Grades That Show Understanding

This year seemed to be the perfect year to uproot my grade book and try something different. I knew students were going to need to be retaught what it means to do well in school. So many of them relied heavily on tools like Photomath and internet searches for answers throughout distance learning. In addition to needing a fresh start, I also really wanted to get away from the “point collecting” that so many students are trained to do. They think that to earn a good grade they just need to get more points on things like homework, which lends itself to students copying from each other or worse, from CPM homework help. “Answers may vary” is too common an answer on homework. I decided to revamp things. My grades were going to be 100% transparent, and 100% reflective of the students’ understanding of algebra. None of the “fluff”. None of the “points” that either inflate a student’s grade, or drop a student’s grade.

For the first couple of months of school, my students would ask me questions like, “Can I still get the points if I turn in my homework late?” I’d tell them that of course they could turn in homework late, but there would be no points assigned to it. In my thinking, they do the homework because it’s the practice they need to understand the content, which will help them to pass the assessments. I told them they could keep practicing and retake any assessment they wanted to retake, as many times as they wanted to retake it. I also employed the 50% grading minimum practice and am loving it. No more students at 15% who give up because they can’t claw their way back up to passing. 100% of my students’ grades are based on what they have shown me that they’ve learned. It’s great.  

I set up my grade book so that each entry was listed as an “I can” statement (every learning target went in as a separate entry). This was one piece I was super excited to try. This adjustment allowed the student, the parents, the counselor, the administrators, and myself to see clearly what the student could do and what they needed more practice on. This was especially helpful for IEP meetings. When a student retook an assessment, I would replace the grade with their current level of understanding. In this way, their current grade really was a reflection of what they knew about the math. 

At the end of the first semester, I asked students about my grading policy and how it impacted them. Some of the best feedback I got were statements like, “I like that I can see what each grade shows, like ‘I can calculate slope from a graph, table, or two points’” ,  “It’s easy to see what I need to work on” , or “I feel safe to try things because I know if I make a mistake I will have another opportunity to try again.” It’s student comments like these that confirm I’m doing something right.

One comment on “Grades That Show Understanding

  1. Those pieces of student feedback are inspiring. Was there a particular tool that you used to develop the I can statements from? How many I can statements did you end up with? I’m wondering about the scale of the project of setting up your gradebook this way. Also, does your gradebook being set up this way mean that all of a students’ grade comes from assessments?

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