10 Steps: Students Taking Responsibility for their Report Card Marks.

“We must constantly remind ourselves that the ultimate purpose of evaluation is to have students become self evaluating. If students graduate from our schools still dependent upon others to tell them when they are adequate, good, or excellent, then we’ve missed the whole point of what education is about.”

   – Costa and Kallick (1992)

What do you think would happen if teachers allowed students to decide their report card marks?  A common response is that they’d all give themselves As and therefore the mark would be meaningless.  I wasn’t so sure and wanted to inquire into this further.  A number of years ago I decided I was going to give the responsibility of deciding a students’ mark, not to myself, nor to the tiny mathematical calculating circuits in my computer, but rather to my students.  And you know what?  I’m never going back.

Now, before anyone scoffs and claims that I am shirking my responsibilities as a teacher, letting the inmates run the asylum so to speak, please let me explain the process.

Here it goes…

1)   BELIEVE in the ability of your students to SELF ASSESS accurately.  Let go of the idea that students will be dishonest when choosing their percentage.  In order to ensure honesty you need to be transparent in how you arrive at a mark, and TEACH them the PROCESS.  In my experience students will accurately and honestly arrive at the appropriate mark if taught the process.

2)   Rely on your PROFESSIONAL JUDGEMENT and turn the computer off.  Stop thinking that the mathematical precision of spreadsheets and grade programs will lead to a more accurate or precise reflection of student learning.  We all know TRUE STUDENT LEARNING can’t be summed up in a number.  This means online programs like checkmymark.com need to be abandoned at all costs.

3)   Make the LEARNING OUTCOMES of the course CLEAR to students and, as an extension, to parents.  Change the PLOs to “I can” statements.  Let students know what it is they are meant to be learning.  Don’t keep the learning outcomes secret.  Put them on the board, even on your assignments.  I love Shirley Clark’s quote, “If students have not been told where they are going, it is unlikely they will arrive.”  Be sure your students know it’s not about what we are DOING it is about what we are LEARNING.  Students need to believe that the purpose of being in class is to learn, not “for marks.” This will help students understand that what they are doing in class has a larger PURPOSE.

4)   STOP talking about marks on a day-to-day, sometimes minute-by-minute basis.  Stop posting marks on the wall.  If you stop talking about them and refocus the conversation to the intended LEARNING, they will eventually stop talking about marks too.  Remind them that the purpose of school is not to COLLECT MARKS; rather school’s purpose is to help students the GROW IN THEIR LEARNING.  Eventually students will see how “marks” really are just made up.

5)   For each LEARNING OUTCOME or series of outcomes (traditionally called a UNIT), develop the SUCCESS CRITERIA with the class.  Students must know what GOOD LOOKS LIKE when meeting a learning outcome.   Use these criteria to give FEEDBACK to students to help them GROW in their LEARNING.

6)   TEACH YOUR PASSION.  This part of your job is no different than now.  Give students opportunities to grow in their learning in your class.  Give them assignments that allow them to think, to evaluate and synthesize.  Challenge them and let them know that your goal is to help them become a better readers, writers, and thinkers within your subject area.   Students need to believe that you are ON THEIR SIDE in their learning.  You can’t be seen to be on the tasks’ and tests’ side.  Remember, an engaged teacher leads to engaged students.

7)   Allow students opportunities to PRACTICE WITHOUT PENALTY.  Too often everything a student does in class counts.  This is not how humans learn and can lead to anxiety in some and complacency and demoralization in others.  Let them predict, question and MAKE MISTAKES and learn from them.

8)   When you believe students are READY, allow them to SHOW YOU WHAT THEY KNOW.  These are summative assessments.   They summarize learning.  When designed effectively they will allow students to show you their ability to meet the learning outcomes.  Use the success criteria to develop RUBRICS.  Use the RUBRICS to identify where students are at in their learning.

9)   Have students REFLECT on their learning.  They must know where they are at in their learning, where they are going and be able to identify the NEXT STEPS.  Have students keep a PORTFOLIO (online or not), where they have EVIDENCE of their LEARNING.  It is this evidence of learning (clearly connected to learning outcomes) that will be used to decide on level of performance in the class.

10)                  At reporting time (twice a semester in BC) hold a GRADE CONFERENCE with EACH of your students. TALK with them about their learning.  Have st
udents decide what their most CONSISTENT LEVEL of performance is and where they are presently at in their learning.  Do not average marks across a term because it doesn’t account for growth.  Once the student has decided his / her current level of performance (excellent, very good, good, satisfactory…) have them tell you what percentage they believe they should receive and have them justify it using evidence in their portfolio.  (In BC, at this point percentages are only necessary in grades 10-12.) Agree on a percentage and report this percentage to the office.

I find that by letting students in on the “secret” of assessment and grading that they are more engaged in class.  They can clearly see how what we do in class (the stuff they used ask for marks for doing) is purposeful because it connects to the overall learning in class.  When asked, students can see the benefit of using evidence to support a grade as opposed to a computer “calculating” a series of numbers, especially when the numbers are for merely “doing” the work or are “completion marks.”   Having grade conferences has changed the way I interact with my students.  These conversations with students about their learning are often one of the highlights of my year.

Here are some student samples of their “justification” of marks and / or percentages.  They are from grade 12 students and grade 9 students.

I think I should get a C in this class because I have worked constant on projects and have contributed a little with group projects. Although my writing skills are not as good as others, I still think I can do better in the future with help from this class. In my opinion, I think I should get a 65 percent in this class.

I believe that over the semester I have shown a variety of quality of work throughout the semester. I have shown A’s all the way to c-‘s. As the semester went on I was able to get better marks. I think that as a student I have grown and got progressively better. Therefore I believe I deserve a mid ranged B.

