Grading should be transparent!

Good day reader. Today, I’m going to write an opinion piece about something near and dear to many of our hearts – grades. I believe that grades should be transparent. Doesn’t that sound nice? You bet! it does but what does it mean? Here is what I’m talking about. Of course, I’m still not a fan of weighted grades, but that doesn’t mean I hate all grades.

Students, parents administrators, and, of course, teachers need to know how grades are collected and calculated. It sounds simple enough, but you would be shocked how many of these stake holders have no idea how grades are calculated. This ignorance can cause big problems when parents or students question their grade and the person or institution who is reporting it can’t explain how it came to be. It’s also a little embarrasing too.

I’ve worked in a fair number of schools and in all schools, without exception, there have been a substantial number of people who have no idea how grades work. Shocking – but true. Here are some questions I’ve had to field.

  • If I don’t turn this in, what will happen to that grade?
  • So, this assignment is worth 10 points, does that mean that the final grade will go up 10 percent?
  • When I calculate the grade I get something completely different – is there something wrong with the gradebook?
  • I got this grade on an assignment and my friend got the same grade, but his grade went up more than mine. Why did that happen?
  • I have weighted grades and I got an A- on my quiz and my grade dropped even though I had an A!

The list can go on, and these questions have come from students, teachers, counselors, administrators and parents. It really doesn’t matter who asks the question, the fact that they don’t know boils down to that this person wasn’t taught or didn’t bother to learn and what’s worse is that they are stake holders. So let’s dig deeper.

Don’t point fingers!

When people don’t understand something and it affects them, they become confused, often frustrated and don’t know who to turn to for help. It’s easy to point fingers and start blaming people but this is usually counter productive. Check out the blame game below.

  • Parents can blame teachers for not explaining it to them
  • Students can blame teachers for not explaining it to them
  • Counselors can blame the IT people or the Student Information People for not explaining it to them
  • Administrators can blame teachers for not properly communicating with parents
  • Parents can blame administrators for not forcing or standardizing how grades are reported
  • Students can blame the school for not making it clear how it works
  • Teacher can blame the administrators for not explaining it to them

It can go on and on but one thing that we all know here is that this only makes the situation worse and angers people. It doesn’t work towards the goal that everyone wants – which is a clear explanation of how grades work.

First move – write a policy

Decide what type of grading system you want. Is it going to be weighted, averaged points or a set number of points that all teachers must use. I am sure there are other options out there, but the school needs to settle on one and the entire teaching staff must abide by and use it. No odd one’s out. That way students, teachers and administrators know the basics of all grading in all classes.

This way if there is a parent meeting about grades, the “how question” has already been answered, understood and can quickly be addressed. Even if the parent isn’t familiar, if the administration can point to documentation sent home and visible policies regarding grading, it will move the conversation onto more important questions such as “Why?”, “What can be done?”

Next – Identify an expert

Now that policies have been set there needs to be an “expert” in the school. Someone where students, parents, other teachers or administrators can go to ask about grades and handle these unknown questions. This person should have the ability to at least view everyone’s gradebook. In short it this perosn is a point of contact.

They should also be someone who is very available to all stakeholders. I tend to think that counselors should be this person, if not a counselor, then an IT coordinator or principal. Definitely an educator for sure. Someone who knows the kids and is familiar with working with parents.

True story. I was at a school and had to mark a students quarterly grades as incomplete. I didn’t know how to do it and emailed a few people, but no one got back to me, so I went ahead and submitted my grades thinking that someoone would catch it and fix it. The next day I received no less than seven emails telling me to change it and was visited by five people telling me the same thing. When I asked how to do this – no one could answer. I was upset, frustrated and the knowledge base for the program did not address this issue. In short, I was being asked to do something from a group of people and no one could give me an answer. I later learned that I needed to go to the IT department. Since no expert had been pointed out, something that should have been answered in an email took three days to figure out.

Training and testing the staff

Yep – you read it correctly – training and testing the staff. I’ve sent out all staff emails with important information before only to have that important information ignored. You can’t trust people to read their email or follow a set of directions. There needs to be a workshop and accountability. This should be run and organized by the “expert.”

It should not just be a workshop where someone walks the teachers through the grading policy. There should also be a test. This is to ensure the administration that the teaching staff not just knows but understands the policy and how it applies to their specific class.

Communication – with students

Students need to also understand how grades are calculated. Again, it shouldn’t be a handout or a teacher standing up there talking at the students. They should be shown how to access their grades (if that is an option) and make sure they actually can.

They should also know who to go to if they lose access to that system. That person is should the grading “expert” or maybe it is an IT person since it deals with an IT system.

Students should also be given or shown how to create their own gradebook on a spreadsheet. While having access to their grades online is good, it often does not give them a deep understanding of their grades. Having them to keep track of their own gives them a deeper sense of ownership and the ability to “play” with their grades to see how certain assignments can benefit or hurt their grade in certain situations.

Also, if students understand how grades work, they can work with their parents, thus making their parents a larger part of the educational and learning process. Usually a very good situation.

Communication – with parents

Parents also need access to the online grades (if your school has it). This is usually done through email, but there should also be an opportunity when parents can come after school for a workshop. Again, this should be organized by the “expert.” It gives a face to a name and is a gesture that is quite often appreciated by the parent community and this goodwill goes a long way.

Parents also need to know how to calculate grades. Trust me, this will save a bunch of emails later on in the year if parents understand how grades work.

Post info online

Finally, guides shou ld be created and posted online. These guides should be available to anyone. If you can point parents, students and others with basic questions here, this will save lots of time and confusion.

Wrapping it up

This is a long post, I know, but it’s important. This is a lot of work to be done at the beginning of the year, but if everyone knows where the expectation is and if people know what they are expected to know – it gets a lot of procedural questions out of the way and lets everyone get down to the important business of teaching and learning.