Your child comes home from school and on their paper is a single number: 9. Should you punish or reward them? Call the teacher? Call a tutor?
The answer is pretty obvious: we don’t know. A single number doesn’t really make any sense without having some context. Was it 9 out of 10 or 9 out of 100? Was it a score for points or a score from a rubric? We need more information to know what the number actually means.
The next questions for the teacher and the student are “How does this impact grading?” and “What do the numbers even mean when it comes to the grade?” Again, a number with no context doesn’t mean much. But in order to create meaning from this number, we need to start with what the number actually means once it is turned into a grade.
Using Rubrics for Meaningful Grading
Currently, we use grades to rank and compare. Most teachers probably don’t think too much about this, but it is true. If a teacher were to give every student in the classroom an A all the time, we might question what is going on. We expect there to be differentiation as we sort through students who know the material and those who don’t. If this is our intent with grades, then the 9 that the student received has to be placed on a scale in comparison with other students. Some might have a 10 while others have an 8. Most likely, this would be out of total points on the assignment. For the sake of our example, we will say the grade was a 9 out of 10 on the assignment.
As we describe this, we might question ourselves and wonder whether or not that is really what we are trying to do. Most of the time, it is probably not what was really intended. So, what if the context of that score was something totally different than the number of correct answers out of the number of possible correct answers? What if that 9 was on a rubric?
By using a rubric for grading, it could be possible that all students receive the highest score. If this happened, we wouldn’t question it at all. The rubric score might also provide feedback for the student about the assignment. Instead of being focused on a score that's compared to other students, the student would be concerned with the score as compared to their previous work.
The great part about this is that it can be turned into actionable plans for the student. Most students who receive a 9 out of 10 on an assignment are happy with the A and move on to the next task. But if the comparison comes from the rubric, the student is more likely to understand what needs to be done to score better in the future.
Tracking Individual Progress Over Time
When it comes to the grade or number providing feedback for the student, visibility is important. Students will have more clarity about doing better and how to improve if they can see the score in context of what the ideal is. Rubrics that are clear help students to know how to improve more readily.
So, what is the best practice when it comes to numbers and grades? How do we turn numbers into something that actually has meaning for the students? Either rubrics or traditional grades can help students to know how they stack up against their peers, but I’m not sure that is what we want as teachers. I think most of the time, we want students to care about their learning. In order to make that happen, students must be focused on what they know and how they perform against themselves, and not necessarily against other students.
For a rubric or a traditional grade, a teacher can help students to create their own meaning from the numbers by using a data folder or charting progress over time. Students can compare to their own progress over time and on individual skills. By charting this themselves, theirs is a comparison that can be motivating—not comparing to others, but to their own previous work. This is just one solution of many, but it can be really effective when trying to motivate and support students in owning their learning.
Want to learn more about assessment solutions and how they can be helpful in getting the full picture on what students comprehend? Learn more now.>>