A teacher joke goes: Throw some essays down a flight of stairs. Assign a grade to each step. Where the essay land determines its grade.
While just a joke, sometimes teachers calculate grades so mysteriously that the stairs seem a real possibility.
Why do teachers grade students? Teachers grade to aid and measure progress. Thus, grades should represent one or both goals. Letters, numbers, or check marks don’t convey this information without other feedback from the teacher. A “B” means a student did well, but well at what? Memorizing facts? Following directions? Critical thinking? Creativity? Without teacher feedback, what the grade represents remains unclear.
How does a student or parent know what a grade means? The teacher must provide information to decode the grade. Ideally, students know at the start of the assignment exactly how they will be graded at the end. Here’s a few ways how teachers share how they calculate a grade:
- Sometimes the teacher scores memorized knowledge, like math facts or spelling words. In this case, a percentage accompanied marked incorrect answers is enough. However, identifying error patterns helps students learn from mistakes.
- Essays or projects should not receive only a number or letter grade. A rubric or grading sheet should accompany returned work detailing how the teacher calculated the score. This sheet shows students and parents which areas received how many points, thus determining strengths and weaknesses. Rubrics typically give statements describing the work, hence providing more detailed feedback than a score sheet that lists just topics and points allotted.
- A teacher might conference with a student verbally giving the student feedback on how to progress as well as praise on strengths. Similarly, a teacher might leave written comments on the work that conveys this information.
- Maybe the teacher doesn’t give a grade at all! Instead, the teacher only provides information on mistakes and ways to improve next time.
Does every piece of work need detailed feedback? No. Sometimes a check or check minus is enough. Such assignments are checking points for the teacher to judge the class as a whole. A teacher cannot assume a whole class understands a concept or did the required reading, so these quick check-ins provide data to plan future lessons. Furthermore, an assignment doesn’t need to be dripping in red ink. Too many comments overwhelm students and waste teachers time. As stated above, long or heavily weighed assignments need clear, specific feedback.
You should be able to look at a piece of returned work or a quarter grade and know why the student earned it. If not:
- Make sure you have the full picture. Are there grading sheets your child has misplaced? Has the teacher outlined how she will grade in any other documents?
- Have a conference with the teacher. Specifically ask how she calculated the grade. Ask to see grading sheets or rubrics she used. Ask how she communicates both positive and negative feedback.
- If the teacher meeting is unsatisfactory, meet with a principal or superintendent. Ask about the district grading policies. Share your concerns about how your child’s teacher determines and shares feedback.
As a final thought: Do you know what your child’s standardized test scores represent? Does the testing company provide you with detailed feedback about successes as well as ways to improve?