Grading in a Formative Assessment Classroom

Grading in a Formative Assessment ClassroomGrades and grading are always hot topics with teachers, administrators, students and parents all having different perspective. I certainly understand that there needs to be some sort of measurement of student progress and for now letter grades are what we have, but that doesn’t need to stop us from imagining an education system without grades. In fact, let’s do that for a moment.

As educators, our jobs are to teach students and prepare them for college or career. So how does applying a letter grade to their accomplishments achieve this goal? It could be said that a student’s grade is just as much a reflection of our success as educators as our student’s grasp of the subject matter. Chris Crouch, in his Huffington Post blog – Grades Do More Harm Than Good – reflected on what grades are supposed to do and where they fall short:

Teachers feel boxed in and forced to report grades, students are trapped “earning” them, and parents understand what “good” and “bad” grades mean. But none of those understandings are close to the role they were meant to play; their primary function is to communicate mastery of performance and today they do anything but that. It’s a mess.

If we have to give grades, why not put that grading control in the hands of the students themselves? In a formative assessment classroom environment students understand their learning targets, receive feedback that moves their learning forward and become owners of their learning. At the Pearson ATI blog – This is What I Know About… Sound Grading Practices – Ken Mattingly shared some unique insights he experienced using formative assessment strategies and tactics in his classroom that are worth sharing:

The list [a set of core components to make grades have meaning] starts with clear learning targets and ends with grades directly linked to student understanding of those targets.

1. Clear student-friendly targets
2. Assessments aligned to targets
3. Feedback on current performance
4. Redo/retest opportunities
5. Grades tied to student understanding of targets

Students can make mistakes and learn from them without penalty. Mistakes just become opportunities to provide feedback on closing the gap to mastery. Practice is not for a grade in sports. It’s to prepare for the performance, which is usually the game. Practice (classwork or homework) is not for a grade in my class. It’s just to prepare for the performance, which in this case is the summative assessment. 

Student learning from formative assessment shouldn’t even be a factor in grading. Why? While some students have greater knowledge of a certain topic than others at the outset of a lesson, if teachers are successful in their efforts at imparting that lesson, all students should, at least, have the same baseline knowledge of that lesson once it’s taught. If they all can’t meet that baseline of measurement, then where does the responsibility lie – with the student or the teacher?

What do you think? Does the grading system need an overhaul? Should teachers grade during the course of the year or should summative assessments define grades? We’d love to hear your thoughts so drop a comment below.