Grading at the end of a formative assessment

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A few months ago I wrote an article explaining how I try to evaluate students throughout the term without grading.

Asses without grades: my experience

I received a lot of comments and some of them asked me for a second part. This is all very well, they said, but at some point or another you have to grade. This article will try to focus on this second part: after a whole term doing formative assessment, how do I grade?

At my center we operate on a quarterly basis. Every quarter we give an evaluation report to the families where, by subjects, we specify the objectives of each of the area competences and their achievement. In addition, the students give their opinion and the families can also contribute once they have received it. I am not going to go into the question now of whether it would be better to do it only once a year or to do it every term. Whatever the case, I’m sure that at some point you have to grade.

The whole quarter I propose as a way to achieve the objectives. And the grade reflects exactly that. To what extent has the student reached the objective? I use the nomenclature provided by the Catalan Ministry of Education and each objective can be Not Achieved (NA), Satisfactorily Achieved (AS), Remarkably Achieved (AN) or Excellently Achieved (AE). And, to be able to determine this, I make a rubric for each objective.

Here is an example. 4 objectives which, in this case, are all related to the same competence. The example is Technology, which is my speciality, but I believe it is easily transferable to other areas (we should add that in Catalonia we have specified the 109 competencies that a student must have by the end of secondary school).

This rubric is not for the students, it’s only for me. During the whole term we will have done formative assessment. We’ve made examples of gear calculations, we’ve made some tests that they will have to correct themselves to detect if they already master these calculations, we’ve made initial plans, we’ve co-evaluated them to detect errors, I¡ve reviewed the designs and made proposals for improvement, I’ve spoken to them individually, etc. But at the end of the quarter, in order to qualify, I only try to determine the degree of achievement of the objectives. From what I have collected and observed, in this case an elevator, a report, exercises, interviews … I determine the degree of achievement of each objective with the rubric. From the objective, not from the tasks. Sometimes it is linked, as in the case of the plans. But sometimes not as much, as in the case of the gearbox. Just as important is what they deliver as what they tell me when I talk to them.

This rubric I use is useful for all students, except for those who have an individualized plan. For these I define different objectives or achievements.

If you follow me regularly, you know that I use the qViC (only in catalan), which will allow me to enter each of these achievements and calculate an overall subject achievement.

I try to make sure that the grades always shows the achievement of these objectives. And nothing more. In the report that I will give to the students (which the school delivers with the rest of the subjects), these objectives and the achievement of each one of them will appear, as well as the overall achievement and a commentary highlighting those aspects that they have done well and that need to be strengthened and those that need to be improved for the next term.

I would like to emphasize that the grade shows nothing more than the achievement of the objectives. I am trying to make sure that the grade is fair and it move towards equity. What does this mean? That I prevent other factors from being introduced into the grade. Examples:

  • The student’s effort. I don’t think I can be part of the grade. Yes to the comments, as reinforcement or as something to improve, but not to the grade. Has the student achieved the objectives without effort? It’s better for him. Why do I have to hurt him? Has the student not reached the objectives despite a lot of effort? Why do I have to cheat him?
  • Penalty for failure to submit assignments (or homework) or late submission. If the student has demonstrated that she has achieved the objective, what influence should it have that she has not turned in one of the tasks that I had set in order to build up knowledge? If the assignment is late (and I have time to review it) but I have evidence that the student has achieved it, why should I affect the grade?
  • The attitude in class. If the student does not participate, if the student facilitates the class, if he constantly interrupts it … Why do I have to affect the grade? What does this have to do with the achievement of the objectives?

Two clarifications.

  1. Just because it does not influence your grade does not mean that other actions are not taken. If a student is late or fails to turn in assignments, you should talk to him and try to work on his responsibility. The family should be contacted to help us with this follow-up. And, if necessary, I do not rule out punitive measures. Let him stay some afternoons in the centre to advance tasks, if necessary. The same thing if he does not have a correct attitude in the classroom. Also if he makes an effort, he should be congratulated and encouraged to continue. But if we change the grade, I think we’re just cheating him.
    It has been more than proven that using grades to punish or teach students does not work.
  2. In Catalonia we have the competences of the personal and social area. Effort, responsibility, participation and others are behaviours related to these competences. We may be tempted to add objectives focused on these competences and grade their achievement. We could establish that a term objective will be to deliver the tasks on time. If we do so, WARNING, we will have to think of activities for the students to develop this competence. It is not enough to decide that they must already have it and, if they do not, punish them.
    However, I am not too keen on introducing it into subject or project grades. I am in favor of working on it and evaluating it, but not of grading it individually, because if several teachers set a similar goal, the student who does not achieve it is disadvantaged in many subjects. Therefore, the weight of this “failure” is multiplied. I think it is fairer to leave it until the end of the course and grade it on a personal and social level in order to give it a more equal weight.

Treating the grade in this way, I insist, only makes sense if during the quarter there have been no grades and we have done formative assessment. Giving feedback and giving the opportunity to improve assignments and demonstrate achievement. If we do it this way, I think the grade helps this formative assessment. The student will know exactly where she has come. In addition, it focuses on equity. Which students usually have the most difficulty with homework? Often those who do not have family support behind them or who have responsibilities that may not yet be theirs, such as caring for siblings. Penalizing them is not fair. The opposite is also true. The student who can have a private teacher and therefore always presents the tasks well done, should his grade be increased if he does not achieve the objectives? Nor would it be to encourage equity.

That may sound simple, but it’s not. When students have such an internalized culture of consistent grades, telling students that not doing their homework will not penalize them can be disastrous. That is why this article is the second part. If we forget about grades during the term, if everything we do is for learning and for achieving goals, it stops making sense to ask whether a particular task, homework or attitude has an impact on grades. Of course they do, because homework, assignments, and attitude in class all have an impact on learning. And when we have to give grades we will look precisely at this (and only at this), at learning.

True, the subject would be worth much more than an article. But the idea was only to show in a minimally argued way how I qualify.

As I always say, but I want to repeat, I’ve been a teacher for over 20 years. I share concerns, doubts, practices, successes and mistakes with schoolmates and virtual colleagues. I try to train myself constantly and I read many articles and books by wise people who do know about education and methodologies. In this article, as in all of them, I only present the personal conclusions that I reach by making a synthesis of everything. If it serves to reflect on and improve your practices, I will be more than satisfied, whether you agree with my opinions or not. What I say should not be interpreted as what needs to be done. The only purpose of the article is to share so that we can move forward together. As always.

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