I have adopted a new method of computing grades that is different from past general practice. In the past, every assignment has counted for a certain number of points in a particular category, such as writing or tests. Those categories were weighted based on their relative importance and the computerized grade book would compute a percentage that corresponded to a letter grade.
As many of you know, our mastery of a new skill is not always a smooth process. When we play a sport or learn an instrument, there is an expectation that we will not be experts at first. As I told the students on the first day, I’m not sure anyone has ever sounded good the first time they blew into an oboe. However, our current system in the secondary schools does not provide room for early failures as students learn skills. An early F or D on a paper can drag down a grade all semester. Even if a student ends up writing at an A level, the early D or F will almost assuredly bring them down to a B or B+. It is even worse for the student who takes a while to “get it.” They might write at a D or C- level for much of a semester and then break out into several B's in a row. In the current system, that would simply be too little too late and that student would get a C of some flavor.
This has bothered me for some time. Several years ago I read some research on grading and assessment procedures to try and find a solution to this problem. Influential to my current thinking is a book called, How to Grade for Learning by Ken O’Connor. Based on this book and broader trends and research in education, I’m using a hybrid of traditional and Standards Based Grading (SBG) in AP.
How it worksAssignments identified with Analysis, Argument, or Synthesis standards will be scored 1-9, instead of A-F.
9 - Enhanced 8
8 - Effective
7 - Augmented 6
6 - Adequate
5 - Uneven; limited development
4 - Inadequate
3 - Diminished 4
2 - Little success
1 - Diminished 2
0 - No, or insufficient, information provided by the student to assess their skills
That, in and of itself, is only the AP scale. This is where things change. I am less concerned about the score for a specific assignment than with how the student performs on a particular standard. For example, are they meeting the Analysis standard for writing in terms of the AP rubric standards? They will have multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency in each standard. At the end of the semester, whatever level of a standard they can consistently perform at will become their grade for that standard. That means that some students' grades will likely shift at the end of a term as I will need to adjust them by hand. However, unless a student stops doing their work, their grade will adjust upward to reflect whatever skill levels they have obtained. This should result in fairer, more accurate grades based on achievement of skill.
We do not have the mechanism in place to report responsibility, such as turning work in on time, since we only report one grade on the transcript per subject. I am working on a reliable means of providing you with that information as well, without it muddying the students’ achievement report. The grade reports I email home will have two charts on them. the first reports the numerical and letter grades for each assignment, including whether that assignment is currently missing. The second chart will indicate how the student is progressing on each standard, and on each part of that standard.
There is a good deal of research behind this move and many districts around the country are moving to this method. In fact, some of the principles I am using in my class are being used already school-wide at Surprise Lake Middle School. Regardless, this method takes into better account the steep learning curve in this AP course.
If you have questions or concerns, please email or come see me at the next arena conference.
National Board Certified Teacher
English Teacher and Chair
Fife High School