Not “If” We Grade, But “How” We Grade

Some home schoolers hold the belief that grading and learning don't mix, that grades and grading, being a fairly recent innovation used by schools, should be avoided at all costs.  Over the years, teachers have been accused of "teaching to the test" to gain professional recognition and merit pay.  Some instructors have actually been found guilty of tampering with student's answers on standardized tests to insure certain outcomes were achieved.

While all of the above may be true to some degree, "grades and grading" are still the standards by which students are evaluated at middle and high school levels.  It's the standard means by which GPA's (grade point averages) are established.   Presenting a one-page transcript to a college admission's staff member that lists courses taken and grades earned makes their  job easier when it comes to considering your student for admission.    GPA's and SAT scores are often combined and serve as the way colleges and universities extend financial awards and scholarships to students they believe will succeed at their institutions.

The question then for most of us, certainly at the high school level, is not if we will grade, but how we will grade.   It's important to evaluate your student's work in such a way that the grade earned reflects effort and performance.

Let's consider math.

For elementary age students, first through sixth grade, formal testing or grading on a weekly basis is not necessary.  In one sense, every lesson is a "test" in which you can decide to re-teach or provide more practice for concepts they have not understood to your satisfaction.  We do recommend using the ELO Quick Assessment for your student's grade level.  Having a copy now will alert you to what you should be covering this winter.  It will also provide you with a sequential, objective assessment tool by which you can measure and confirm your student's progress when you test him later this spring.

For junior high and high school level students, grading math is a different matter. Here is a principle to keep in mind that makes transcripting your student's progress simple:

Grade on a quarter system.

Let's say your student's math book contains 120 lessons.  At the end of the first quarter which is typically nine weeks in length from the time you start, lessons 1 through 30, including tests, should be completed.   The grade earned for this first quarter should be seen as a grade in progress.  That is, it's not recorded on the transcript.

At the end of the second quarter, lessons 31 through 60 including tests should be completed.  Typically the grade for this second quarter is averaged with the grade of the first quarter to get a semester grade, the one that goes on the transcript and is part of the permanent record.  Some parents decide to weigh the second quarter a little more heavily than the first if the student is performing better.  Since most math concepts build on previous instruction, and if the student is showing improvement and a higher degree of mastery, this is certainly an acceptable decision.

So what might this look like?  Here's an example. Let's say your student is studying Algebra 1 this year.  His daily work combined with test scores comes out to a 73%, a "C." He knows he can do better. In the second quarter, he puts more time into this course and makes sure he understands the concepts before taking each test.  His strategy and effort pay off.  In the second quarter he raises his overall grade twelve percentage points to an 85%, a strong "B".  With strict averaging of both quarters, however, his semester grade results in a 79%, a high "C", but a "C" nonetheless.

So, do we simply let the numbers speak for themselves and put a "C" down for his first semester?  In my way of thinking, the grade isn't exclusively based upon or about "the numbers." it's about what has been learned and achieved.  I would justify giving him a "B" by weighting the second quarter more, maybe 60%.

Here's what the formula looks like:

Previously weighing each quarter 50%
50% of 73 percent (.5 times 73) is 36.5
50% of 85 percent (.5 times 85) is  42.5

Final Grade: 79%, a C

Now weighting the first quarter 40%, the second 60%
40% of 73 percent (.4 times 73) is 29.2
60% of 85 percent (.6 times 85) is 51

In fact, if the grade I thought the student earned and I wanted to give was a "B," I wouldn't hesitate to adjust the system further to arrive there.  Academic legalists, whose notion of "fairness" I may have offended, might cry "foul" in light of my actions, but hey, if not this, it will be something else.


Curt Bumcrot is the founder and director of Basic Skills Assessment and Educational Services. He has been active both as a teacher and administrator in Christian Schools. He and his wife, Jenny, who home schooled their three children, currently reside in Oregon City.

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