Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Grading Philosophy and Trying Something Different

If there is one area of my teaching procedures that has been most contested (by parents), it is definitely my grading philosophy, particularly my use of weighted grades vs. total points grading. (That links to a really excellent article on the topic.)

During my first year of teaching I taught at a school where each department was meant to follow the same grading policy (a good idea, I think), so we managed this by using a weighted system. I no longer remember the percentages, but basically in all of our general English classes, you could count on tests being worth X% of your grade, homework worth Y%, and so on. It didn't matter if you gave a five-point test or a fifty-point test; as long as it was still categorized as a "test" in your grade book, it tied into the X%.

This is a system I have always liked and I continued using it when I switched schools (where it is currently not mandated that our department members grade the same way), despite the fact that very few teachers in our building use a weighted grade system.

This was my breakdown for the 2013-2014 school year.
Tests - 50%
Writer's Workshop - 25%
Homework - 15%
Quizzes - 10%

Pros to this setup:
  • I'm a firm believer that the student's grade is supposed to reflect mastery of the content, and tests are meant to assess for mastery. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to me that a large portion (half, in this case) of the class grade be assessment-based.
  • The percentages reflect the effort on the part of the student. Tests require the most effort, so they carry the greatest weight. Writer's Workshop (including all essay drafts, research skills, etc.) requires lots of time, effort, and mastery of skills that are tricky to assess on a standard test, so it was worth the second largest chunk of points. Homework and quizzes require less effort on the part of the student and, to me, are meant to be formative assessments rather than summative, so I didn't want them to tank a student's grade, but I wanted them to pack enough punch that the students took them seriously.
  • Weighting is very flexible. I don't necessarily have to promise 500 test points a quarter (out of a potential 1000 points, so I still have my "weighting"), with each test being worth 100 points. If I need to throw in another summative assessment, I can. If the test should really only be worth 80 points, no big deal. They are all still worth 50% of the student's grade.
  • My grade book software does the math work for me, so I don't really have to think too much about how many points something is worth. (How to properly assign points is definitely a topic for another post... I'm pretty opinionated on that too!)
Cons to this setup:
  • Sometimes you have a quarter that is really heavy on one particular category and really light on another. For example, when my students do their research papers, they get tons of grades in the book categorized as Writer's Workshop grades (25%) but very few categorized as Homework (15%). So if I goof up and only give them one or two Homework assignments, and they goof up and do poorly on those one or two assignments, that has a 15% impact on their grade. This can be problematic.
  • Students (and often their parents) just. Don't. Get it. They often struggle with figuring out why that one zero in the grade book had such a nasty impact on their grade or why a twenty point test is more relevant than a twenty point homework assignment.
[Honestly, those are the only two (albeit major) cons that I've thus far found with this setup.]

As much as I really like how well weighted grades work for me, I recognize that they sometimes don't work for my students and their parents. I'm nothing if not open-minded [in my humble opinion of myself ;) ] so this year I'm willing to try something different. I'm toying with the idea of a total points/standards-based hybrid.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the idea, here's a great article on standards-based grading.

I like a lot of the ideas that go along with standards-based grading, but I'm not ready to go all in yet (and I'm quite certain my not-so-progressive corporation wouldn't be wild about it either). That's why I'm trying a hybrid this year to see how it goes. It's definitely a big experiment. I'm still in the process of designing this, so bear with me. These are some of my ideas.
  • Use a total points system. No weighted system. Help students to keep track of their points in class so it is very clear to them why they have the grade they have. Student data-tracking works great in parent-teacher conferences.
  • Use a list of quarterly standards to guide my teaching (as always). Break those standards into student-friendly objectives (as always).
  • Create formative assessments (homework assignments, exit slips, etc.) for each objective. Make each one of these work W points. (Like, 10 points, and use this 10-point scale to show mastery of the objective.)
  • Create formative assessments (quizzes) to assess groups of learned objectives. Make each one of these worth X points.
  • Create large summative assessments for each standard. Make each worth Y points.
  • Using the standards list, create a quarterly pre-test and post test that tests all standards. Make this worth Z points.
If I do this right, I should be able to come up with a total number of points available for each quarter and it should still technically be "weighted" without all the weird percentages. I feel like this system would also cut back on any kind of "trivial" grades and make the grade all about content mastery.

What do you guys think? Any tips to improve on this idea? Think it will crash and burn? What are your grading philosophies?


  1. I am in a similar boat. My last school had district-wide percentages, which I carried over to the school I am in now. I honestly think total points is a lot more work because you have to give certain assignments more points. I like categories because my daily work can simply be out of the number of responses I want, and it doesn't affect the way the daily work pulls on the grade. I hope that makes sense.


    1. Definitely makes sense! I know some (total points) teachers who say that every single homework assignment is worth 5 points, whether the kids had to answer 2 questions, 15 questions, or write a three-paragraph response! This just doesn't seem right to me... those assignments should have different values. How do you grade those things on a 5-point scale? I'm so conflicted about this!

    2. P.S. - started following you on Bloglovin. I'm really enjoying what you've written so far. Can I link to your blog on my More Ed Blogs page?

    3. Yes! I think I am addicted. Hubby has to pry me off computer when he gets home from work. I can't write fast enough :)

  2. I used to use total points, but switched to percentages this year. I had noticed that my tests were worth significantly less, as a whole, than my homework was. Obviously that was a problem, so I switched to categories. I teach high school, and I often find myself teaching math in my history class to explain how categories work. I'm going to try and find (or maybe create my own) YouTube video that explains how they work so that students & parents can access it and understand better. Good luck with standards & total points!

  3. Stephanie I've always used wighted categories. At first I used it with percentages, where I placed the percentage graded assignment in each weighted category, but my parents were confused about everything being out of 100 points. It wasn't, but no matter how many times I explained people still didn't get it. Last year I had to switch to points in weighted categories. It seemed to work better, but there was still confusion about the weighted categories. I'm the only teacher in my high school building who weights her grades. Everyone else uses total points. One teacher has as many as 3,000 a quarter. My administrator has asked me to switch to total points this year. It will be the first time in 10 years that I've used total points, placing me outside of my comfort zone. Oh well. It will help me grow as a teacher. And if it ultimately helps the kids then that's fine with me. I like your idea of how your breaking down the points. I think I might give this a try with you. Thanks for your thoughts. Keep us posted on how this works for you.

  4. Stephanie, will you make your pre-test worth the same number of points as your post-test each quarter?

  5. For a considerable length of time I gave exceptionally broad remarks on understudies' papers. What ceased me was one of them, at long last, saying "thank you." It instantly struck me that several understudies over numerous semesters in academic writing hadn't given a second thought enough to say anything to me in regards to the remarks, and indeed likely hadn't thought about them whatsoever.

  6. Sometimes you have a quarter that is really heavy on one particular category and really light on another. For example, when my students do their research papers, they get tons of grades in the book categorized as Writer's Workshop grades (25%) but very few categorized as Homework (15%). So if I goof up and only give them one or two Homework assignments, and they goof up and do poorly on those one or two assignments, that has a 15% impact on their grade. This can be problematic." - This is my big issue. In term 3 of an IB course, I have 1 test and no IA's. Therefore their entire grade can be tanked by a poor score on the test.

  7. loved your writing style. your blog is amazing. Have been going through some of your posts, will def. recommend to others. Independence Day in Telugu