I have had a problem with letters grades for a few years now. I used to write about it all of the time, and then stopped because I felt like all of the words had been written. But now, I am back facing having to give letter grades for the semester as my district transitions from them to standards based grades. All of those old thoughts of why letter grades say so little about a students knowledge, effort, and accomplishment have been hounding me throughout my days as the deadline for giving them nears. But then I remembered; I need to ask the students what grades they should get.
It is rather simple process. As a class we discuss what makes an “A?” What should a child be able to do in class and out of it to get that elusive top grade? What does “A” thinking, writing, reading, discussion, and doing overall look and sound like? We go through each letter grade this way as a class and determine our definitions. We publish them to our website so parents can see. The standards based scores they have received are also part of it but they are not averaged and they are not the only component.
Once the students have created a group definition, they evaluate themselves. On a small sheet of paper they are asked which grade they feel they deserve and why. The why is important here as I need to see their thinking.
Once they have completed the sheet, we meet. We have to have a face to face discussion of what grade they think they should receive, what my thoughts are, as well as the path forward. Often I find I agree with a child, but if there is disagreement whether the grade should be lower or higher, it is of utmost importance to have a face to face discussion.
For too long students have felt they have little say over how they are assessed. They feel that grades are done to them, rather than something they determine. While we as teachers may think that students understand that their grade is a reflection of their effort, time and time again students have told me they don’t understand the relationship.
So if you have to give letter grades, or even just scores, I implore you to please involve your students. Don’t just rely on an average. Don’t just rely on your gut feeling. Don’t just rely on tests, homework, or whatever other assignment that you have given. Bring the students in. Give them power over their learning, give them voice in how they are assessed. They will thank you for it, or at the very least start to understand how they ended up with that B….
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.