assessment, feedback, No grades, Student-centered

How Do You Assess Without Grades? 5 Tips to Ease the Transition

Two great questions came my way yesterday in regard to assessing without grades and then communicating that information.  We are so used to the ease of a letter grade that gets recorded in a book, averaged out and then translated into a letter, that moving away from that can be daunting and just a bit overwhelming.  So two years into my process I thought I would share some tips I learned the hard way.

  1. Discover your goal.
  2.  Whether they are based on district standards, common core, school outcomes, or even those listed in the curriculum, figure out what the goal is for each thing you teach.  These can be large or small (don’t do too many small ones though, trust me) and then figure out what the outcome should be.  Everything you do should have a learning goal because without that there is no point to the lesson.

  3. Determine the product.  What does it look like when students have accomplished the goal?  What is finished?  What is just another stepping stone?  How will students show that they have mastered the goal?  I love to have this discussion with my students, they have amazing ideas for this.
  4. Determine assessment.  Will it be written feedback?  Will it be a rubric?  Will it be a conversation – great tip; record these with a Livescribe pen and you have it for later!  Once again, ask the students, what type of assessment will help them?  How do they learn best?
  5. Keep a record.  This has been my biggest hurdle.  I have had charts, Google Docs, grade book notes, relied on my faulty brain, and yikes.  This year I am bringing my iPad in and using Evernote to keep track of it all.  Students will each have a portfolio in Evernote with conversations, pictures of work, links to blog posts, as well as videotaped events.  This way, everything will be at my fingertips when needed.  
  6. Communicate!  Assessment is not helpful if kept to yourself so have the conversations with students, take the time, write things down, communicate with parents.  All of these things need to be taken care of for this to work.  The allure of letter grades is just that; the ease of communication, nevermind that they can mean a million different things.  So when you step away from those make sure you replace that with communication.  Give students ownership of their goals and have them write a status report home, send an email, make a phone call.  Something.  Everybody should know where they are at and where they are headed throughout the year.

My 5 biggest tips for today and something I continue to work on.  Whatever your system is, take the time to reflect upon it, refine it, and make it work for you.  Ultimately stepping away from letter grades should lead to a deeper form of assessment, not a larger headache, but for that you have to have systems in place.

9 thoughts on “How Do You Assess Without Grades? 5 Tips to Ease the Transition”

  1. Thanks for the great tips, Pernille. I too am making the transition to gradeless assessment and managed to get through an entire year without giving any numbers to any students this year.An amusing and illuminating anecdote from my experience this year was when I gave an assessment piece, formerly known as a test. I made it very clear that that no judgement would be made from the assessment, it simply gives me a snapshot of which outcomes are being met and which need some more work, so it's not a high stress time.Well, when communicated this progress to parents, I sent home a checklist of the outcomes fully, partially and not met, I had more than one parent respond, saying, "I can see what my child knows and doesn't know, but how are they doing? What percent is this?"This just goes to show how indoctrinated the education system is and the need for discussion about how school is changing and what the fundamental differences are (or should be) now compared to when we and our students' parents were in school.

  2. Pernille, it's so funny that you posted this today because last night I was just thinking that it would be great to talk to you about how you switched to a non-graded classroom! And POOF! A post magically appears. 🙂 Thank you for these suggestions.I have one other question for you, and I'm very sorry if you've covered this in a different post and I missed it. How do you reconcile your non-graded classroom with the report card or progress report that you are required to send home? Or are you very, very lucky and that isn't a requirement for you? I was thinking a lot about the idea of running my classroom without grades, but I know that my biggest hurdles will be the progress report and teaching in a very conservative area when it comes to education and grades. I believe I could overcome the latter simply by showing parents how much information I can give them about their children without grades. I'm not so sure about getting administration to agree to either no progress report or one that doesn't use our common assessments for grades. I would love to hear your suggestions or others' ideas. Thanks!

  3. Excellent post Pernille! I'm also moving to this format because I've found so often that marks stifle learning. In my area families see a "C" as good enough and they're not willing to push for any more. Have you figured out how to organize your students in portfolios yet. I've finished reading some of the information you recommended but haven't tried it yet; is it easy?Thanks again for sharing, you make it easier for those of us following in your wake 🙂

  4. Becky – I do have to do trimester report cards with letter grades, and so these are determined through conversation with the students. They bring me work that shows their progress, their goals and then we determine what their grade should be. Prior to this we have decided as a whole class what an A, B etc looks like in class. It is not great and I wish I didn't have to take their hard work and distill it to something like this but I cannot be the only one not doing a report card. This year we are moving to standards based grading so I will continue to do it in conjunction with the kids.Mr. McCleary, So far I am just playing with Evernote at home, but I will be using the Premium version and have a file for each student. Any time we have stuff to add it will be added. So far it has not been hard but I am just dabbling. I will be blogging about it though since I know others are on the same journey.

  5. Using Evernote is a great idea. I've only ever used it to clip articles (like yours) from websites so that I've got an archive I can refer to later. I never thought of using it in this way. I have a big lever-arch folder for this sort of stuff – iPad and Evernote might just be the answer…Thanks!

  6. Great suggestions, Pernille. I started with Evernote last year to try to cope with the record keeping. That will be my goal this year too. Evernote's great to gather photos of students doing things so you have them for reflection later, too.

  7. I love these tips! I really want to go with this type of grading in my 7th grade classroom, but I’m a little confused about how you figure out a grade with each student.
    I’m assuming you conference with each one and kind of negotiate a letter grade… but I’m really hoping for another blog post on those conferences! 🙂

  8. Pernille, thanks for sharing what works for your assessment approach and record-keeping. I especially like the idea of asking students how they can demonstrate mastery of a standard! I will definitely keep that in mind this year as I begin to do standards-based lesson planning and assessing.

    Related to this, I just came across FreshGrade, a free app/web software that allows the teacher to text/email student learning/artifacts to parents and students in (basically) real time. What do you think of it? Is it similar to using Evernote, or not even comparable?

    1. I quickly gave up on using Edmodo and should probably update this post as it is 4 years old. Now I work in a district where I do have to give standards scores so the conversation has shifted more for me into helping students realize that they are not the score they are given and in some way take ownership over the work that has been done and the work that needs to get done.

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