15 Fixes for Broken Grades

One-stop shop for new paradigms


All commentary on fixes come from Steve Koponen and Colleen Stamm, both teachers at Dunckel Middle School in Farmington. This comes from a series of emails they sent to attendees of their recent PD outlining how they integrated the "15 Fixes for Broken Grades" (Ken O'Connor) into their classrooms last year.

O'Connor states that grades must meet four conditions for quality. They must be: consistent, accurate, meaningful (give information about achievement), and supportive of learning. The fixes he outlines all aim to achieve those 4 ends.

Fix 1: Do not count student behaviors in grading

Some questions to ponder:
  • How much do I do this in my own grading of students? (For example, I have counted supply checks, a signature on a test or syllabus, copying the assignment board, etc.)
  • Are there alternative ways to have consequences for behaviors that aren't reflected in grades?

VIDEO: A (not-so-exciting) talk about Fix 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krhDWMCx_Tg

For those items of class business that you still want visible, think about creating another "Category" in MISTAR that accounts for 0% of the grade where you can still report to parents that their kids have turned in signatures and conferences, are bringing their supplies to class and are working productively when you have a guest teacher; it won't impact their academic (achievement) grade, but it could be considered later when weighing their Citizenship grade.

Ken O'Connor on grading effectively: https://youtu.be/dGcjhaQuXK8

Fix 2: Don't penalize assignments for being late

Some questions to ponder:

  • How can responsibility be reported to parents (i.e. completing things on time) in a way that doesn't impact a letter grade that reflects achievement?

A (not-so-exciting) talk about Fix 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apMZGutywEo

Steven's Commentary: Not too long ago, I didn't take anything for late credit. This year I started off giving 75% credit for late work if it was within a week and 50% otherwise, but ran into several housekeeping headaches: 1. I had to remember my students (Special Ed and 504) who were exempt and 2. I had to remember when a week was up. Eventually I just did a blanket 75% (my special ed and 504's were still at 100).

This coming year, I am going to count late work as 100% for a few reasons:

1. it goes into the "Assignments" category which is a meager 5% of the grade

2. students must have all of their assignments in in order to take a reassessment in my class OR to earn an "O" (Outstanding) in citizenship

3. I receive so few late assignments that the extra time I spend on the small stuff could be put to better use

Fix 3: Don't give points for extra credit or give bonus points

Some questions to ponder:

* Do extra credit assignments provide an extra opportunity to learn or encourage students' positive behaviors?

* How can extra credit(more work) reflect opportunities to increase levels of enrichment?

A video about fix 3

Colleen's Thoughts on this fix:

My students and parents still struggle with this concept. I often get the question "Is there any extra credit?" near the end of the trimester. I remind them that there is a reassessment opportunity available after after every assessment. This is their "extra credit" opportunity.

I have also been thinking about ways I might be able to provide opportunities for students to show their learning of a concept after an assessment as a way of extra credit. Bringing in Universal Design for Learning might be one option through allowing students multiple ways to show their learning instead of a paper/pencil test such as a video teaching the concept, a multimedia presentation, or a comic strip. I want to delve deeper into this idea this year.

Fix 4: Don't punish academic dishonesty with reduced grades

Some questions to ponder:

  • How can we deal with academic dishonesty while still reporting the students level of achievement (the grade) accurately?

  • Does a low grade/zero grade for cheating encourage or discourage a student's learning?

A video for fix #4

Colleen's Thoughts on Fix #4
I struggled with this fix. I always used to give a zero when academic dishonesty (cheating) occurred. When I reflected though, I realized just because cheating occurred it doesn't mean a student doesn't understand some of a concept or maybe even mastered it. Academic dishonesty is a behavior. Should it belong in a grade? Sometimes, I found my high achieving students had more incidences of academic dishonesty because of pressure to get good grades. So I wanted to provide another opportunity to show mastery and dealt with the academic dishonesty as a behavior instead of a level of understanding.

