Averaging scores benefits only two kinds of students: those who show understanding consistently, and those who come into the classroom already understanding the content. If by chance the inequity of that is unclear, let me explain…
Let’s start with every other kind of student, like the one who comes into class with less understanding—for any reason outside of the teacher’s control—broadly described as being less-privileged. A less-privileged student with lower understanding will have lower scores than a more-privileged student who already has more understanding. This is a fact. As the year goes on, the student with lower understanding certainly has the potential to learn content and get higher scores. However, when all the scores are averaged, the less-privileged student will have a lower grade even if making large gains over time.
Now, consider the kind of student that averaging benefits: one who comes into the classroom already understanding content and who starts off with high scores, not low ones. As the year goes on, this already-successful student will have their high scores averaged, and end up with a higher grade than a less-privileged student even if making zero gains over time. This last point is a research interest of mine, and one that isn’t given enough attention when we talk about grading for equity. Whereas the common thinking with a standards-based approach is that it doesn’t matter how a student learns the content and meets the standard, only that a student learns the content and meets the standard, such thinking doesn’t account for any massive gains that still fall short despite conditions outside of school. Nor does such thinking address the already-successful student who can meet the standard with no effort at all. Granted, grading effort/participation is generally a no-no, but what message is being sent if a student can meet standards without learning anything? If they’re privileged enough to have knowledge and understanding, where does individual growth come in when you think of the lifelong learner that so many schools claim to produce?
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