Stability and Change in High School Grades by Thomas R. Guskey (2011)

I was interested in looking at current grading practices and came across the article “Stability and Change in High School Grades” by Thomas R. Guskey (2011). The study looks at the inconsistency and subjectivity associated with grades. Guskey notes that “what one teacher considers in determining students’ grades may differ greatly from the criteria used by other teachers… even in schools where established grading policies offer guidelines for assigning grades” (2011, p. 85). This can be detrimental to Grade 11 and 12 students who are competing for scholarships and admission into post-secondary institutions. Initial marks also impact what classes Grades 9 and 10 students choose to enroll in. Guskey (2011) notes that initial grades have an impact “on students’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivation” and can also lead to student drop-outs (p. 85-6). The study looked at over 1000 high school students and considered gender, socio-economic background, native language, and ability. Across the board, “these first grades set the stage for all that is to come,” and placed students in categories that are almost impossible to alter because of student and teacher perceptions (Guskey, 2011, p. 86). Females also received higher marks than boys and similarly, students in higher socio-economic classes received higher marks than those students from less privileged backgrounds (Guskey, 2011, p. 91). In the end, the study showed that we can “predict high school students’ final course grades based on evidence gather during the second week of the academic term” and based on their gender, ability, financial circumstance, etc. (Guskey, 2011, p. 95). Therefore, grades are a hindrance to the learning process, rather than a benefit since they can inaccurately be allotted and define students in rigid categories.

This study makes me wonder why girls often receive higher marks than boys? Furthermore, why do students get stuck in a grade category? Is it because of teacher practices or student motivation or both? What can we do to close the achievement gap? Why do students in different economic and cultural groups get placed in different grade categories? When should we mark students first? What method can be used to replace grading students? How can we create a consistent grading system that provides all students an equal opportunity, regardless of where they live?

I do not think there are any easy answers. But on the bright side, Guskey notes that when feedback is given with grades, students’ “grades on subsequent assessments significantly improved” (2011, p. 86). Some other interesting ideas to get students beyond their initial grade category was to ignore “low quiz scores,” allow for re-dos, consider marks “from a previous marking period,” or weight course material differently (2011, p. 87-8). These are just some of the ways that initial grades can be overcome. In the end, I think we need to stop pretending that a single grade can tell us what students are capable of and we need to practice other ways to monitor and report progress.

For further information: Guskey, T. R. (2011). Stability and change in high school grades. NASSP Bulletin, 95(2), 85-98. doi:10.1177/0192636511409924

Response for Ch. 9 and 10

Communicating About Learning

In Chapter 9 Davies discusses that caregivers are busy but both teachers and caregivers “come together in caring about the student” (2011, p. 85).  Communication may be difficult but students benefit from many individuals, including themselves, being part of the conversation. Students should be involved with “the process of preparing and presenting” because it “gives students the opportunity to construct their understanding and to help others make meaning of their learning” (Davies, 2011, p. 86). Also, it is important that all parties involved give feedback (Davies, 2011, p. 86). Some ideas are a student=generated newspaper, self-assessments and work samples, demonstrations of learning and student-parent-teacher conferences. The one thing that I question is involving students in all conferences; sometimes there are issues to deal with that I do not think the student needs to be present for. However, most of the time I think this is a good idea. I like the idea of teachers getting anonymous feedback.

I would personally like to have an online course where all assignments, feedback etc. is accessible to parents and students. I think parents should receive notes from their teachers. Using agendas and sending notes home and requiring students to get an initial of their caregiver(s) is one way to continue the conversation. I think student involvement is increased if you require them to have a portfolio, take books home to read, run a conference, etc. and these ideas are all things I want to incorporate. In the end, students should be doing as much work as the teacher!

One thing I wonder about is how the learning centers at a parent conference would work. This seems confusing and like an excessive amount of work.

“We can avoid pretending that a student’s whole performance or intelligence can be summed up in one number” – Peter Elbow.

There is no one right or best way to do this” – Davies.

“It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end” – Ursula Le Guin.

 

Evaluating and Reporting

Davies notes that “evaluation and reporting occur at the point in the classroom assessment cycle when the learning pauses, and the evidence is organized and evaluated by comparing it to what students needed to learn” (2011, p. 93). Then the results are shared, usually on a report card. An easy way to understand this is evaluation = end. Assessment = all the way through.

Evaluating requires teachers to professionally and fairly look at what a student can do, in relation to a standard (usually a grade or age level). Areas of improvement should also be recorded (Davies, 2011, p. 93). This is a subjective practice! Professionalism comes in when we make sure we collect many pieces of evidence that are reliable and valid (triangulation) (Davies, 2011, p. 94). I wonder how teachers decide what assignment is worth the most?

I like the idea of talking evaluation through with students before they go home so they can explain it to their parents. An explanation of grades, etc. should also be included. Students should also be given a chance to evaluate themselves and teachers and students can talk if their marks do not match. Not only does this create a less subjective evaluation, debating and negotiating is an important life skill for students to have.

Something that really bothers me is the idea of “compensating for the compulsory.” We are required in secondary schools to report using grades, percentages, letters, etc. yet research shows that this results in “less impressive learning, less interest in learning and less desire for challenging learning” (Kohn, 1999). This is very confusing and if I want to try to implement a grade-free class but am required to mark in the end it seems a bit hopeless. I hope we align our teaching practices with the current research but it seems we are often years behind (look at inclusive education, for instance).

One random idea about making group work accountable (do not know why this chapter made me think about it, but it did): Students would be made aware of this beforehand and sign a contract. Then a 100 points is assigned to each student. At the end of the process, students self-evaluate themselves and then each other and debate what mark each person should get out of 100. If everyone does their share they get 100. However, if one person did 70% of their work they get 70. Then the person who picked up the slack gets 130. The teacher then gives them a mark and considers students self-assessed mark. If the group got a 70% overall in this scenario, person one would get 49% (70×70/100), person two would get 49 (70×70/100), and person three would get 91% (130×70/100). I would not want to give those low marks BUT I think if this was used and explicitly explained, students would be motivated to participate equally. Not perfect, but definitely something that could be adapted.