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

When I transferred my blog from Blogger to WordPress, not only did I run into domain name problems but I also had posts that didn’t transfer.  This post is an oldie but still speaks to me.  

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! Or use Voxer to send it straight to the stduents if they are over 13.   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.

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

  1. Thanks for this post! I have just started to use Evernote but not for the student portfolios. I’d be interested in seeing an example of a student portfolio.

  2. As teachers, we know our kids. We know that there is no way that child will ever meet the top score on the standardized testing. We know how our kids will misinterpret the questions the way they’re presented. We know that the decimal will trip up that kid. We know that child will never finish in time because she’s too careful for testing constraints. We know that he won’t go back and check and if he did, he’d catch his silly mistakes. We know our kids without grades and in spite of the arbitrary way we are forced to evaluate our students. Maybe someday common sense will catch up with assessment.

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