Saturday, December 10, 2011

What is the Purpose of Grades in my Classroom?

My first semester of the new school year will be over in eight days.  I have whole heartedly began my journey into using standards based grading this year.  At the halfway point, I want to share some beliefs, insights, and struggles that I have acquired the past few months.

First, I want to begin with my beliefs on the purpose of grades in my classroom:

  • I believe that grades are about what students learn not what they earn ASCD Article by Susan Brookhart
  • I believe grades do not motivate or provide incentives for students to do well
  • I believe one single grade given on a test with multiple learning standards is not an accurate measure of student knowledge and understanding.
  • I believe that students should not be punished for taking longer to learn essential skills or standards
  • I believe the students should be asking: "What does advanced look like on this standard?"
  • I believe students should get credit for showing thinking and understanding in any way that makes sense to them as long as they can explain their thinking and procedures
  • I believe students should get full credit even if they did not learn the standard "on time" 
  • I believe that Summative Assessments are also Formative because the students know anything they do not score proficient on, they still have to show proof of understanding.
  • I believe any work I assign to my students must be tied to a standard
How has my classroom environment changed based on my beliefs?
  • My classroom atmosphere encourages thinking and problem solving rather than rule following because students have to understand the process they are using to solve math problems
  • Students work and persevere on problems rather than giving up and waiting  for a fellow classmate or the teacher to give them the answer (#1 rule in my classroom - no one will give an answer, we agree to ask questions to guide thinking and learning).
  • The students know that proof of understanding requires deeper knowledge and the ability to explain their process/thinking.  So when they don't understand something, they tell me rather than hiding it
  • They do more work to show their understanding
  • My students know their strengths and weaknesses and  find relief in the fact that I will work with them to improve and show understanding

I feel like I am in my infancy in the standards based grading journey.  I am experimenting with grade book formats and a variety of resistance from my colleagues, parents, and the students who have become comfortable taking the F.  At this point I feel as though I have made a break through with the kiddos that are used to taking the F.  They have learned that failing is not an option and that they have to prove understanding.  I also love the conversations that occur around standards based grading:

"how is advanced different from proficient on this standard"
"what do I need to do to prove understanding of this standard"
"I don't understand this concept/standard"

I am struggling in a few areas:

  • providing timely feedback often is challenging
  • my grade book and how it informs students and parents
  • strong resistance from my colleagues (hence this post to share with them)
  • training middle school students who are entrenched in the "old way" of grading to work to prove understanding
What I know for sure:
  • my classes have changed for the better of all students
  • I have so much work and growth in this area
  • I will use my Twitter PLN and especially #sbar for resources, support and learning
I can't believe my school year is almost half over... YIKES!!


  1. Kristen,

    I am a principal at an elementary school and have been working to help my teachers make the transition to SBG. I have very similar issues in that many of the teachers are resistant to makin the change. We do have the benefit that every teacher has access to MasteryConnect which allows teachers to track student mastery of each standard. It is also helpful that parents have access to that information in real time. Even with that, the transition has been challenging. Thanks for sharing your thoughts as it gives me the courage to continue pressing forward.

  2. Trenton,

    Thanks for giving me a principal's perspective. I am going public with my post today with my fellow teachers. I am very nervous, yet I think it is only fair that they know where I am coming from and that we start the dialogue on grading. It will take time but I know it is worth the riska and effort!

  3. Great post! Congrats on your courage and commitment! Several middle and high school teachers in my district are working toward SBG (our elementary friends have been doing it for a while). I think our report card format gets in the way of teacher SBG efforts - do you have to "smoosh" all your grades into a more traditional "overall" grade for report card purposes?

  4. Dear Kristen,
    A colleague just sent me a link to your blog. I would be very interested in hearing what happened yesterday when your fellow teachers heard your perspective, and in hearing how this unfolds in your school. I know you are taking this risk and expending this effort for the sake of your students! I am sure at least some of your colleagues will get that. Let me know if there is anything I can do to support you all.
    Sue Brookhart

  5. Rob,

    Yes, I still have to "smoosh" all of my standard grades into an "overall" grade for our report card. I'm hoping that now that the dialogue is open, that issue will eventually come up and we will be able to address that as a staff once more people see the need. My plan is to have mini conferences with the kiddos looking at what their standard scores are and coming to a collective agreement as to the "proper" grade.

    Wow, thanks for reading my post! Your article is what prompted my "belief" statements. I shared this with my math department with my administration there to support me. I was very nervous because I work in a very conservative high achieving district and I am known for rocking the boat.

    It was a good conversation and there were a lot of questions. We are at the very beginning stages so I know I have to be patient with myself and my fellow teachers. We spent about 90 minutes discussing grading. I was frustrated at the end when a statement was made about the students receiving a 70% on standards they had shown mastery on after missing them on the unit test. Of course I give them an advanced score so obviously we have a long way to go!!! I will definitely be in touch with you for advice and help. Thank you!

  6. Great post! I am diving in headfirst with this philosophy this year, and your classroom sounds a lot like mine (is yours really noisy???lol) I will be sharing this with the administrator in charge of my annual evaluation next week. Here's to bucking the system for the good of the kids!

  7. Tracy,
    Yeah! I'm glad to have you fighting the good fight with me. Are you on twitter? I'm @teachteKBeck.