I have just started at Middleton High School, which is moving to standards-based grading. When I was hired and interviewed, I didn’t know what that meant, but as time has passed, I think I get it: Based on what I observe, it means taking a rubric with the standards for that assessment, and rather than giving a single comprehensive letter grade, highlight the rubric, scoring each student has a 4, 3, 2, 1 for each standard.
And as I started to understand this, I remembered my time with this grading system. My team partner wanted to do this about ten years ago, and I tend to try anything. I only lasted two years, though, and here is why:
There are fewer A’s under this system. Maybe that seems trivial, and maybe that just seems like justice as so many claim that there is grade inflation, but it isn’t trivial. Ten years ago, there was even more weight placed GPA in college admissions. I don’t know why a 4 is so much harder to give out than an A, but I could not turn that corner, and so I disliked the 4, 3, 2, 1 system.
I hear my Middleton students talking similarly now, talking about how a science or a physical education. teacher said that work has to be stupendous to earn a 4. The students in class bemoaned this, asking if it mattered to try, and I reflected back, thinking through what I had experienced. Grades are gateways for kids. A GPA can open a door or close it, so it is not something to be taken lightly.
But there was another reason I dreaded going today. Rubrics. I have come to question rubrics, not necessarily as tools for communicating expectations, but as grading mechanisms. Part of that questioning comes from reading Alfie Kohn, some comes from looking at Maja Wilson, but most comes from an innate survival instinct. Rubrics take up valuable grading time.
I love making comments via Word (though I know I will need to embrace Google more in the future) because of the precise feedback I can give. I can link to websites that explain the colon. I can created a voice comment through Vocaroo or other means. I can even create a video, as I did here. But a rubric takes time, and then I have less time for comments and less time for feedback. I have studied my assessments habits, tallying how many comments I write on handwritten papers vs electronic papers with Word, and I am convinced: I give better, more precise feedback with comments than with a rubric.
So I dreaded going to see Thomas Guskey today.
But I was wrong. Boy, I was wrong.