Determining Report Card Grades-no easy task

In the olden days, determining the report card grade was easy.  A teacher’s mark book had a collection of grades which were added together and divided by 100 to create an average mark.  What a student did in September counted as much as what the student did in January.  There was no such thing as formative and summative assessment; all assessment was valid and counted.  It didn’t matter if the mark was on a first attempt assignment or a tenth attempt.  Now, as we have learned and researched more about how students learn, we have had to rethink how we assess and assign report card grades.  Good thing is that we are, hopefully, being fairer to students; bad thing is that it is really hard to do.

  • Overall expectations: Report card grades are about meeting end-of-year over-all expectations.  So, the January report card is a “dipping in” to tell parents and students how they are doing about meeting end-of-year over-all expectations.  Instead of thinking of the grade as being an accumulation of meeting a bunch of specific expectations, you can take a broader view about how the student is meeting the overall expectation in relation to the specific expectations.  For example, a specific expectation in language is “establish a distinctive voice in their writing appropriate to the subject and audience”.  If a student had not demonstrated a growth in voice but had demonstrated growth in some of the other specific expectations that lead towards the overall expectations of “generate, gather and organize ideas…” and “draft and revise their writing…”, the lack of voice may not, particularly in January, affect a student’s grade but rather be a next step.
  • Most recent and most consistent. This part is also tricky. Ideally you should have multiple pieces of evidence to support your decision about a grade.  Since the overall expectations are pretty big, all of the assignments and tasks students have been doing all term should contribute towards their understanding of these overall expectations.  At the beginning of the term students are learning and practicing—any assessment data you have is probably formative in nature and not going to inform the report card grade.  Think about learning to drive; you wouldn’t want your first attempts at parallel parking to be part of your final driving test!  However, towards the end of term students should have had enough practice time to be able to demonstrate their learning independently and consistently.  These attempts are more likely to inform the report card grade.  However, if in January, a student produced a product that was not up to his/her regular standard, it should not count against the student.  To be fair, everyone has bad days.  And, some assignments/tasks are richer in scope and may need to have more input into informing the final grade than others.
  • Where does formative end and summative begin???? As much as possible, assignments and tasks that “count” towards the report card grade should have been done independently. If you have a student who always requires assistance to get work done (not prompting but help) then that needs to be factored into the grade.  You don’t necessarily have to decide that a task is formative for all students and another is summative for all students.  For example, if you had students do a “summative” task in late November but found that 25% of your class didn’t do well, it may have become formative for them as you did some more teaching and gave them another opportunity to demonstrate their learning.  Perhaps during the learning stage, your conversations and observations led to you to believe that a student had a solid understanding.  All of his/her assignments and quizzes were fine.  But, during the final assessment the student didn’t do so well.  During a conversation with the student about this test revealed that the student had been nervous and made some silly errors.  The “summative” for this student may not have as much weight.  You have the duty to find out about these discrepancies so that your evaluation of a student is fair. So, you don’t have to be too rigid in which assignments “count” so long as you are using assignments and tasks that were done independently by students.
  • I don’t want my students to feel bad. Unfortunately we have to assign marks and no one likes getting a poor mark.  But, if based on your learning goals and success criteria students are not meeting goals, you cannot give them a level 3 or 4, even if they have tried really hard.  A good way to know you are on track is to do some subject and grade teacher moderation.  A ‘B’ in one grade 8 class should be the same as a ‘B’ in the class next door.  One thing to help students understand the grading system in Ontario might be to say that a ‘C’ grade means that the work is a bit tricky for you but that you are heading in the right direction.  A ‘D’ grade means that the work is very difficult for you but we have a plan to help you.  Discussions around growth mindset might be helpful for your students before you hand out the report cards.
  • The body of evidence: Make sure that when you are assigning grades that you take into consideration conversations, observations and products.  When you are using conversations and observations as part of your body of evidence, ensure that you have written records of this.
  • Professional Judgement: This is the hardest part of assigning grades.  As a teacher your professional judgement is tied to a number of other factors: being planned and purposeful; planning with the end in mind; knowing the curriculum; teacher moderation (so that you aren’t working in a vacuum); and, experience.  It is the ability to assess all of your information for each individual student in light of the curriculum and decide how well that student is doing, at this point in the year, towards meeting the end-of-year overall expectations.
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