“Grading for Learning”

“Grading for Learning” is a relatively new up-and-coming educational philosophy in the United States.  The basic philosophy is to only grade students on what they know.  Do not give grades for anything unless it is an assessment [a measure of what they know].  Some schools have been following the philosophy for a few years while most schools are just now adopting these ideas:


No Zeros.

Philosophy: If a student fails a quiz, a test, or an assignment, he/she still receives the highest failing grade possible regardless of whether it is worth a 60%, 40%, or 10%.  Failing is failing so why give a student a lower failing grade if it’s all an “F” regardless?

What This Means: If students choose not to do classwork, homework, and/or project, they never get a grade that represents that no work was completed.

Problem:  What about the student who does the work, tries, but still fails?  If a student worked all night and did the best he/she could but earned a 60%, is it really fair that another student can choose to do nothing and get the same grade?

Retake Any Assignment.

Philosophy: If a student earns a grade on an assignment that he/she does not like, he/she is allowed to retake any assignment.

What This Means: Notice the wording “earns a grade on an assignment he/she does not like”… regardless if it’s a failing grade or not.  Example: If a student earns an 85% on a test [which is still a good grade] and does not like the grade because he thinks he can get an A, the teacher has to give up his planning period or lunch break to pull in the student from his/her elective period in order to “reteach” the material that the student missed on the original test.  Once the teacher feels as though the student is ready to retry the test, the teacher has to give up another planning period or lunch break [because teachers can not make a rule that retakes are given after school because not all students have the privilege of having a parent pick them up] in order to administer the second assessment.  Note that the teacher has to make the second assessment as well as make a new answer key, in addition to having to grade another test.  And don’t forget that this might not be one student.  This might be several students.

Problems: Teachers are overworked and students don’t learn responsibility.  What message does this send to students?  It sends the message of “don’t buckle down, don’t study, don’t take assignments seriously until you finally feel like doing something, and then we’ll give you another chance whenever you’d like.”  How is this beneficial?

Students would ask me as I was passing out my tests “When is the retake for this?”  This would irritate me beyond belief.  (1) Don’t be concerned with a retest before you even look at the test you have in your hand.  (2) Why are you concerned about a retest?  Do you not feel confident with how you studied up until this point?  (3) What are you going to do differently between now and the retest that you couldn’t have done last night and a few days ago?

Retests reinforce that lack of responsibility is ok.  Students don’t take the class seriously and know that they get as many chances as they need in order to get a grade that they like sooner or later.  Eventually, they’ll get a grade that they like because any person that takes the same test over and over again, even without studying or paying attention, eventually will start to get the questions correct – but this isn’t “learning” the material.

It also reinforces bad teaching.  Teachers do not want to be making second, third, and fourth tests.  They don’t want to be giving up their planning periods day after day.  They don’t want to be sacrificing their planning/grading time in order to teach one or two students.  So what starts to happen?  Standards are lowered – for the student and the teacher.  If the student is just going to keep retaking the test over and over again until they pass, well, maybe it was just a complete coincidence that the third or forth test happened to be a lot easier and “Wow, look at that, little Joey! YOU FINALLY PASSED!! GOOD JOB!! Ok now go play with your friends so that I can eat lunch and grade papers.”  No teacher in the world wants to teach like this or even admit that this happens, but if the end result is the student “will get the grade they want no matter what,” well then just save us all a lot of time and energy and just tell me the grade you want… it’s basically the same end result.

No Extra Credit.

Philosophy: The only grades used are those that measure achievement and the basic standards… nothing above and beyond.

Problem: Where is the incentive for the students to “try their best?”  If everything is just the basic concepts, then why would a student attempt work that is more challenging unless compensated for it?

If a boss of mine told me “do this extra work just because…” I wouldn’t be as likely to take on that extra workload than from a boss that said “do this extra work and you’ll get paid overtime” or “do this extra work to show me that you’re serious about getting that promotion at the end of the year.”  If there is no incentive, why would anyone bust their butt for nothing?

Homework/Classwork Not Graded.

Philosophy: HW and CW are not measures of achievement.  They are just tools in order to practice.

This might be the one part of “Grading for Learning” that I actually agree with.  Students should do HW/CW not because they think they’re getting a grade for it, but because it is practice and will help them learn.  Someone might try to make the argument that I just contradicted myself from above “students need an incentive or else why bother?”  But HW and CW is very different and here’s why:

HW/CW is exactly what students will see on quizzes and tests.  HW/CW is practice and shouldn’t be graded [agreed], but should be completed nonetheless.  Just like in sports, you need to practice, but in the end, you are evaluated come game time.

Extra Credit, on the other hand, is above and beyond.  It’s not what you are practicing, it’s not what you’ll see come game time… it is outside of the norm and if a student can stretch his/her learning/reasoning to beyond the classroom walls, then they should have a grade that reflects that.
In conclusion, there are many flaws with this new educational philosophy and, unfortunately, there is a fine line between making this work and making this completely detrimental.  I know a lot of you have similar feelings about how this is ruining education but some of you have found a way to cross the fine line and learned to embrace “Grading for Learning”… Let’s hear your stories!

One comment

  • Patricia S.

    As a veteran teacher (35 years) I think homework should NEVER be graded but checked and/or corrected. Who knows who is doing the assignment – a parent, older sibling, friend, etc.? I’ve had many students hand in perfect papers but then could not do the same level of work in class or on exams. I applaud your stand on these issues instead of caving in to the poilitics and parents.

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