Fair Isn't Always Equal: Assessing Grading in the Differentiated Classroom
By Rick Wormeli
Differentiation, differentiation, differentiation- we preach it all day when it comes to the student-centered classroom, but how do we apply the ideas of differentiation to grading???
And speaking of grading- has anyone stopped and looked at the way we grade our students to determine if it's even the best way to be going about it? I mean, JUST because we've been doing it one way since whenever DOES NOT mean that is necessarily the best way to do it!!!
With that in mind, here are my top 10 takeaways on how (and why!) to be a differentiated grader from Rick Wormeli's book & lecture.
Top 10 Takeaways
Why do we grade? Wormeli breaks it down into 6 options: to provide feedback, to document progress, to guide instructional decisions, to motivate, to punish, or to sort students. When it comes down to it, the first 3 work and the last 3 don't. The important thing is that we grade mastery, not behavior. Grades should show what the student knows, not how compliant they are!
2. Norm Referenced vs. Criterion Referenced
As teachers, our concern is not how students are measuring up to other students, it is how each student is measuring up to the objective. Thus, rankings or grading on the curve really don't give us a good picture of what each student knows, just how they compare to their classmates. Norm referenced data has a place, but not in how we assign grades that are meant to show the student's level of understanding.
3. Don't rely on averaging
Turns out, the mean or average may not be the most accurate way to represent student understanding. Wormeli uses the example temperature averages. First, if the weekly temperature readings were 85, 87, 88, 84, and 0, the average temperature of 68.8 degrees inaccurately represents what the week was really like. Rather, using the mode (or the value that occurs most often) will give us a much better idea of what the weather was like. Can you see how this could misconstrue where a student's understanding is? Furthermore, when it comes to mastery, what really matters is the most recent value, or what the student knows now.
4. Formative vs. Summative Assessment
In order to have high final grade accuracy, teachers should have a low use of formative assessments. Formative assessment is PRACTICE- it is a time that allows for failure, growth, and feedback (or in other words, allows for learning to take place!). Students learn in different times and ways, and what really matters is what they learn in the end. Wormeli suggests keeping separate grade books for formative and summative assessments. Ideally, formative assessments wouldn't factor into final grades, but a good place to start is giving formative assessment 5-20% of the final grade while allowing the summative assessments to carry the weight of the grade.
The objectives of any given unit should not be a mystery to your students. By administering a pre-assessment, teachers actually help to focus student studies by priming their brain to notice what is most important. Furthermore, pre-assessments give the teacher a great idea of where her students' understanding is in order to guide instruction and allow informed, individualized decisions to be made.
6. Re-do's and Extra Credit
Allow re-do's for full-credit. Trust me- this is not the easy way out for students. Re-do's should be turned in with the original assignment attached and signed by the student's parents, along with the more recent assignment and an explanation of what the student did wrong and how they learned from it. Students learn so much from this experience, and their more recent assignments better show their mastery. Re-do's should always be at the teacher's discretion, considered on a case by case basis. If there is a chronic problem with any given student, this should be addressed. With this in mind, there is no need for extra credit. Don't give out additional busy work when students didn't do their original work correctly. Have them fix their mistakes and learn from their failures. Mastery, mastery, mastery!
7. Late Work
Accept late work. We aren't grading behavior, we're grading for mastery. Again, if it's a chronic problem, that changes everything. Stop and think about why you wouldn't accept late work- isn't it just to penalize students, and doesn't it have nothing to do with their mastery?
8. 4.0 Scale and Rubrics
There is so much more room for subjectivity and error on a 100 point scale than on a 4.0 scale. For more accurate grades, stop looking to 100% and start considering using a grading format that could be more easily defined by a rubric. Try defining (and defending) the difference between a 96 and a 97- pretty hard to discriminate compared to the difference between a 3.5 and a 4.0! A 4.0 scale translates very well into the following labels: Mastery, Proficient, Emerging, Not Yet, and No Evidence. See how grading becomes much more objective?
9. Zeros and F's
Have you ever thought about how a 0 on a 100 point scale is like a -6 on a 4.0 scale? An F technically has a 40 point span while each other grade has only a 10 point range, making a 0 more like a J or K letter grade! How is a student supposed to come back from that??? Thus, if you're going to give a 0, a student must have a way to come back from that. Some teachers won't assign anything lower than a 50, which technically means a student is still getting points for not doing anything. One solution, of course, is to use a 4.0 scale. Another is to mark anything lower than a 50 as incomplete, meaning the student doesn't fail indefinitely, but they must learn the material and try again. After all, they clearly don't get it if they're scoring that low.
10. Change your Gradebook
Instead of grades that show how students fared on assignments, gradebooks should show how students are doing with each standard. What tells you more: how well the student did on an assignment, or how well the student did on each given standard covered in the assignment? This more specific grading style allows the instructor to gauge what students are really understanding and where they are struggling. Think of how much this will improve feedback to students AND parents!