“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.