T Sale's Blog

Friday, November 16, 2007

Grading Redux

Earlier this year (in my posts of August 31 and October 3) I mentioned that I was trying out a grading style which involved a 4-point scale. At the twelve week mark I solicited feedback from the students in my sophomore classes, and you can read the comments for both first and fifth hours. While some students embraced the new system, the majority were uncomfortable with it. Their three main concerns were (1) it was too hard to determine their overall grades from a series of 4s, 3s, 2s and 1s, (2) it was frustrating that Infinite Campus reported the grades based on pure percentages rather than what they were supposed to be (for instance, a grade of Proficient or 3 appeared as a 75% rather than the equivalent of a B), and (3) with only 4 grades, there was too much of a gap between grades; they only knew that they were “Proficient,” not how close to being “Advanced” they were (apparently the extensive comments I write on each essay do not explain this clearly…).

I’m not so concerned over item #1; part of my hope was that students would dwell more on the quality of each assignment rather than on the overall grade, so it’s OK with me if they really have to think about what their grades should be, based on the quality of their work. But I actually have shared their concerns over items #2 and #3. I think a grading system should give useful feedback, and I had already started “cheating” on the 4-point scale by using plusses and minuses. To solve the Infinite Campus problem, I have changed the grades to simple percentages so that IC can do its calculations. I still plan just to write “Advanced” and “Proficient” and so forth on the assignments, along with explanatory comments. My hope is that students will ponder this feedback a bit before they rush to their computers.

So far, I feel that I have been largely unsuccessful in conveying the idea that learning is more important than grades. My students seem less interested in improving the quality of their work than in accumulating points. Maybe next semester…


  • At Fri Nov 16, 03:29:00 PM 2007, Blogger Karl Fisch said…

    Addressing #2 - I think this one is solved reasonably easily, assuming their issue is with the letter grade. Simply setup a custom curve so that 75% is a B. You would have to think a little bit about what you want the range for each letter grade to be (is a 3.5 average an A or a B?), but it's doable. I can help with this if you need it.

    Addressing #3 - One way to address this would be to go to an 8 point scale, which gives a little more granularity to the grade (choices of 5, 6 or 7 instead of just 3). Philosophically I may not favor that, but practically it could help with this concern.

    Addressing the real issue (IMHO) - Why use a numeric scale at all? If you get rid of points, then that makes it much harder for students to focus on them . . .

  • At Wed Nov 28, 11:43:00 PM 2007, Blogger Greg Trotter said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At Wed Nov 28, 11:48:00 PM 2007, Blogger Greg Trotter said…

    I know I am late to the conversation, but I admire your efforts to challenge the ingrained, grade mindset. Tomorrow morning, I should receive an e-mail from one of my students regarding his inability to score well on a writing assignment. He said there is "so much pressure to obtain points or a grade in school that it takes away from everything." He felt as if he could not orate his grade angst. So he agreed to e-mail me about wether the writing grade should be suspended, enhanced, or ignored. He said he wants to learn, revise, and work on the writing so that he can improve his skills, but he is so disenchanted with his own outlook regarding grades. We will see what transpires and if his suggestions will impact his class. Thank you for challenging the grade tradition. In education, there is always next semester.

  • At Mon Dec 17, 04:11:00 PM 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Terry and Karl,

    There is a curve on infinite campus called "winger curve" that looks like this

    4.5 = 100%
    4 = 95%
    3 = 85%
    2 = 75%
    1 = 65%


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