Fix 5: Don't use attendance as a factor of a grade

Some questions to ponder:
  • To what degree is absence (whether excused or unexcused) a measure of achievement?
  • To what degree does counting attendance in grading motivate students who are frequently absent?

A video for fix #5:

Steven's thoughts on Fix 5: I had one class where attendance was factored into my grade: 10th-grade U.S. History. Attendance may have an impact on student achievement, but then again, it may not. I have students who miss school frequently, but are so on top of their work that they still achieve at high levels.

Fix 6: Don't use group grades; only use individual achievement evidence

Some questions to ponder:

  • How can we give groups and individuals necessary feedback about their work?
  • To what extent does a score motivate students to be accountable in group work or activities?

A video for Fix #6:


Steven's commentary: Yep, I've done group grades before in just about every conceivable way. I have had members of the group rat out the deadbeats and have lowered their grades. I have given everyone the same score. But in the end, when it comes down to reporting achievement, I have to grade each individual on his or her own demonstration of mastery of concepts.

Fix 7: Don’t organize information in grading records by assessment methods or simply summarize into a single grade; organize and report evidence by standards/learning goals.

Question to ponder:

  • How can we report evidence of students' learning of standards and learning goals within the confines of the system we work in, including software limitations?

Slides 73-84 of his presentation http://www.gfps.k12.mt.us/sites/default/files/Ken%20O'Connor%20GFPS%20Aug%2013,%202012.pdf
may provide some insights.

Colleen's thoughts: This is one of those fixes you may not have control over since you can't create your own report cards. There might be some ways to implement this fix that could be in your control. I have been playing around on how to do this best. Traditionally, homework has been one category in the grade book and assessments the other category. One possibility might be for me to have the standards as categories instead. This would require me to align each homework assignment to a standard though. I could run into some issues where some homework covers more than one standard. Additionally, we currently have homework as 5% of the grade. I could only do the category option if homework was not included in the grade and worth zero points. On the flip side, this could be a great reporting tool for parents if your grading program allows parents to see grades by category, allowing parents to see how students are progressing on one standard. Ultimately, this fix seems to be more difficult to implement than some of the others due to the system we are currently in.

Fix 8: Don’t assign grades using inappropriate or unclear performance standards.

A question to ponder:
  • How can we set a clear description of what each letter grade means?

Here is a brief video explaining fix #8

Colleen's Thoughts: What does it mean for a student to get a A? Does this mean mastery in all standards? Does it mean mastery in 90% of the standards? As of right now, I don't believe there is a correct answer. I am just trying to stay consistent. It helps to be working with Steve because we can work through this issue together. Ideally, an entire school would need to be on the same page as to what an A,B,C,D, and F means. If you teach high school, this is even more confusing because you need to take into account what you think the letter grade means and what a potential college might think a letter grade means. Does each college have the same view on letter grades? This is a fix that our entire education system probably needs to explore.

Fix #9: Don’t assign grades based on grades of other students (grading system where we “curve” scores).

Question to ponder:

  • To what extent does comparing students skew the level of achievement students’ grades are supposed to reflect?

Our (not-so-exciting) video on Fix 9:

Steven's Commentary: I used to curve scores on tests. For example, my "highest" grade would be scaled up to 100%, and thus, other students' grades would be inflated a bit, depending on what the top score was. I suppose I did this to make my grades a little bit higher or to make a test that didn't go so well seem a little better. But I wasn't truly reporting anything about what students had achieved, other than one student achieved a certain percentage of what some other, unknown student, achieved. Now I spend more time creating a better assessment that will assess the standards clearly rather than spending my time re-figuring percentages.

Fix #10: Don’t rely on evidence gathered using assessments that fail to meet standards of quality; rely only on quality assessments.

Sadly, there is no video for this Fix. However, check out slides 100-108 of the Powerpoint presentation: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7kTCT24NKJGUkp3VVRQa3RrMFk/view?usp=sharing.


