired your work. I like your level 1 (novice) starter lessons. I teach 3-8th grade. I’d love any tips on how to stay in the language with novice learners. Giving explanations, delving into culture and building the proficiency so they can express more complex ideas without teaching direct grammar. Thanks so much!!

    Andrea

    Reply

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