Over the past few blog posts I have been deconstructing the practice of grade calculation. And through this process, I am hoping that it is becoming evident that grade calculation, in the guise of objectivity, still does not meet the standards of being transparent, fair and equitable (Growing Success, p. 6). What is even more important to recognize that the practice of grade calculation in fact actually penalizes the learning process.
The goal of grading is to recognize that by the end of a learning cycle, a numeric representation of what a student has learned is to be accurately determined. It is not, not the average, mode or median of their learning process.
The assessment and evaluation process is all about taking snapshots on a journey of learning, to create a picture of what a student knows and can do. Each snap shot is a tiny segment of a picture, a piece of a puzzle. The task of the teacher is to use the evidence of learning (not just the summary data points) to come up with the grade. It is essential that the teacher has an understanding of the process to inform the judgment of what a student knows at the end of a course.
What ends up happening is that through calculation, it is only the data points that are being considered in establishing what a student knows and can do, but not it does not take into consideration the individualized context and process of learning.
If we take a look at what learning is, essentially taking new information and assimilating or accommodating it with prior knowledge, it is easy to see that there can be mistakes made along the way. That is only to be expected. Students need time to process, to practice and to figure things out. A good teacher will be using Vygotsky’s principle of the zone of proximal development to scaffold the learning to allow the student to maximize his or her potential at success. A good teacher will investigate where students start (diagnose) and provide opportunities to refine (formative) before determining what a student knows or can do (summative). The learning needs to be structured to progress a student through the learning process.
Growing Success states that
the grade should reflect the student’s most consistent level of achievement throughout the course, although special consideration should be given to more recent evidence of achievement. (p. 41)
This is their level of achievement – it is explicitly about what a student knows and what a student can do. More recent evidence of achievement should be a student’s best work (as they have hopefully had multiple opportunities to practice), but there are mitigating circumstances. Emphasis should be placed on assessments OF learning, but at the same time informed by assessments FOR learning.
I recognize that the evidence of learning used in the following example is quite limited, but it should suffice for illustrating my purpose.
In the example above, the first quiz could essentially be diagnostic. The teacher is attempting to determine prior learning and understanding. The second quiz could reflect the acquisition of knowledge (e.g. vocabulary terms, essential concepts, etc.) that will help a student throughout the rest of the unit. It is evident so far that based on marks of 52% and 60% this student is struggling.
As the student moves into a smaller hands on task, the student is becoming increasingly familiar with the overarching ideas, concepts, processes, and skills needed. It has simply taken time for this student to learn. It appears that the context and task type may be essential in allowing this student to more effectively learn.
The fourth task is a larger scale project. It is evident that the student has finally “gotten’ it”. There have been connections that have been made and the student has acquired the required knowledge and skills.
This is ultimately confirmed by the summative task in which the student continues to excel.
Looking back over the data from calculated grades in the previous posts, these are some of the possibilities that a calculated grade could have been (based on a consistent application of the KTCA weightings):
- Blended Average: 80.4%
- Blended Mode: 84.0%
- Blended Median: 84.3%
Now, there is nothing “wrong” with a mark in the mid to low 80s. However, this person’s grade has been lowered as a result of their learning. Using professional judgment, which is at the heart of assessment, evaluation and reporting (Growing Success, p.8) I believe the calculated mark to me a misrepresentation of student achievement. Looking at the evidence, the patterns of learning, mitigating circumstances, etc., I would determine that this student has actually achieved a 90%. So why is the calculated so much lower? It has penalized the student for not knowing, or having the required skills, right from the outset.
After having discussions with other educators, trying to understand why teachers cling to calculations, the response that I get is that the calculation is “accurate”, it is what parents want, it provides me with a basis from which to “tweek” the grade. But as we have already determined the, whole process of calculating is flawed: it is a mis-representation of student learning and achievement. Why would we ever want to use this calculation as the basis of determining a student grade?