Grading Policies that Work Against Standards… and How to Fix Them (Research Summary by Thomas Guskey)

The book “Practical Solutions for Serious Problems in Standards-Based Grading” is a collection of essays from leading educational researchers and teachers.  Thomas Guskey offers some tremendous insights in an essay titles, “Grading Policies that Work Against Standards… and How to Fix Them.” In this essay, Guskey offers 5 problematic procedures and tips for how to address these issues to ensure that our grading systems support ongoing student improvement and ensure student learning.

Policy #1: Grading “On the Curve”

  • Grading on a curve makes learning competitive focusing on winner and losers rather than learning.
  • Grading on a curve hinders collaboration, as students are against one another for a limited number of proficient spots.
  • Grading on a curve communicates nothing to the students.
  • Potential Solution: Focus on assessing the evidence of each students learning through evidence of demonstration of proficiency.

Policy #2: Selecting the Class Valedictorian

  • Selecting a single valedictorian assumes there can only be “one”.
  • Selecting a single valedictorian turns achievement into a game for the top students.
  • Selecting a single valedictorian is not about learning, but about a mathematic calculation.
  • Selecting a single valedictorian is a process rejected by colleges and universities.
  • Potential Solution: Offer multiple ‘valedictory” honors similar to college and university graduation honor levels. As you know we already do this in Greece.

Policy #3: Using Grades as a Form of Punishment

  • Grading as punishment is rejected as an effective method of grading in virtually all research on the subject.
  • There is not a single research study that supports this practice practice.
  • Much of the research actually indicates that grading as a form of punishment actually has a deter mental impact on learning.
  • Potential Solution: Create policies that ensure that grades reflect what student know and can do.  Ensure that systems exist to differentiate between refusal to do the work, in ability to get it done and failure to demonstrate proficiency. Develop support systems to ensure that student complete missing work so that it does not skew their grades.

Policy #4: Using Zeroes in Grading

  • There is no evidence in the research that assigning a zero for incomplete work has a positive impact on student learning. Instead, the evidence seems to suggest that a zero encourages quitting rather than completing.
  • Zeroes reflect failure to complete and assignment… not the degree to which proficiency is demonstrated.
  • Zeroes distort averages to such an extent that it is impossible, in most situations, to determine what a student knows and can do.
  • Potential Solution: Consider using “I’ as a place holder for work that is not completed, while ensuring that systems are in place to have the student demonstrate proficiency prior to moving on to the next topic.

Policy #5: Hodgepodge Grading

  • Without clear guidelines in place, many teachers resort to an unclear amalgamation of a wide range of assessment criterion for determining grades.
  • Hodgepodge grading leads students to feel that grades are random and not aligned to what is important.
  • Hodgepodge grading creates a feeling in students that getting a good grade is more about figuring out the grading game, rather then demonstrating proficiency on the material.
  • Hodgepodge grading makes it impossible for a student to know and understand what they need to do to improve and achieve proficiency or mastery.
  • Potential Solution: Establish explicit indicators of product, process and progress learning criteria.  Assign a separate grade to each of these three areas so students know which area they need to target their attention. This will keep the grades for skills, effort, work habits and learning separate.
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