How to Grade for Learning (by: Ken O’Connor)

In his book “How to Grade for Learning”, Ken O’Connor sifts through the research on how to ensure that our grading systems maximize student learning in a systematic and strategic manner.  He offers eight guidelines based on decades of research to help encourage student success. O’Connor devotes a chapter to each of the following guidelines for grading in a way that fosters higher levels of learning.

8 Grading Guidelines to Support Learning and Encourage Student Success:

  1. Relate grading procedures to learning goals (i.e. standards).
  2. Use criterion-referenced performance standards as reference points to determine grades.
  3. Limit to valued attributes included in grades to individual achievement.
  4. Sample student performance – do not include all scores in grades (some student work should be for practice and not final product)
  5. Grade in pencil – keep records so they can be updated easily. (This perspective is really referencing a method of grade recording that existed prior to the use of programs like Infinite Campus. However the principle holds true… grades should reflect the final product of instruction)
  6. Crunch numbers carefully – if at all.
  7. Use assessment(s) and properly recorded  evidence of achievement.
  8. Discuss and involve students in assessment, including grading, throughout the teaching/learning process.

Although each of these guidelines are somewhat wordy, they are powerful in their application to our practice and implementation in the classroom.  The book goes on to explore each of these in detail with a lot of pages of research, case studies and templates for helping the interested professional really internalize what each of these guidelines really means in action.

Of particular interest is the final guideline of involving students in the assessment process.  John Hattie’s research synthesizing over 800 educational research meta-analysis (click here for a summary) found that self reported grading had the highest effect size (1.44, which is equivalent to over 3 times the average effect) on student learning of all influence factors across all studies.  Clearly, self reporting should be incorporated into every grading system in some way.

O’Connor also explores numerous and widely accepted practices that get in the way of learning and inhibit the intended purpose of grading.

12 Grading Practices that Inhibit Learning:

  1. Inconsistent grading scales
  2. Worshipping averages (as the teacher you should feel free to override any average to better reflect what a student knows and can do at the end of a grading period)
  3. Using zeroes indiscriminately
  4. Following the pattern of assign, test, grade, and teach
  5. Failing to match testing to teaching
  6. Ambushing students (ie. pop quizzes and tests that hold a high value)
  7. Suggesting that success is unlikely
  8. Practicing “gotcha” teaching
  9. Grading first efforts
  10. Penalizing students for taking risks
  11. Failing to recognize measurement error
  12. Establishing inconsistent grading criteria

This list comes from page 35 in “How to Grade For Learning” and is accompanied by detailed descriptions of why each of these factors really stifles learning rather then promoting it. The quality of the feedback students receive through the grades they are assigned has an incredibly significant impact on student learning.

If you are like me, reflecting on the summary of the “inhibitors” listed above might be a little bit daunting.  I know that my own practices in grading at times failed to avoid a few of these “inhibitors”. As we continually seek to improve the quality of our professional practice it is important that we use the research to reflect on how we can tighten up our practices to ensure that what we do aligns with best practices.

One Response to How to Grade for Learning (by: Ken O’Connor)

  1. misterjscott says:

    Whether it realizes it or not (and I’d bet it does) this accessible manual speaks to how some management issues (and by extension behavioral ones) can potentially be reduced with a well thought out grading policy. Much excellent food for thought (and a possible in-class “snack”) lies within… a copy can be easily reviewed for the most relevant parts fairly quickly, and is worth just a bit of your time 🙂

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