In a blog post I wrote titled Ask Yourself, Why Am I Grading This?, I encourage teachers to think about the purpose of the work students are doing and evaluate whether it makes sense for them to invest their time and energy grading that work. It’s not realistic to expect that teachers will grade the majority of the work their students produce. I’m not sure how this unrealistic expectation became the norm in education. How is one teacher supposed to grade all of the work that 150+ students complete? When? For what purpose?
When I facilitate training sessions or coach teachers, I encourage them to shift feedback and assessment into the classroom where student progress can be an ongoing conversation. Too often, teachers assign work that students complete in isolation. Then they collect that work and grade it in isolation. They pass back that work and students are often left to digest the grade and feedback in isolation. In this traditional workflow, where is the opportunity for a conversation about that work and the learning happening?
Several teachers have reached out to lament that they love the idea of grading less, but they work in a district that requires a specific number of grades be entered into the online gradebook each week or grading period. So, I wanted to share two strategies for grading less in a district that a minimum grade requirement.
#1 Grade Individual Skills & Enter Those Assessment Scores Separately
When teachers are required to enter two grades a week or twelve individual grades each grading period, they often equate one grade with one piece of work. However, when I started to rethink my grading practices, I embraced a standards-based approach to grading. If my students wrote an informative paragraph about a topic or issue, I would evaluate that paragraph for specific standard-aligned skills. I would enter one score for the quality of their textual evidence or research and another score for their depth of analysis. Those are two different skills, and entering them as two separate scores made it easier to create clarity about what students had done well and what they needed to work on.
When I was coaching a science teacher who was shifting to blended learning, we explored using the same strategy to assess her students’ work on Newton’s Third Law. She asked students to apply this law and design a solution to a problem involving the motion of two colliding objects. The students were evaluated on the model they designed and on their explanation. Instead of wrapping these two parts of the assignment into a single grade, the teacher entered a separate score for each part of the assignment–the model and the explanation. The best part was that she designed a station rotation lesson and used her teacher-led station to have students present both their model and explain their process in class, so she was able to assess their work with them sitting right next to her.
If teachers assess individual skills and enter those assessment scores separately, they will have more grades in the gradebook while grading fewer pieces of student work. I would argue that entering scores for individual skills as opposed to holistic scores that reflect an average of multiple skills will make the gradebook more user-friendly for students and parents.
#2 Let Technology Help You Do the Heavy Lifting of Grading
Technology can help teachers manage the daunting task of assessing their students’ knowledge and skills. If teachers are required to enter a specific number of grades, that doesn’t mean the teacher has to do all of that grading by hand. There are learning management systems and online programs that teachers can use to administer assessments that are graded automatically. I’m not suggesting that all assessments happen online, but technology offers teachers other avenues to assess student work efficiently.
Programs, like NoRedInk, make it possible for English teachers to give students a diagnostic to assess their current skill level in relation to grammatical concepts. Based on their performance on the diagnostic, the teacher can assign personalized practice. Once students have had the opportunity to practice online and offline, teachers can administer assessments on NoRedInk.
Teachers using a learning management system, like Schoology, can create quizzes that grade themselves and deliver quick assessment data. Similarly, Google Forms can be set up to run like a quiz.
Teachers need to work smarter, not harder. We work hard enough Instead of running ourselves ragged trying to put points on every assignment students complete to encourage compliance, we need to be thoughtful about what we provide feedback on and what we choose to assess. If we focus on assessing specific skills and use technology when appropriate to make collecting assessment data easier, we can still meet minimum requirements that are set by districts while spending more time on the aspects of our jobs that we enjoy.