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No more points or percentages.

I love writing, talking and tweeting about grades. To be more clear, I love talking about how not to give grades. Now before you read on, know that yes I do have to assign grades. I work in a public middle school, that is a part of a larger school district, that is a part of the state of California and so yes - I have to assign grades on 6 occasions. 4 progress reports + 2 semester report cards, but only because I have to.

My 8th grade science classroom grading practices today may seem daunting at a first glance. And it should. It is a complete shift from how most educators view and assign grades, assignments, and assessments. I began the plunge into standards based grading 4 years ago. We formed a committee at our school to study different SBG models to determine how we could pilot it the next year. I didn't want to wait until the next year though so I jumped into experimenting SBG with 1 class for 1 semester and ironed out the details as we went along (did I mention I'm a science teacher?). It took a lot of trust and a lot of honesty on both the students and my part, but I'll come back to that later.

So fast forward to today, 4 years later. How do you "get away with" no points or percentages in your class? How can you pull away from letter grades and rankings? Here we go:

  • Whiteboard Learning Targets ​start the class period with clear, concise expectations. Instead of writing a ​​ Daily Learning Target that students will not read, write something they will read. Ask them to answer 3 questions each day when they walk ​​into your classroom. What am I learning today? Why am I learning this? How will I know that I have learned it and succeeded? I post a paragraph on the screen and students read it and answer the 3 questions on a graphic organizer that's already glued into their notebooks.

  • Use rubrics when creating assessments, introducing assessments, and whenever students are ​​​​​​being expected to show what they are learning or have learned. Students really want to know how they are going to be graded. Why should their grade be a mystery if they genuinely want to know how to succeed? Now I am not saying water down the material or spell it out for them. But if you are listening to a student presentation and you are bored, you cannot grade them lower because a) you didn't provide them a rubric and b) you didn't tell them it couldn't be boring. ​​

  • Grade models before beginning any ​assessment in class, show students a model. By showing them a model (and you can change the content if you need to) they know what they are expected to do and what they are expected not to do. And like I said before, you're not giving them the answer here. Show them a model of a stellar Google Slide Presentation

that you made or that a student made that has engaging titles, animations, photos with sources, data tables, diagrams, readable fonts, and creatively cropped images. Give them something to aim for. Don't assume that because they are on technology all day, that they'll just happen upon the knowledge of how to make a stellar and accurate presentation. So when you grade models, grade them with the rubric.

  • Show Students How to Use a Rubric - Just because you spent 2 hours with your PLC creating a detailed and evidenced based rubric for your students to use, it doesn't mean they will. You need to show them how to use a rubric. Go step by step and show them how to read it, how to circle it, how to earn their mastery. Self Grade & Peer Grade - Before students turn in an assessment, give them a​​​XLLSn opportunity to self grade using the same rubric and then peer grade to support others. If you haven't heard of Peer Grade then login in now and start playing! I will blog about Peer Grade some day, but really, it has revolutionized giving feedback...and you can still use rubrics​

So I was working hard to make science accessible and transparent and then had to ask myself some difficult questions. Yes I had every rubric linked to a science standard. Yes I had every assessment in the gradebook linked to a science skill. But then these 2 questions came to mind: Do your grading policies reflect opportunities to self evaluate? Do your grading policies encourage students to fix mistakes and try again? If you answered no (like I did) - change your grading practices. So I had to make some changes so that what I was preaching in class (reflection, trying again, making mistakes, etc) was reflected in my gradebook.

I introduce you to the 4th version/rendition of standards based grading in my classroom. I am going to change terms here and now call it mastery based grading. Not because I no longer teacher standards (because I do, I love NGSS!), but because me linking them to standards in the gradebook didn't do anything for learning or transparency or clearer expectations for my kids. In 8th grade science, mastery based grading is centered around Mastery Missions.

  • Each Mastery Mission is in essence, a summative assessment

  • Each Mastery Mission measures a scientific skill and content area

  • Students earn 1 of 3 "grades" on their Mastery Mission

  • Those grades are: MAS = Mastery, WIP = Work in Progress, NE = No Evidence

  • I differentiate students who have turned in work with 'WIP' and those who haven'r with 'NE'

  • Students can re-do or retake a Mastery Mission as many times as they need to, to earn a MAS score. This can happen before school, at lunch, or after school during reteach and tutoring time.

What does the gradebook look like? By the end of each semester there are usually between 10-15 Mastery Missions. For each Mastery Mission there is either a paper or online rubric for students to use on day 1. Each Mastery Mission includes feedback (and a lot of it) that goes with the MAS, WIP, or NE grade. After grading about 10 students, I type paragraphs into a Google Doc with specific feedback for students. After grading 10 or so, I have a good feel of the possible answers, possible mistakes, and areas of improvement for the students. I then copy and paste that feedback to students with their MAS/WIP/NE grade. MAS means they have mastered the skill and the content for that standard. WIP means they are a work in progress and have mistakes to fix. NE means they did not turn in the assessment. What about parents? And administrators? And report cards? I keep parents in the loop with my class website, weekly emails, and a letter I sent home during the 1st week of school which is the same letter I used at Open House. I also communicated the same information with our school counselors and administrators so that if they were checking a students grade online, they would know how the student was doing. There is a pretty simple math equation I use if a parent or anyone really needs to know the grade. If they have all "MAS" grades that's an A. Because in essence, they have mastered the skills and content for that 8th grade science standard. For every "WIP" they drop down one letter grade. Up until the 11th Mastery Mission, this works out to being the same grade a student would earn if they were graded on a percentage scale (10 MAS = 100%, 9 MAS = 90%, 8 MAS = 80%). When we get into 13, 14, or 15 Mastery Missions, I divide the assessments by the total and calculate grades. So, 15 or 14 "MAS" would be an A, 13 or 12 would be a B, and so on. ​

That's a lot of information but I tried to include images to help you visualize this. It took me 4 years to love this process and believe in this process. Now, students can articulate what they are doing in science, why they are doing it, and how to succeed. Students know they can re-do Mastery Missions as many times as they need to. I have fewer students failing since I changed to mastery based grading, and more students trying over and over again to really master a scientific skill or concept. I don't assign homework and I don't mark off for students being late to turn in their work. With a classroom environment structured around rubrics, learning goals and clear expectations, mastery based grading has been transformational. Unless I created that environment first, I don't think the mastery based grading model would have worked in my class. I'm a better teacher when I stop thinking about what works for me, and what works better for my students.

Rubrics & Resources:


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