May 21, 2008

Grading is a Pain in the Assessment

Last week, I attended a meeting about grading practices. Changes are coming, so I wanted to see what some of those changes might be. As it turns out, those teachers who were interested enough to show up seemed to form some sort of sounding board that might be making decisions about some unified grading practices. It was a very heated meeting that left my head reeling.

I have been working to hone my assessment practices in the past few years, but attaching grades to those assessments is still difficult. What this particular meeting really boiled down to was about accepting late work. Are we assessing work ethic or standards? Of course we're evaluating standards, but with the current education system, work ethic cannot be easily separated. This is a topic that several of us have been going around and around about for longer than just this year. We want to hold students accountable and get their best work out of them. But are our techniques working?

My team does not accept late work. We've tried accepting work whenever, accepting work with a percentage penalty and a limited amount of time, and now we just don't accept it. When I accepted late work, the vast majority of the time I found that the work was not quality when it came to me. Students procrastinated and then rushed to get any kind of grade. Now students have the one opportunity to do it right. From time to time, I will give students the opportunity to redo work--particularly with assessments. (Assessments make up 50% of the grade.) But what if they don't submit it to begin with?

The next logical step might be that students will be made to do their work to quality standards! Or else...what? I am not sure. My fear is that if students know they have the opportunity to redo work that will not turn in quality work to begin with. "Oh, I'll just turn in whatever because I'll be able to make it better later." I know. I'm such a cynic, but I've been BURNED! Of course, I could make a system of incentives. Or...students could just do what is expected of them!

I'm pretty depressed about my own grading practices this week. The other teachers on my team aren't being very sympathetic, either. "So what if the students are failing? They know the expectations!" I have a slew of students failing my class because they did turn in their research papers--or that's the event that started their downfalls. I so carefully planned how I would assess the students in the process of researching and planning their papers plus how I would assess them in the final product, but in the end, if they didn't participate, I have nothing to assess. (Actually, my student teacher executed this unit, but it was all there for her.) Because I don't accept late work, there's nothing I can do. Or want to do. (And why should I accept it late when it was a month-long process?) According to a little food-for-thought article that my supervisor gave me last week, I found that my grading practices are considered toxic. Damn! What am I? A rookie? Or an old fart teacher who won't let go of broken practices? Why can't I get this right?

I spent all day filling out notices for my students who are likely to fail this quarter--some might even fail the entire semester. Yes, the whole day. Filled each class with paperwork and short conferences. A couple of my students have had some severe family and personal issues, but the rest of them have no excuses for their grades. I guess I should be thankful that they aren't begging me for extra credit or the opportunity to turn in assignments that are a month old. It's still depressing for me. Something doesn't feel right.

I'm willing to shift my perception of assessment and grading practices. I want to be fair. BUT-- I wonder if this is another one of those educational issues where the educators are taking responsibility and the learners are taking none. If I change how I do things, can the students change their attitudes, too?

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