>What’s in a Grade?

>As I wrap up the year and say goodbye to students, I face my one of the more disliked parts of my job: grading.  If I were simple, it would just be a matter of points earned out of points possible, but of course I am not simple, and neither is that system to tell the truth.  What do points measure?  Accuracy?  Completion?  Effort?  Creativity?  The miracle of a student turning something in?

I’m not a numbers person–even Sudoku makes my eyes cross.  So when it comes to final grades, I take a more holistic approach because it’s impossible for me to boil down four months of academic and personal interaction with a child to a single number or letter.  The percentage grade is certainly a good indicator, but sometimes there are confounding situations:

  1. A student who does next to no work but whose test scores show he has obviously learned the material through some other means (osmosis? telepathy? divine intervention?)
  2. A student who does next to no work for the majority of the semester, then has a come-to-Jesus-moment and tries very hard to turn things around at the last minute, but can’t quite make the numbers work in his favor
  3. A student who is identified as special ed halfway through the semester, too late to be placed in an applied class or to have an intervention specialist placed to work with her
  4. A student who works hard but is frequently absent, which poses especial difficulty in my class because I don’t give very much bookwork or similar assignments that can be made up at home

I am considering long and hard whether to pass these four (and many, many others).  My rationale so far…

  1. In our school, the most salient goal is to get students to pass the OGT, regardless of what anyone says otherwise.  Student 1’s practice assessment scores show that he would most likely pass.  Furthermore, given my knowledge of the child, even if I failed him and forced him to take the class again…there wouldn’t be much difference in his performance.  But his percentage is very low
  2. Student 2’s last-minute turnaround indicates that he could try harder next time, but I don’t know that punishing his effort this time around in order to teach him about work ethic would be productive.  He has higher percentage than student 1 and is actually close to the objective 60% cutoff.
  3. I asked the intervention specialist who’s been working with Student 3 for the last few weeks to bring her grade up whether I should pass her, and she told me I should because the student has worked hard and should never have been in a regular-ed classroom in the first place.  While I don’t feel completely comfortable with this, my understanding of special ed needs is rudimentary at best, and so I usually defer to the experts.
  4. I am very close to Student 4, so I’m trying extra hard to be objective.  Her first quarter grade should have been an F, but I gave her a D because I knew she was fragile enough that an F might shut her down completely.  When she asked me about it, I told her simply that I gave her a D because I knew it would encourage her in a way that an F wouldn’t, and she was very touched.  She usually works hard in class–when she is there–and has taken advantage of the credit recovery opportunities I grudgingly offered at the beginning of May.  She wants to succeed, but her test scores were low this year and she would probably benefit from either taking the class again or getting some intensive tutoring after school.  She has yet to turn in her final project and was not present for the exam period today because of illness.  My thought is that if she turns in a high-quality final, I will go ahead and pass her with the strict admonition to buckle down with test prep before the October test.

I’m probably making this more complicated than necessary, as I tend to do with most things.  But while details like numbers don’t make much sense to me, the details of an individual life do, and I try to take those into account when grading, because aren’t those individual lives what I’m in here for in the first place?


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