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I have long concerned myself with the notion of grading, its need, it accuracy, and its future.  Grading is a long standing, though never ending, train every teacher must have an engine for and a caboose that always comes last.

»Why grade

If grading is such a drudgery, why do teachers take so much time doing it?  In part, it is part of the job.  The greater need to grade is knowing how well students are performing.

»Learning is continuum

A grade is supposed to give feedback to the student about how his/her progress.  Notice progress is a key word meaning continuum.  Every grade a child receives on work is mostly directed back as a number.  That number is supposed to indicate to the child his or her score.  I contend that the score is arbitrary because of the teacher.  To grade work out of ten seems negligent to me.  The negligence comes not in the number but in the willingness of an educator to design the learning backwards, and in backwards planning the end state of learning is first described as goals and the goals drive the instruction and assessment.  I am not sure this is what really happens because I am guilty of this myself, so I am being self critical of my own practice.  If the design is sound and the learning plan is sound, then the assessment, formative or summative, is substantiated and a learning continuum is generated.  Yet, if the end learning state is not described ahead of time for what a student is supposed to do, then the entire process is flawed.

»Ain't nothin new

What I am saying isn't anything new, but what I do believe there is a much better way to assess student growth.  When was the last time you were a number and someone said to you that your learning was a number?  As I went through school, I used to see numbers on my tests and homework never knowing quite what it meant other than I did well or not so well.  Learning cannot be quantified and for years the prescribed practice is to quantify as numbers.  What really is 56% of learning, or 100% of learning?  Isn't that the ability to give a teacher an answer they want to see as being correct.  So why not say I earned a 100% of what teachers wanted to see?  That sounds much more reasonable and that, in my opinion, is what grading has come to.

»Enter standardized tests

I can hear a family talking about how the son or daughter or both didn't make the cut off score for a state given test in which there were only two hours afforded to demonstrate an entire year, or years, worth of learning.  The family is likely to feel shame and the child is feeling worthless and dreading coming back to school because now they have to meet with intervention specialists to help them pass the test.  Don't pass that up too quickly...help them pass the test.  Not learn.  Pass the test.  How is our system of education able to justify quantifying the total sum of a student's learning in one year in one test just to prove they can pass the test?   Tests can't, but somehow it is said they do.  I teach where the entire focus of a school year is teaching to a test with with little windfall focus on learning (my opinion, not my district's).  Learning is about being led, coached, inspired, frustrated, and challenged to think differently, creatively, innovatively, and authentically.

»Points stink, talent is better

Points, unless there is a 1:1 correlation to work or assessment, are arbitrary and the vague meaning of those points leads to the real confusion about what kids really know, and parents to have a false sense about their child's true ability.  For years I sat in conferences saying to parents, "This is really how your child performs..."  Pause a moment to think:  every year a child goes to a new teacher, who has to learn a child, the child has to learn the teacher, and the entire year is a sprint to get through curriculum.  Sound right?  This is based on points but I, and you, don't live life by earning points.  We live life by working to get better and when we take time to work at getting better, our competence grows, and when our competence grows, we are developing our talent in that area.  A talent based model would serve as a better platform for describing learning vs. quantifying.  Lets develop talent based measures that describe how kids are really performing in relation to learning goals that cause critical thinking, creativity, and innovation.  These measures, or rubrics, help us measure growth over time when applied with repeated instance.  Now we have a better profile of the student as a learner and not as a student as a score.

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