On experimentation and grading

I did something this quarter that you normally can’t do in schools, and that’s using my students to perform an experiment. I have two honors Algebra classes, and I decided early in the 3rd quarter that I was going to grade most of their assignments simply on completion. In other words, I wasn’t going to go through any of them question by question and decide, okay, this one is a 9/10, or this is a 7/10, or whatever. Turned it in, and it looks like you tried? 10/10. Didn’t turn it in? 0/10. Same late work policy as the rest of my classes; ie, if it gets turned in it gets graded and I don’t care how “late” it is.

One would think, that if the only grades that were possible outside of tests were either zeroes or A+, that would really skew grades toward failing or high-A grades, and with a group of honors kids, generally more predisposed than others to turn in work, one would expect to see higher grades across the board.

One would be wrong. This policy barely moved grades at all. Most of the kids whose grades changed also turned in more work. There was no skew to the extremes, because kids inclined to failing assignments also don’t turn in a lot of work, and the amount of work kids turn in is really damn close to the scores they get on the assignments they turn in. Find me a kid who turns in every single assignment on time and I’ll show you a kid getting an A. Damn near every time.

Tests, of course, are a great leveler, and one other thing I have to pay attention to is whether test grades are plummeting, which might also be a side effect of this policy. Once kids figure out they don’t necessarily have to work super hard on classwork, because missing a question or two isn’t going to hurt their grades, maybe they don’t learn as well and that shows on the tests? All I can say is I didn’t see it, and I was paying pretty close attention. I might take one of my regular ed classes next quarter and see how well this policy works; I’m not going to try and apply it to everybody, though, at least not until I’m certain what kind of effect it’s having, and I don’t have remotely enough evidence for that right now.

(Reminder: all grading is arbitrary. Yes, all grading, even the system you have in mind right now.)

Third quarter ended today. Two weeks to Spring Break, about a month to ILEARN, and then that’s year 19 done and dusted. Amazing how fast the year has flown by since I changed schools. Just amazing.

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Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.


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