Standards-based grading — has Johnny mastered the subject matter — is replacing the behavior-based grading — does Johnny do homework and write legibly? — at some schools, reports the New York Times. Teachers at Ellis Middle School in Austin, Minnesota realized their grades didn’t reflect learning for all students.
About 10 percent of the students who earned A’s and B’s in school stumbled during end-of-the-year exams. By contrast, about 10 percent of students who scraped along with C’s, D’s and even F’s — students who turned in homework late, never raised their hands and generally seemed turned off by school — did better than their eager-to-please B+ classmates.
“Over time, we began to realize that many teachers had been grading kids for compliance — not for mastering the course material,” (Principal Katie) Berglund said. “A portion of our A and B students were not the ones who were gaining the most knowledge but the ones who had learned to do school the best.”
The middle school now bases grades on subject mastery; no longer will donating a box of Kleenex to the class win extra credit points. The high school has switched for ninth graders.
When parents of students at Ellis Middle School look over their children’s report cards, they will find a so-called “knowledge grade,” which will be calculated by averaging the scores on end-of-unit tests. (Those tests can be retaken any time during the semester so long as a student has completed all homework; remedial classes that re-teach skills will be offered all year.) Homework is now considered practice for tests. Assignments that are half done, handed in late or missing all together will be noted, but will not hurt a student’s grade. Nor will showing up late for class, forgetting to bring your pencil, failing to raise your hand before shouting out an answer or forgetting to bring in a permission slip for the class trip — infractions that had previously caused Ellis students’ grades to suffer.
(In addition to an academic grade, the 950 students at the school will get a separate “life skills” grade for each class that reflects their work habits and other, more subjective, measures like attitude, effort and citizenship. )
Some parents object to grading policies that downplay homework completion, saying students won’t develop strong work habits.