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Grades

Grading is one of the most controversial of topics among educators. Speak with any of them and they'll come up with some of the weirdest ideas on how to evaluate students. Reasons why this assignment is worth (X) and that assignment is worth (Y) and why homework is only (Z) points or in the "real world" dollars. I taught most of my career in grades 6-9; yet this concept will be as meaningful for elementary students as to High Schoolers.

I relayed this story to my students every year. It is a try story.

"A close friend of mine was working on his degree in Chemistry and taking classes at the University of South Florida (USF). Three classes. As all colleges seem to do; at the end of the semester the professors posted student grades on their doors. John was a hard worker and on two doors he had a B posted and the third an A. He kept track of all his work and went to each professor to discuss his grades. One professor said 'Well done; looks like I made an error; I'll change it to an A', the other professor said... 'I changed the grading scale.'! The students were never aware of the change."

At least he had had one grade adjusted to "what he had earned". I let the students know that I make mistakes just like they do and to ensure they receive full credit for all their work they too need to keep track of their grades; just as parents keep track of their money in checkbooks and their pocketbook. I posted the student grades 3 times / quarter but what if I input a 97 as a 79 three weeks earlier. Would any remember? So I created a sheet I referred to as the "Data Sheet" where they record each grade they earned and calculated the current grade they have in class as well as the grade they would have should they change schools. This was their "checkbook". However, should there be any discrepancy they would need the receipt; the actual graded assignment that had been returned to them.

There were two concepts that motivated me to develop this system; one is that what I do in the classroom must reflect the world in which students will eventually live and the the other is that student's need the power to control their own grades, thus their life. If students believe that grades are magical or that grades are dependent on weather the teacher likes them or not; they have lost the possibility to enjoy learning how to learn and to really excel in that particular class. Why should they do anything it the grade was in the teachers power? I wanted students to learn not based on my personality but on their first external need and eventually to develop an internal desire to learn on their own. No matter what the teacher say's, no matter how loud or how long it's said; students must see that they alone own their grades and they alone can do something about it. To that end I developed a Data Sheet; Data Table, Pyramid; a way that students would know what grade they have earned.

Teacher love to say to students "You earn your grades". Student only earn grades to the extend that they know it by seeing it, and by effecting a visible change in the results. Now I know that most all teachers believe their students know their grades and can calculate them. Knowing them is not the same as controlling them or being able to calculate them. Teachers often provide students with an elaborate formula on how their grades are derived. Examples; homework 25 %, Tests 25%, daily work 10 %, class participation 10% and so on. I would go so far as to say the most teachers, given a pencil and calculator couldn't figure up a students grade accurately. Teachers have the formula in a computer and the computer will spit out an answer and they then share the score with either the students or their parents.

At one school near the end of my career in education the Principal was secure in who he / she was and allowed me to make this challenge to our instructional staff. I put out on our Intranet that I would wager (yes I bet) any teacher Pizza for their entire class if they would accept this challenge.

"Use the formula they have for calculating grades; provide the students with the data (i.e. test scores, homework grades, etc) and if 50% of the student can calculate their grade within 1 or 2 % points, they win a pizza for the entire class! If half the students are unable to successfully calculate their grades; the teacher buys me a lunch in the cafeteria. Out of approximately 100 instructional faculty only one teacher that didn't use the data sheet I'm providing here; took me up on the challenge. I had a free meal in our cafeteria. Only ONE instructional staff member was confident enough to see if his students could calculate their grades! In my mind that is sad. And I know every teacher in that school said to at least one student every day; "they're your grades; you earn them"!

All images and content copyright of David A. Kall