Zeros, Missing Work & Tracking Down Students: How To Avoid In Four Steps

TLDR;
Set up a portfolio in the gradebook to collect evidence that has no direct impact on a student’s grade. I should sound like a broken record for those who have known me for the past decade or so, but it’s an iron-clad solution. Here it is in just four steps:

Step 1
It used to be that I created a gradebook category and gave it 0% weight. At least with PowerTeacher, you can create that category, but don’t have to add it to the quarter grade calculation at all! So, step one is to create a category, like what I’ve called Digital Portfolio.

Step 2
Create a category and set it to 100%. I’ve graded just one standard under the super-generic category I’ve called Standards.

If you don’t grade standards, no problem. Just create your one 100% grading category and call it anything you want, like maybe the super-generic Schoolwork. Then, create an assignment dated the start of the term—under Schoolwork—for each of the categories you’re used to. For example, if you have three categories, like Homework, Classwork, and Quizzes/Tests/Projects, those will become the names of the assignments listed under the new Schoolwork category. Basically, you’re turning your individual categories into standards. In the following example, imagine the teacher previously had three categories: Language/Grammar, Text Structure, and Central Idea. Now, they’re all grouped under a single Standards category. The individual assignments appear under the 0% Assignments category:

Example from “Grading For Equity”

Step 3
Now, design a rubric for each of your Homework, Classwork, and Quizzes/Tests/Projects “standards” that makes grading fast and simple. Consider: what is it about homework that you could give a quick grade for, and that has 3-6 levels of quality/performance (vs. 101) that are easily identifiable? Put that into a rubric. What do you expect the collection of homework assignments in the Digital Portfolio category to look like? Put that in the rubric. My favorite grading rubric has 6 levels. I recommend using this template and build out what each level looks like for your new “standards.”

Step 4
When you actually collect homework, its score goes into an assignment you create, for example something like “Homework #1,” under the Digital Portfolio category. Note how at this point, the student’s grade won’t change. The gradebook will no longer average all the actual homework assignments because they’re in the Digital Portfolio category that isn’t calculating into the grade. This is good because that kind of averaging is bad. For a student’s grade to change and reflect the new evidence you get, update the one “Homework” assignment listed under the new Schoolwork “standards” category according to its rubric you designed in Step 3. This is how you can assign and collect homework over the course of a grading term, but not need every single one of them to make a determination of what a student’s grade for homework should be. If the student isn’t there or doesn’t do it, mark it “missing.” This solves the absenteeism and missing work problem, and doesn’t require zeros! If your rubric is designed well, you only need a handful of homework assignments to grade the whole category, anyway. For example, if you look at a student’s homework assignments, what does the trend say? If you assigned 10 of them, chances are good you only need 5 to see a trend of how well a student is doing.

Details
So, you’ve now got a faster way to grade assignments, and you don’t have to track down students for every single missing one, nor do they count against the student who misses them. The only students you need to focus on are the ones you have to—those struggling hard to provide you evidence for the grade—which shouldn’t be very many. So, if you notice a student’s Homework “standard” is low, check in with them and see if they can get more evidence so you can see how their understanding is going and then update the Homework “standard” there.

This system moves away from the points of the micro, and more towards the actual learning of the macro. In many cases, students who are absent hardly have time to make up all assignments, let alone stay on top of current content. In this system, the past won’t create obstacles for students. The only assignments that need to be “made up” are the ones that are needed. You might find that you only need half as many assignments as those you assign to see a trend and arrive at a number.

What I love about this system is that there’s some responsibility placed on the student. Those who do end up turning in any of that missing homework have given you new evidence. Change the “missing” homework assignment under Digital Portfolio to whatever its score is, then update the “Homework” standard if it changes their grade (according to the rubric you design).

FAQs

  • Q: You mean I have to manually update grades?!
    A: Yeah, so don’t assign anything overly complex, instead put time into a solid rubric that makes grading fast and easy, and then focus on teaching & learning (vs. completing assignments).
  • Q: But I don’t want to do that kind of work, what else can I do?
    Well, you could change nothing and just exempt students who haven’t done their homework (or whatever). Good luck getting them to complete schoolwork once they figure that out, though. The alternative is dealing with the stress you’ve been dealing with all along (and probably causing stress for students).
  • Q: I have trouble thinking holistically, can I just set numerical values on the rubric?
    Sure, but I promise life will be easier if you can get away from that. For example, instead of setting a minimum number of assignments to be completed in order to get a 95(A), try “completes most homework = 95(A).” That gives you freedom to accept a student’s work as meeting expectations within a range of the total possible homework assigned, as well as the freedom to assign more or less homework during the course of a grading term.

Upgrades

  • Grade the fewest standards possible. I’ve had just one for years, and am expanding to a second for the first time. For those converting their traditional categories into “standards,” maybe combine them all into just Formative and Summative ones. That creates a LOT of flexibility.
  • Have students self-assess their “standards” and just double-check them against the evidence you collect. Still update once a week based on what you’re seeing and/or collecting, but let students know it’s mostly in their hands (whereas grading typically feels like it’s in the teacher’s hands).

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