Vol.#30: Making Up the Grade

Photo Credit: PixaBay User Hans Braxmeier
Photo Credit: PixaBay User Hans Braxmeier

As it stands now, my interdisciplinary team and I will be together again next year and we have started discussing standardizing some of our  practices. (Teaching at a year round school means our first day of school is July 8th.) This started a conversation about our grading beliefs. I have found we’re not all in the same place with what we believe a grade should reflect.

For example, my social studies teammate wished to retain a student even though he
had a “B” in his class during the first semester. This was because the student’s work habits
were very, very poor, even though his mastery of the content (once eventually turned in) was okay. My math teammate stopped offering any retakes or accepting any late work at all during the fourth quarter because she wished to prepare them for the eighth grade team’s practices. And my science teammate wishes to employ a grade penalty on late work next year. However, I wrestle with the fact that the grade then would not reflecting the students’ knowledge, but rather their behavior in getting the work turned in on time.

Still, I share their frustration with the problems we saw this year as a team:

  • Accepting work late penalty-free means deadlines are seemingly irrelevant to students. Far less work is being turned in on time than it used to be.
  • Huge volumes of work are being turned in right before the quarter closes. This places the teacher in a very unfair position.
  • There’s an inherent inequity. For example, one student might earn an 84 in mastery when submitting the work on time, and another student a 95 when afforded more time to complete it. Those two grades may reflect what the students each knew and were able to do, but one could also make the argument that the first student could have shown more mastery if they’d been given the additional time as well.

Should timeliness be related to assessment of mastery? After several years of tweaking my policies, I’ve come to this conclusion:

Initially, no. Eventually, yes.

In the grand scheme of things, it may not matter if students were able to demonstrate they understood a particular unit of study on November 16th or 23rd. However, if they are still confused one week, two weeks, three weeks after the class has completed that unit, their odds of sudden understanding of said unit do not improve as time marches on.

Moreover, pragmatically at some point there just has to be a deadline. I cannot assess a student’s learning all at the end of a quarter accurately. It does not reflect each student’s learning well, for the same reasons why one standardized test at the end of a year does not reflect everything learned in the classroom that year very well.

Also worth noting is my experience that when students have given me all (or much of) the work at the end, parents have been frustrated that they “didn’t know sooner”, despite they fact that I didn’t have the work to assess any sooner.

For my own subject of language arts specifically, many of the grades reflect discussion of text. It is true students could read the text and complete the work correctly later if they did not read it in time to discuss with the class, but there was a value in the discussion with their peers in which they were unable to partake. It seems unfair that they would get the same grade because they, albeit late, were able to still demonstrate the same mastery eventually.They still missed out on a valuable learning experience…just not an easily measurable one.

This has led me seek a solution. I wanted to create some kind of inconvenience for the student submitting late work that is not reflected in his/her grade. This might encourage them to get work done on time (to avoid the inconvenience placed on late work) yet still leave the grade reflecting what they knew and were able to do – not the behavior of turning it in on time.

My team is now considering a “Request to Retest” form like this one that needs to be completed before a student is allowed to retest. This would require students to reflect on why they earned a poor grade, make an Action Plan to learn the material, and show what they’ve done to change the outcome. I really like this, as in my experience, retesting has been a matter of “slapping spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks” for many students. I’ve had as many as 40 students retest with only a handful to score any better than they did the first time.

For assignments, I’ve created this late slip to accompany any late work next year. (Feel free to use as desired.) This means that an assignment wouldn’t have a grade penalty, but does mean there’s one more hurdle for the student to turn the assignment in for credit: It does mean that there’s an advantage to doing it on time. It also provides the documentation that teachers need for conferences. Pulling out these forms from our students’ files on team , filled out in the student’s own handwriting, would be very powerful during a parent conference.

How do you deal with late work or poor test grades in your classroom? Do you allow for retakes or late work to be submitted? Why or why not?

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4 thoughts on “Vol.#30: Making Up the Grade”

  1. Erica,
    I appreciate your insights on this issue. I’ve implemented some similar practices myself, and I agree about the importance of making the first (on-time) attempt at an assignment much “easier” than subsequent ones.

    Like

  2. Such great questions. Please hold your ground with the idea that a final grade should reflect final knowledge and skills.

    Late work reflects one of two things: 1. Procrastination (a character issue) or 2. An inability to break a task into smaller components for completion (a skill every bit as important as content knowledge.

    Two things I’d suggest:
    1. Use class time to help students backward plan from a due date. What are the smaller tasks that need to be done? Planning? Research? Information compilation? Drafting? Revising/editing? Presentation or format development? If students can show you within a few days of assigning a task that the deadline is unreasonable, have them suggest an alternate deadline that they COMMIT to hitting. Once the list of tasks is complete and each task is given a due date, periodically check their list or have them write a half-page reflection on their progress and challenges to date. As far as skills for the future, students learn to plan and communicate regularly with their ‘supervisor’. Essential life skills.

    2. Consider implementing academic referrals for students who are not turning things in on time due tomprocrastination. If students can’t stick to their plan during nightly homework and daily classroom time, consider lunchtime and after-school referrals so that someone can block out work time for them. Parents should be informed whenever an academic referral occurs. The parent communication often leads to more work being done at home.

    Good luck!

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  3. I agree with and use a similar philosophy for student work in elementary and middle school Orchestra and Band classes. It has energized most of my students and parents. Parents have to sign off or email acknowledgement every time, in order to validate whatever is “late” or “re-take” work. Work-intensive at the start of the year, it becomes easier as the students/families grasp its intent. It has taught students/families more about relationship management, as I have experienced it over time. This results in my musician students learning what it takes to live as good citizens. It teaches creative problem solving, too. Life will teach them enough about doors that shut and opportunities denied.

    Most of our work involves:
    1. scale/apreggio tests
    2. repertoire mastery
    3. concerts
    4. special recitals at home
    5. monthly practice journals
    6. written reflections on individual practice for the week
    7. written reflections on related creative arts:dance, art, vocal music, and more

    I support the idea that teaching instrumental performance through a variety of performance outcomes enhances the journey and makes the process titillating for me and for my students. Consequently, students who are highly skilled performers and those who are limited by development or practice habits, home life issues can all find a path to display their understanding and progress.

    Like

  4. Thank you for this post!
    I agree with and use a similar philosophy for student work in elementary and middle school Orchestra and Band classes. It has energized most of my students and parents. Parents have to sign off or email acknowledgement every time, in order to validate whatever is “late” or “re-take” work. Work-intensive at the start of the year, it becomes easier as the students/families grasp its intent. It has taught students/families more about relationship management, as I have experienced it over time. This results in my musician students learning what it takes to live as good citizens. It teaches creative problem solving, too. Life will teach them enough about doors that shut and opportunities denied.

    Most of our work involves:
    1. scale/apreggio tests
    2. repertoire mastery
    3. concerts
    4. special recitals at home
    5. monthly practice journals
    6. written reflections on individual practice for the week
    7. written reflections on related creative arts:dance, art, vocal music, and more

    I support the idea that teaching instrumental performance through a variety of performance outcomes enhances the journey and makes the process titillating for me and for my students. Consequently, students who are highly skilled performers and those who are limited by development or practice habits, home life issues can all find a path to display their understanding and progress.

    Like

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