Recently, I was reminded of a particular conversation I observed many different teachers having last spring. It went something like this:
“How fair is it to the students who did the work if everyone gets an A?”
There’s a lot to unpack there. First of all, it assumes “the work” was reasonable for all students to complete, at home. Let us not forget that any graded remote work was essentially a 100% Homework grading category—something no K-12 teacher in their right mind would ever consider. So, fairness…
How fair was it that all students had to learn—on their own, and in homes with who knows what levels of support? Obviously, not very. But on the teacher’s part, how fair was it to assume doing “the work” was a valid way to assign a grade anyway? Less-obvious, but still not very.
A common story I heard was teachers setting a bar to earn COVID-19 remote credit, such as completing 10 assignments over a couple months, yet there would be a student who did 8, or 9. Naturally, it didn’t seem quite right to adhere to that strict Pass/Fail bar, so some teachers assigned credit on a percentage basis. However, this is no different than most grading systems before remote learning, which according to guidance was supposed to have been different, taking into account the disruption by adjusting grading policies. Percentage-based grading is anything but that adjustment. In fact, in the final weeks of school there were elaborate plans devised after realizing how Pass/Fail was difficult to determine when the only evidence that teachers had was based on a homework completion model with arbitrary lines drawn in the sand.
The question of how fair it was for students to get the same grade also assumes the learning environments were of comparable equity, which we know isn’t true. It turns out the question of fairness and grading itself is the wrong question. Instead, that conversation should begin and end with “how fair is it to grade students in a 100% Homework grading category based on a completion model?” That answer is easy; not at all.
Here’s what I’m going to propose to my school for arriving at a course grade each quarter. Essentially, it’s a template of what I’ve been using for years. It’s solely based on expectations, determined by the teacher and/or departments, retaining any autonomy in establishing expectation criteria. That’s it. All teachers need to do is establish their criteria, and then ask “can students meet these expectations?” If they can meet such expectations in-person, that’s great. If they can’t meet such expectations with remote learning, though, back to the drawing board!
Among other things, this template eliminates scores of 0-54, and equalizes grades across each letter. What that means is that in traditional 0-100 grading scale, 60 points (0-59) all count as a single letter, F, and letters D, C, B, and A each have 1/6th the value, 10 points. That alone shows you how ridiculous a 100 point scale grading system is! It doesn’t get better. In our school, that grade receives absolutely no GPA credit. Students must get a 60 to earn a 1.0 (yeah, there’s no credit awarded lower than 1.0…check your school!). If you’re wondering why the template below includes 5 points that won’t count towards GPA, I’ve found that students never stay at that level all year long—even two 55s and two 65s results in that bottom 60, a GPA of 1.0, and if not, I would manually change the course grade to 60—the true lowest possible credit for the course. So, instead of 6x as many points allocated to an F, every letter has the same value of 10 points, there’s 5 points for the academic elite (96-100), and the lowest possible grade is 55. Here’s what that basic template looks like:
You can make a copy of that document by clicking here. Remember, all teachers do is establish reasonable criteria. When it comes to determining that, I recommend including multiple criteria with “and/or” in the description. This gives students multiple opportunities to meet expectations. Considering how different each student’s learning environment is at home, an equitable system like this is even more necessary now. Here’s my rubric for in-person expectations, knowing I’ll have to adjust them when I actually find out what teaching looks like next year. You can check out this folder for the following rubric and a couple variations.
Of course, the only question is keeping track of the evidence showing students meet expectations. The easiest way to do this is to create a 0% “Portfolio” grading category, and report whatever evidence you have. What’s the evidence? That’s your job. Mine will mostly be participation in Google Forms, such as selecting options for a class story, or sharing thoughts on what learners found most compelling from that day’s class (i.e. Miriam Patrick’s “exit ticket” idea). Oh, and I’ll have students self-assess their grade and just check against the body of evidence I’ve collected. EZPZ.
To be clear, this is a school-wide grading grading solution. I have no idea what the Math teacher would choose for expectations to be met, but I’m not a Math teacher. They know, and they can establish that criteria. So, give it a try and get your school on board! We’re gonna need a lot of self-care, and grades have no business with any of that.