I feel like I’ve done satisfactory, not a high B but a low B. I’ve tried to grow throughout the course and try out new things. I don’t feel like I’ve done the best I can do, but I feel like I have actually learned something that I will take along with me.

I asked for 80 because I showed improvement in my writing. I first giving projects with c/c+ this project was the civilizations project.  Then after a while my mark improved to B/B+ these projects where rise of Christianity, Greek philosophers and other assessments.

I think that I deserve an A, because there is definitely a stability in marks when you look at all my summative assessments. I have received an A grade for all of them except for 2, which are A pluses. One assessment that I would like to burn is the Russian Revolution diagram. I am not very good with visual assignments and I had a hard time completing that one. I think my learning wasn’t shown as effectively as it could have been.

I chose 81.5 % because although 80 % is what I deserve I don’t like getting a percentage with a 0 at the end.  It annoys me and makes me think its just another mark that anyone can get.  With the extra 1.5 I believe that it has personalized to me by rewarding me for the dedication to the class and the work that I have put into the class.  You may not think that counts for anything as we should only be marked on the project and the improvement and nothing else but you may have a project that has many grammar errors but the time and effort that was put into the project should count for something.  That is why that extra 1.5% is there because that is the work that was put into the final summative projects.

I think I deserve a c+ because in the beginning of the course my mark was pretty bad, with the first inquiry project I did got c-/i. However, as the course went on my mark steadily increased, getting c’s. c+’s, and b-‘s. However, the majority of my marks were c+ and thats why i think i deserve a c+ in this class.

How do you let students in on the process of deciding their marks?  Will you consider letting students decide their own mark in your class?  I’m interested in your thoughts.

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6 comments

  1. Anonymous

    Hi Jonathan!I love this post so much!!I went through a similar process last year when I was a prep teacher. I had come from a back ground of mainly primary, so letter grades were pretty new to me. I just thought who knows there learning better than the students themselves. It was their responsibility to give themselves the grades, so that’s what we did. They based their grades on their knowledge of the PLO’s we had established were the focus of the term (at the beginning of the term). Did all kids like self-assessing themselves and giving themselves grades? Nope. Some were down right upset about it, actually. A couple even said to me, "Mrs. Henriksen, YOU are the teacher – YOU should be GIVING us the grades. We don’t give ourselves grades – YOU do it! At this point, I knew that what I was doing was right. The letter grades were not my responsibility as the teacher, it was the responsibility of the learners themselves!I also found that the students were brutally honest about what grade they felt they should have. Very few students actually gave themselves A’s. Very few. And, if they did, those are students I likely would have considered giving A’s to as well.Some students gave themselves lower marks than what I might have given them.Thanks for writing this post! I couldn’t agree more!Tia:-)

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  2. Anonymous

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!I am not at the point yet where I can allow students to give themselves a mark for ur classes. Our school outs everything online, for parents & students to see, so our "grades" are transparent. However, this post gives me such guidance in what I’ve been working towards. My lessons focus on the practice and the learning, and students hardly ask now if something is graded. They know I give more practice than assessments, and I’m so glad because of this,However, every step you wrote here can be used TODAY! I’m seriously going to implement a couple of these steps when we write today. I think teachers should be doing all you wrote for each lesson. Why leave students in the dark about the outcome? Why not show them exactly what to strive for??!!Thank you, again, for such a well-thought, thorough post. I truly appreciate it, and I’m sure I’ll come back to it many times!Sincerely,-Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr)

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  3. Anonymous

    Tia, I found the same thing at first. Students thought I wasn’t doing what I was being paid to do. Took some convincing but in the end they saw what I was up to! I agree also that students are brutally honest in their self assessment. Sometimes too brutally.Kirr, I fear that "online" is going to prevent thoughtful communication with parents. Sending home spread sheets doesn’t make our "grading" more transparent. It continues to handcuff us from actually showing what learning a students has done. Perhaps the portfolio could be online. Much more meaningful.

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  4. Anonymous

    A very thoughtful post! Thank you for sharing your (and your students’s) learning journey in terms of assessment. I really appreciate your points on: clarity of the journey, allowing for mistakes, not averaging, (e)portfolios, and reflective learning, in particular.Here’s where my learning, and our school’s learning has taken me/us:-no grades assigned for learners in gr 7/8-no percentages for students in gr 9-get a baseline of student learning (experiences, samples) from prior year, and at beginning of year-teach students how to peer coach and provide quality feedback according to criteria-teach students how to set learning goals, and coach to meet them-spend 90% of time on formative, and 10% on summative-include parents in eportfoilio conferencing-comment-only "marking" wherever possible for sustained growth in learning-students involved in "communicating learning" to parents/guardiansWith my gr 7-9s, we haven’t discussed marks at all. If students bring that up, then I ask them how do they know how they are doing in relation to our learning outcomes and learning skills? Always a great conversation; it puts students in the driver’s seat of their learning and begins a subtle transformation toward a "growth mindset"I am now discussing learning competencies w students, and have co-constructed holistic exemplars of learning that include the key PLOs in our classes, as we move our learning to encompass opportunities both inside and outside of school.Thanks again; I’ll share this post with my colleagues!

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  5. Anonymous

    Tamara, It sounds as if you are on the same journey with your students! I love that you are having your students "communicate learning" to their parents. People often say to me, "But parents want the marks." Parents I have dealt with see very quickly how evidence of student performance is far more informative than a number on page or in an email. Does it take more time to communicate this way? Absolutely, but it is incredibly important for students for their own learning. Thanks for commenting.

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