De-Grading, part 2: Rubrics

Points and “Points”

Rubrics are used for many kinds of assignments. Instead of using letter grades, a rubric uses numbers, each representing a different level of skill or knowledge. It’s a more holistic way to grade, valuing the student’s performance as a whole, rather than examining the nickels and dimes of each assignment.

Rubric scores are not ‘points’ in the sense that most teachers use the term. They don’t correspond to a percentage scale unless you make some way to convert them, which you will have to do in order to assign a letter grade on the report card.

A popular rubric scale has 4 as the high score (excellent, beyond proficient) and 1 as the low score (not proficient). In between are 2 and 3, which cover the ground between ‘barely proficient’ and ‘proficient.’ Because there are four levels in this scale, most teachers and students simply regard 4 as an A, 3 as a B, and so on — which defeats the purpose of using a rubric.

Doing the Math

There are teachers who do not like math, aren’t very good at math, and would rather think about it as little as possible. This leads to another set of problems.

On that 4-point rubric, there are usually several columns representing such areas as Content, Organization, Support, Style. Are all columns weighed equally? Is Style as important a part of the grade as Organization or Content? How much should Mechanics be worth? All of this is up to the teacher, who might make each column a quarter of the total grade just because it’s easier to figure out.

Next, each level 1-4 must be assigned a percentage or points value. 4 represents the highest possible score, 20 points. What about 1, 2, and 3? Because it’s easier, a teacher might make 4 = 20, 3 = 15, 2 = 10 and 1 = 5. But what if a 2 is supposed to represent the minimum passing grade? A student who gets a ‘2’ in each column will have a score of 50%, not passing. If 4 = 20, 3 should probably = 17, 2 = 14, and 1 = 11; then the student with all 2’s would have 70%.

I tried to explain this to a colleague once, but she liked her way better.

Tomorrow: Zero

De-Grading, part I

There is a saying in education, “Grading is degrading,” meaning that grades shouldn’t be used as an punishment or a reward. Obviously the people who came up with this notion didn’t realize that teachers have to give grades, and no matter what grading scale or method you use, they become incentives. Students care about points, not learning.

There isn’t one best way to grade; all methods are subjective, based on a teacher’s own philosophy and habits. But unless a student understands how a teacher grades, any number or letter on the paper means nothing.

The most common methods of grading are neither rational nor objective. This bothers me; numerical scores imply some precision or at least consistency. The problem is that most teachers were not trained to grade. We know all about assessment – formative and summative, norm-based and criterion-based, formal and informal – but when it’s time to put numbers on paper, we sometimes end up with unintended results or unrecognized errors.

What follows are a few observations about the way grading is practiced in many American Schools.

57 Currencies

You go to CVS and see a bottle of shampoo for $2.79. At Target you see the same bottle marked 229. When you go to pay for it, the cashier says, “That will be two hundred and twenty-nine yen.” How much is that in dollars? She doesn’t know. Is 229 yen a better deal than 279 cents? To find out, you need to convert yen into dollars.

What if every store used a different currency – Euros at the grocery store, pesos at the gas station, rubles at McDonalds? Confusing, to say the least.

There are 57 teachers at my school. All of us use points, but ‘points’ means something different in each classroom. More

Boxes are the Answer

Whatever the problem, boxes are the solution. Give me enough boxes and I will solve any problem — finish my novel, clean my huge untidy house, fix the economy. (The economy will take a lot of boxes.)

I’ve spent two days turning chaos into stackable rectangles. Three years ago my older son moved to Japan, leaving behind — almost everything.

In his habits, he takes after me — a pack rat. After sifting through the mess, I am pretty sure that he has never thrown anything away. Movie ticket stubs, foreign coins, school papers, Magic cards, souvenirs from Africa and Japan, DVD’s, CD’s, lots of computer stuff, and books, books, books. A large cocoon of things he once had on his Christmas list or spent precious allowance dollars on.

How much can you fit in a really big suitcase? That’s how much he subtracted from his hoard when he left. The rest remains.

This is a part of parenthood that they don’t tell you about.   More

Don’t Pet the Peeves

My water was orange this morning. Not a nice Sunkist orange, but a rusty brown-orange. We had a big thunderstorm last night, and the river is very high, but I’m not sure whether those things are responsible.

If this happened all the time, I would put it at the top of my Pet Peeves List, but it rarely happens, so I haven’t exercised that peeve enough to get ratcheted up all the way to ‘annoyed.’

I have pet peeves. I regularly feed them and take them out for walks, but I don’t let them up on the furniture. Most of them are linguistic peeves, like when people say, “My eyes literally popped out of my head!”

After the orange water I ran into a couple of them.

It seemed like a good morning to go out for breakfast, so we did. My first question to our server was, “Is your water orange?” Because it’s difficult to tell when coffee has been made with orange water.

She gave me a funny look. “Is your guys’s water orange?” she asked, coffee pot poised to pour.

I replied in the affirmative, making a mental note to check whether ‘guys’s’ is really a word. It raises my hackles.

Those restaurant guys’s water was not orange, so we allowed her to fill our cups.   More

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