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Needed Immediately – A Culture of Learning

By: Guest Blogger Ken O’Connor, the Grade Doctor | | No Comments |

Needed Immediately – A Culture of Learning

I need help calculating what I need to get in the final to pass

-1st exam 38/54 is worth 19.05%

- 2nd exam 37/54 is worth 19.05%

- 3rd exam 35/51 is worth 19.05%

and I have finals that are worth 21.43% and labs that are worth 21.42%

I need overall 75 or above to pass this class and so far I have 69.17%

What do I need to get in my finals to pass this class? Please help!”

This question was posted on my website (oconnorgrading.com) when I accepted questions for the “Grade Doctor.” My immediate reaction was, “How does anyone come up with a grading recipe like this and how can they possibly justify the mathematical calculations carried to two decimal points as an appropriate method to determine grades???”

The large volume of questions I received about this topic as well as extra credit, penalties for late work and homework made it clear that for many — maybe most — middle and high school students, school is primarily about compliance and the accumulation of points rather than learning. I believe it’s critical in preparing students for a successful and fulfilling life beyond high school that we change school from a culture of grading to a culture of learning. Some would say that the best way to do this is to completely eliminate grades. I can see the value to such a strategy, but the reality in most places, especially at the high school level, is that, for the foreseeable future, grades are inescapable. Thus, our best strategy and what we must do is determine grades differently than traditional ways to place the focus on learning. This requires that teachers:

  1. Base grades on learning goals (“standards,” “expectations,” “outcomes,“ etc.), not assessment methods or activities;

  2. Provide grades for learning goals, not subjects, except for grades 11 and 12;

  3. Use performance scales with two to seven levels that are clearly defined so that they have real, not symbolic meaning;

  4. Eliminate the use of percentages;

  5. Include only achievement in grades and report behaviors separately;

  6. Include only evidence from summative assessments in the determination of grades;

  7. Make formative assessments “no score, comment only,” thus eliminating almost all homework from grades;

  8. Determine grades on the most consistent level of achievement with emphasis on recent achievement;

  9. Crunch numbers carefully and sparingly, which includes eliminating averaging and zeros; and

10. Develop students as self-assessors and reflective learners.

The bottom line is that we must see grading as an exercise in professional judgment and not simply as a mechanical, numerical exercise. When we do, the conversations with students will focus on their learning instead of number crunching and we will develop a culture of learning in which the focus is not on calculation but on answering the learning questions:

Where am I going?

Where am I now?

How can I close the gap?

Ken O'Connor, a.k.a. The Grade Doctor
Ken O’Connor is widely recognized as an industry expert in grading practices in K-12 education, and specializes in issues related to the communication of student achievement, especially grading and reporting. Ken enjoyed a 23 year teaching career and was the Curriculum Coordinator responsible for Student Assessment and Evaluation and Geography for the Scarborough (Ontario) Board of Education. Through books, articles, presentations and working with small groups Ken helps individuals, schools and school districts to improve communication about student achievement. Ken has a M.Ed. from the University of Toronto as well as a B.A. (Hon) and a Diploma of Education from the University of Melbourne.

Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily PowerSchool.