Conferencing With Students About Grades

This is my 9th year of teaching math and I feel as though assessment practices and grading structures have been a struggle for me since the beginning. I want the grade in my class to represent what a student knows about the content of the course. Over the years, I have adapted and modified my practices to try and create a grading system that honors student’s growth towards mastery over time. I regularly assign review problems as homework in class and always have more review topics on my tests than new topics. I didn’t want a student’s grade to suffer for not being proficient on a topic the first or second time they are tested on it. Rather, I wanted to be able to have a student’s grade at the end of the semester reflect their most recent performance on the topics we have covered.

Through TRC, I had the opportunity to work with a team of educators this year who share this same desire for their grading practices. Since July of 2019, our research team has investigated assessment practices. With much collaboration and sharing of ideas and resources, I decided to base the final grade in my class on conferences with students about their knowledge of the topics we covered.

To facilitate conversations, I adapted a handout that Tatiyana Webb, a member of my research cohort, used in her classroom. She created a reflection guide for students to complete so that they could provide evidence of their learning. After my students completed the guide, I had a one-on-one conference with each to discuss their overall performance on the topics covered during the semester.

On the first day, I was able to conference with about 9 students during one 58 minute class period while the rest of the students worked on preparing for the final. The conversations went well since students had already completed the assigned reflection guide. This allowed us to discuss their knowledge of each of the topics. I was also able to help clarify misconceptions students had about topics that they felt they hadn’t mastered yet. This felt like a very productive use of time and gave me insight into my students’ abilities, knowledge that I would have never become aware of from testing alone.

I had to finish the rest of the conferences during our two-hour final block on the last day of the semester. While these conversations allowed students to show me what they understand about each topic, they were more rushed and didn’t feel as authentic as the ones I completed before the final period.

Overall, I felt students appreciated the ability to discuss their level of knowledge and determine an accurate and fair grade. Most students saw their grade go up from what was recorded in my grade book, since we looked at the most recent scores on each learning target instead of averaging all scores. This is definitely a practice that I plan to continue using and modifying in future semesters.

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