Steven's commentary: Creating assessments that effectively and fairly measure mastery of standards is an art. Having our PLT create assessments has really helped with this. It is tough to work out all of the bugs the first time, but having many sets of eyes when creating assessments helps to create quality assessments.

Fix #11: Don't rely on the mean; consider other measures of central tendency

Some questions to think about:

  • When using the mean, do we take into account if a student has one bad day or even the reverse, one exceptional day? Does the mean represent the overall level of achievement for each and every student?

Here is a fun video about Fix 11:


Colleen's take: If you have a computer grading system, like MiStar. This is difficult to do. We do a have a teacher in our building who actually turns off grades for parents and uses the mode method to determine grades for students. It is something interesting to explore more. If you decide to take this path, parent communication is key and lots of it.

Fix #12 Don't include zeros in grade determination when evidence is missing or as punishment.

Questions to think about :
  • When we place zeros in a grade, does that reflect a students level of achievement or the effort put forth?
  • How else could we report a zero to a parent? Could students be involved in creating this process?

Colleen's thoughts: Since homework is only 5% of my grade, a zero doesn't have much impact. In mistar, I actually just leave the grade blank so it isn't a zero. I do have the system treat the grade as a zero though. I guess I am not ready to make this transition yet. One of the aspect of traditional grading that I am having trouble letting go.

Fix 13: Only use summative data in grade reporting--nothing formative.

Questions to ponder:
  • If grades are defined as reporting student achievement, can formative activities define what a student has achieved?
  • Only looking at summative data would force us to look at how we assess/re-assess students. What ideas might make this fix practical, manageable and accurate?

An exciting video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqZcGVmdyT0

Steven's commentary: We are making progress with this fix in our building, although we haven't fixed it completely. For instance, the Math Department has agreed on weighted grades. Very little of a student's grade is formative. In Algebra I, for instance, I weight 5% of the grade for homework assignments (graded on effort) and 5% on "Check-ups", which are little formative assessments (I tell students these are "low-risk" assessments before the assessment to give them feedback about where they are at before the assessment that counts a lot.) We also have in place a reassessment procedure for assessments so students have the opportunity to "control" their grade by demonstrating mastery of grade-level standards.

Fix #14: Emphasize most recent achievement in grades rather than summarizing evidence accumulating over time.

In other words, it takes Amy and Colleen a day or two to completely master a concept, and each of their 3 assessments reflect this. Steven, however, struggles on his first two assessments, but by the third, has clearly mastered the concept. According to Fix 14, their level of achievement is the same.

Here is our penultimate video installment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9-sLuYaD48

Steven's commentary: Colleen and I have offered reassessments the past couple of years to students. Students and parents have sometimes had issues when we said that their new "score" would replace the old one. Some wanted the scores averages and others thought we should take the highest score. But does either practice, an average or the best score, accurately reflect the achievement level of a child? Yes, it does turn off some students to take reassessments, but it ensures that students who are willing to take the chance are also willing to work to correct what didn't work. It has helped to talk with apprehensive students: "Yes, there is a chance that your score will go down, but I know that you will work through the issues you had, and I haven't had many students who worked through their issues and worked hard and whose score didn't go up." You'll be able to tell the kids who are really wanting to demonstrate mastery and those just looking for a better grade.

Fix #15: Don’t leave students out of the grading process. Involve students.

Slide 146 on the following Powerpoint gives a brief overview of the fix: http://www.gfps.k12.mt.us/sites/default/files/Ken%20O'Connor%20GFPS%20Aug%2013,%202012.pdf

Colleen's thoughts: A week ago I was able to listen to Pernille Ripp and how she motivates learners. If you haven't had a chance to see or read anything by her, check out her blog (http://pernillesripp.com/). She speaks highly of this idea and believes that involving students in the grading and planning process helps to create passionate learners. It doesn't have to be an elaborate thing but asking for feedback along the way on grading can help to make grades become a better reflection of learning.