I’ve gotten this question several times lately and it’s made me remember I sort of blogged on that when I wrote about taking the leap to standards-based assessment but I should go into it a little more.
So, you’re ready to move to proficiency-based assessment and standards-based grading, but if you’re assessment is focused on telling students where their proficiency is hitting and what they can do to improve, what do you do when you’re required to give a number grade?
I inherited a passionate hatred for grades from my dad, a brilliant, creative homeschooler and certainly the most influential person in my life. A number on a piece of paper doesn’t tell me anything. Or rather, maybe it tells me everything, but I can’t interpret it. Perhaps it’s trying to tell me how much sleep the student got last night, or whether his eyes wandered to the girl’s paper one desk over, or to the girl herself, or that he bombed his calculus quiz last period and hates the world right now. Maybe it says he turned the assignment in three days late. Maybe it says he didn’t understand the directions. I don’t know. For sure what it doesn’t tell me is what I really need to know: what can he do with language?
Following some work I did with the excellent teachers involved in developing curriculum for the Jefferson County (KY) Public Schools (quickly becoming the gold standard in district curriculum development – I am blessed to collaborate with these teachers!), I developed my own proficiency-based performance assessment rubric. But I get a question at times about how I put an actual grade on it – there isn’t a place on the rubric for a grade. That’s by design. If a grade doesn’t tell me anything, it tells my students even less, so why would I write it on their assignment? I choose instead to give them much more helpful feedback, like what structures and word choices they’re using well and how they can push themselves to the next level. They know exactly where our expectations are and how they can meet or exceed them. It’s empowering.
However, I do have to put a grade in a gradebook for my school. We’re required to give a certain number of grades, in categories of “daily” and “test,” per quarter. So what do I do? Well, I sort of copy the JCPS model there too. Here’s a snapshot of how they assign grades:
So you can see, meeting expectations is a B. Students have to exceed expectations to receive an A.
But I have to put an actual number. How do I come up with the number? If a student is meeting the expectation in all major areas (vocabulary use, structure, comprehensibility, and comprehension) the grade is right in the middle of B. For us, with 80-89 being a B, that means an 85. I move the number one way or the other if students tend lower or higher in one or two categories. So if they’re meeting expectations in two categories and exceeding them in two categories, the number is closer to A. If they’re meeting expectations in one category and exceeding in three, they can receive a low A. Does that make sense?
The number will also move one way or the other depending on how students do in the minor categories, language control and task completion. These areas might become more important depending on the subject. In AP, task completion is actually much more important than in the lower levels because it’s scored so critically on the exam. So if my students in AP ignore some task requirements their grade will move more than if they were in level 1.
So, in my class, exceeding expecations overall earns an A, meeting expectations earns a B, approaching expectations earns a C, and you’ll see that my last catogory in the “score” box is “Unsatisfactory: I need considerable improvement before I try again.” What happens there? Well, in my class, this score earns a failing grade, and failing a performance assessment is not an option for my students, so it means they have to redo the assessment. Every time. I do not allow a grade of “Unsatisfactory” to stand. Also, I allow students to redo any assignment that receives “Approaching expectations.” Especially in the advanced electives, I get students who are very focused on receiving As in their courses and they languish over a C. So they can redo any assessment scored lower than “Meeting expectations.” I do not allow students to redo a “Meeting expectations” assessment to try for “Exceeding expectations”- I simply am not willing to try to work that into my schedule.
How do students find out what their grade was? They actually have to log into our online gradebook (RenWeb) to find out. Some students who don’t bother with it never find out what their number grade was on a particular assignment. Is that a bad thing? Not in my opinion. If I didn’t have to give it I wouldn’t – why would I care if they know about it?
One last thing: what are the expectations? You can see above what JCPS’s expectations are. Mine are very similar. Keep in mind I teach in a school with small, sometimes very small, class sizes. Our stated expectations are:
- Level 1: NM first semester, NH second semester
- Level 2: NH first semester, IL second semester
- Level 3: IL first semester, IM second semester
- Level 4 (AP): IM first semester, IH second semester
Here’s another aspect of the beauty of this system: it’s flexible. If my expectations don’t work for you, you know what works for you. Even more than that, when they don’t work for me and my students, I adjust them too! I actually have had students achieve consistent Advanced Low proficiency in their fourth year. The factors involved there seem to have been a combination of a very strong foundation in level 1 (Level 1 teachers please stay the course!) and a high aptitude. One of these students missed a quarter of her senior year due to illness and then scored a 4 on the AP exam. But you know and I know that not all students are like that (and that is okay). Then came this year. The students I have now in AP (4th year) had a very piecemeal Spanish 1 and 2 class. Then for at least half their Spanish 3 class I tried to force my intermediate curriculum to work for novice students instead of adjusting for them. Right now in some categories they still perform at novice high. If I maintained our stated expectations, they’d be getting low grades on everything and get very discouraged. So, I adjust. This semester in AP, “meeting expectations” is not intermediate high, it’s intermediate mid. You know your situation and your students and you can adjust accordingly.
If you want to create a classroom culture that knows what proficiency is and works to improve it, you’ve got to incorporate that philosophy into your assessment. I hope these scale ideas offer you a practical solution for doing so.