How Grades Change Conversations About Assessment & Achievement

I began teaching in 1991 believing myself to be a very progressive grades-based teacher with exquisitely designed marking keys designed to quantitatively assess realms such as punctuation, spelling, organization, use of voice, and (drum roll, please) creativity. It was rather easy to bestow, scientifically, precise to tenths of a percent (any more, though feasible, would be ostentatious) a grade indicating with complete confidence, the child's understanding.

Changing schools and districts, I entered the world of criteria based assessment, rubrics, portfolios, student-led conferences, and student created statements of growth. Wow... what a learning curve. Gone were the marking keys in favour of rubrics. Gone were the percent grade in favour of rubric designations.

Gone also were the squabbles and endless talk about whether "that sentence should be worth half a mark, or a whole mark" in favour of "you recognize how this change improves that sentence?"

When tests were returned, gone were the, "what did you get... what did you get?" ranking exercises in favour of, "How did you do number 4? Show me how you did number 8. Oh, I see how to fix number 12!"

Students and teachers talked about content, areas of achievement and growth. Students asked how to improve on specific skills and never asked how to "bring my marks up," because it wasn't about marks, it was about learning.

I love this way of teaching and assessing and I believe it more clearly reflects a child's achievements, challenges, and next steps over any single letter or number grade. It is remarkable how the language used to discuss achievement in this model places the student at the center of the assessment conversation and how grades changes the conversation focus to the numbers on the page. I am sure I'll find a balance and learn to assign a percent grade on student reports, and reign in the numbers talk in class focusing on each student's engagement with content and outcomes achievement.

grades and achievement


  1. [...] December 14, 2011 was born with the blogpost "How Grades Change Conversations About Assessment & Achievement" [...]

  2. […] Focused feedback is much more informative than a percent grade. Identifying specific issues, or next steps facilitates infinite opportunities for growth. A percent grade suggests a finite degree of completion. The last thing we want to do is suggest to a student that she knows everything already and close off incentive for further or deeper exploration. If a student's goal is the achievement of marks, then where do you go from 100%? If you want more, check out How Grades Change Conversations About Assessment & Achievement. […]

What do you think? Share you thoughts below...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: