Grading my way
In the post on "my perfect public high school," Denever and I had a back and forth about my statement that any student who works diligently in a class should be able to earn at least a B. Denever asked if I incorporate effort into my grading system, and I do, but I want to explain that, and the explanation isn't short. I decided the best way to do this is to lay out my entire grading system for my regular American History classes, so here it is.
1. Reading Assignments--30%: I preach to my kids that the key to doing well in my class is doing the reading assignments, so they count a lot. I put so much emphasis on this because if the students don't read the assignments, they don't know what I'm talking about when they come to class, so they won't get very much out of it.
I wrote my own text, so the average assignment is a little less than three pages. I did that because when I used a regular text, the students ended up reading a lot of material that I wasn't going to spend any time on in class and they would not be tested on. If something is in my text, students know they will be expected to know it.
My quizzes consist of five or six short answer questions, and I try to find things in the readings that students will be most likely to remember. The purpose of the quizzes is solely to reward the students for doing a reasonably good job of reading the assignments; it is not to see how well they can analyze anything. The one problem with this is that there are some students whose reading comprehension isn't very good. I have no desire to see some student reading the assignments day after day, and receiving zero after zero on their quizzes. To deal with that, I give my students an optional note-taking system that they can use when they do the readings. They turn their notes in before they take the quiz, and for individual quizzes I guarantee them a majority of the points for individual quizzes. Students who take the notes for all the assignments for a unit are guaranteed 70% of the reading points even if they bomb the quizzes. Not surprisingly, most of the kids who take notes on readings do quite well on the quizzes, but there are always some who don't, and the notes save them. The most rewarding situations for me have come when some students have bombed quiz after quiz early in the year, but stayed alive by taking notes, but then started to do reasonably well on the quizzes as the year has gone on. Obviously, kids with good reading comprehension skills have a big advantage in this category, but if kids are conscientious, they will do okay.
2. Current Events--10%: There are two parts to this, and they are both simple. The first part consists of keeping a current events journal. Two or three times a week, I will run off articles from Star/Tribune.com, pass them out to the class, and discuss them. In their journals, the students are to briefly write down what the articles are about and date them. They need a minimum of two sentences. Periodically, I will check them and give the kids points according to how many of the articles they've recorded, and if they've done it correctly.
Then, every three or four weeks, they'll be required to write a brief opinion on any of the current events we've talked about. I give them plenty of notice on the due date, and I don't accept any late opinions. The minimum requirement is three sentences, but a lot of kids get into this and end up writing a lot more than that. Being conscientious is the key to doing well in this category. A lot of kids get burned by putting off writing the articles in their journals and their opinions, or they forget to bring their journals to class. In fact, the first time I check their journals, it's usually a disaster.
3. Class Preparation and Participation--15%: This consists of a few things. The first one is something I call class responsibility points. I give everyone 100 points at the start of the quarter, and it's their job to hold on to them. They lose points by having unexcused absences, being late for class, forgetting to bring pencils or other materials, losing things that I've handed out, and for not having all their lecture/discussion notes when I check for them before tests.
I use cooperative learning about once or twice a week, and the scores for those assignments go into this category, and when we have videos, I have the kids write comments on them, and that also goes into this category. Once again, in this category, if the kids are conscientious, their percentages should be high.
4. Evaluation Points--45%: These are tests, quizzes (not the reading quizzes), and something I call final assessments. I have sixteen units, and my unit tests are objective--multiple choice and matching. At the beginning of each unit I pass out optional test review assignments to students who want them. It basically tells the kids exactly what they are going to have to know for the test. If students do a good job on these, they should do well on the tests. Some students don't take them--some because they don't need them, and others because they're too lazy to bother with them. And of course, some students who take them, don't do them. I don't give points for the test review assignments; they are strictly there to help the students on the tests.
I don't give final tests. Instead a give I series of four final assessments throughout each of the two semesters. These are essay type tests, and they involve putting together material learned from more than one unit. For example, the last final assessment of the year is on liberal and conservative periods in our history and it involves four different units going all the way back to January. They are each worth 100 points on their quarter grades, and of course, they each count as one-fourth of their final examination grades. I hand out guides for these about two weeks before the assessments are given, and although these are the hardest things we do, if kids put in the time, they can usually do pretty well.
Anyone with a reasonable work ethic would probably be amazed that students could fail a class set up like this, but it happens. Some kids simply won't do the work, and I won't give them any breaks. But when that happens, and when any of their parents want to question those Fs, I know I'll be able to back them up. When I show a confrontational parent zero after zero on reading assignments, despite their short length and the note-taking system, and zero after zero on the current events assignments, and lost class responsibility points, it takes the wind right out of their sails.
My class is set up so that a student who works hard and is conscientious should be able to do pretty well, but the class is quite difficult for kids with poor reading comprehension skills and a poor grasp of history. The best they can do, even when they work diligently, is a C, and although I wouldn't force them out of my regular class, I believe they would learn more in my basic class.
Denever asked if I grade for effort, and I do, but the effort is tied to performance. I'm trying to make it as easy and as attractive as possible for my students to learn. One of my major concerns is that I want my kids to learn how to be good students. Obviously, I also want them to learn American history, and I think the chances of that happening are best if they see a real opportunity to be successful.
So there it is--grading my way! It's been developed over a lot of years, and I like it. But as I told Denever, go ahead and hit me with your best shot!