Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Gearing Up for FAST Grading and Reporting: It's Time for Schools to Move toward a Grading System That Is Fair, Accurate, Specific, and Timely

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Gearing Up for FAST Grading and Reporting: It's Time for Schools to Move toward a Grading System That Is Fair, Accurate, Specific, and Timely

Article excerpt

Over the last 10 years, classroom assessment specialists have been encouraging schools to make major changes in their grading and reporting systems. The problems with traditional grading are many, among them being the focus on mechanical processes and mathematical precision, often calculated to several decimal places. This focus unfortunately leads students--and parents--to fixate on the numbers rather than on the learning. Students become obsessed with how many points they need to earn on the next test to keep a B instead of what they need to learn to really master the subject.

Some may favor the traditional system of letter grades, percentages, and the 4.0 scale because it is familiar and aligned with the way that most colleges operate (Peterson's Staff, 2018). But a growing number of college admissions officers find grade-point averages to be of little use (Marklein, 2013). The cynicism of these college admissions offices about grades is well warranted, as grades do not typically represent student achievement but rather an amalgam of achievement, behavior, compliance, and test-taking skill. In the competition to have the highest GPA, an artificial points game trumps learning and genuine accomplishment. In addition, this approach is responsible for many otherwise capable students failing courses and not completing high school--sometimes because of issues as simple as not completing homework. Even if high school GPA is the most accurate predictor we have of college students' first-year performance, the current system still results in a high percentage of college students having to take remedial courses and a scandalous first-year failure rate, which is a good sign that the system isn't working as well as it should.

This system of using points, often to reinforce and punish behavior, is not the best way to prepare students to be the self-directed, independent learners they need to be for lifelong success. Grades that include behavior and achievement not only fail to give an accurate picture of student achievement but also produce students who are more concerned about the accumulation of points through compliance and extra credit than they are about learning. By using grades to compel hard work and good behavior, teachers are leaning on extrinsic motivators, instead of promoting an intrinsic motivation to learn, which is more effective in the long term.

A better system would produce grades that are fair, accurate, specific, and timely (FAST). Reporting student achievement in this way has a much greater likelihood of producing knowledgeable and reflective learners who understand that learning is about more than crunching numbers and jumping through hoops. Let's consider the FAST qualities that leaders can use to guide conversations on improving grading practices in their schools.

Fair grades

For grades to be assigned fairly, schools must agree on their purpose. We see the primary purpose of grades as communicating current student achievement to whomever has the need and right to know that information, including students. This means that all students must have equal opportunity to learn and to show what they know, understand, and can do.

One way to establish this agreement begins with setting forth a mission and vision statement and guiding principles that emphasize learning and success for all. See, for example, the vision statement from the Arts and Technology High School in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District in Oregon:

   Arts & Technology High School is a dynamic learning
   community that supports the success of our diverse
   student population. All learners collaborate with staff
   to develop and commit to a personalized education
   and social/emotional support plan to ensure academic
   success.

   To put this vision into action, the school states that

   At ATHS we approach assessment and reporting as an
   important part of a student's understanding of his/her
   progress as a learner, as well as a tool for communicating
   progress to parents, colleges, and the community. … 
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