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My students don’t know how grades work

favicon Don’t worry, I won’t be putting down my students in this post.

But I will say this: My students are unaware of their grades, how grades work, and how to improve their grades. This is a problem.

Evidence #1: Our school uses PowerSchool, a popular student information system. Students and their parents can access grades online anytime. But most of them don’t. The URL is confusing and students habitually forget their passwords.

(There has to be a better way. Please suggest a solution!)

Evidence #2: Most teachers at my school still use points. But most teachers also use category weights, which messes up the simplicity of points. No wonder why low-performing students give up on understanding how the game of grading works.

(My better way is to make sure there are 1,000 points per semester. Simple. No, it’s not standard-based grading, which focuses on learning, and it perpetuates the capitalistic nature of schooling, but at least it’s easy to explain to students and parents.)

Evidence of #3: Most students have no idea how to improve their grades in any kind of specific way. I had a meeting with a senior today who needs to pass Math in order to graduate. He’s a smart, kind, motivated kid who attends class, goes to office hours, and has met repeatedly with his teacher about a plan. When I asked him what he needed to do to raise his 64% to 70%, he replied, “I guess I have to do really well for the rest of the semester.”

Um, that is not a specific-enough answer.

I mean, if I were in my student’s situation, I would be making charts and graphs, cracking out my calculator, and doing mild regression analysis (whatever that is). I would get all my points in a row and figure out my chances — and then go slightly maniacal getting things done.

Without detailed information about his grade, my student has no power over his situation. He has given his graduation over to chance and good intentions. Either that or he’s hoping that his teacher will lower his standards.

As teachers in schools, we have to do better. Our grading practices have to be immediately understandable to our students and families. Students must be able to make sense on their own what their grade means and how they can improve their grade. Most important, it’s crucial that students feel ownership of their grades — that it’s something that they’ve earned — rather than feeling that grades come from nowhere or from a teacher’s assessment of their personal worth. favicon

Please share your brilliant insights!