What types of practices “distort” grades?

Well, we’ve made it. This is the 6th and final personal reflection of last week’s #mschat in regards to grading. I have to say it’s  the first time that I’ve spent an entire week thinking about one conversation. It has allowed me to reflect about it from a multitude of perspectives. I’m realizing now that I didn’t have all the answers during the chat, and that no one really does when it comes to grading. There are so many factors involved that it makes the concept of creating a national standard for grading near-to-impossible. I think I’d rather take a sword to fight the tide (I love putting random Beowulf references in my writing)…

This final question was probably the most interesting of the night after reflecting and reading through the comments today. I’m just going to list all the things I noticed participants saying in the chat that contributed to the distortion of grades. I’m in this list too, for fairness to my problem….Let’s see if you can notice a pattern emerge. Here we go:

Did you notice anything? I’m going to reference one participant’s acknowledgment of the situation that sums it up perfectly:

“All of it.”- @janamaiuri

What are we grading then?

If everything that we do in relation to assessments ‘distorts’ grades then why produce a grade at all? Looking at the responses from the participants I’m getting the feeling that everything we does in fact distort a student’s grade. It’s either that or no one has any idea at all what a truly objective grade is. This got me to start thinking more deeply about my grades and what they really represent. Many teachers in the chat had previously mentioned that a grade is a snapshot of learning in a moment of time, but now that I’m reflecting on it, I have to disagree. I’m noticing that grades are really a subjective picture that a teacher has of the student. As much as most of us want to deny that fact (myself included), it seems that we all acknowledge there is distortion in all the grading that we do. The subjectivity comes from all assessments both formative and summative, distorted and unrecorded, that add up in the mind of the teacher by the end of each term. Many teachers might push back on my thoughts about this but after reading how everyone seems to think that everything distorts a grade then my conclusion must be that all grading is subjective on some level. Even if an assignment is objectively graded by a rubric against standards the result is that by averaging the grade creates a distortion.

If averaging grades distorts a grade then we can not average grades. If adding in a mark for effort distorts a grade, then we can not add in an effort component. If grading homework distorts a grade, then we should not be adding in a homework piece.

This brings me back to a notion that I brought up yesterday in my last reflection. It comes down to the accumulated expertise and knowledge of the teacher to make that judgement call. A grade is, after all, a judgement from the teacher to the student. After the teacher takes into account all of the grades that should, or should not, be counted (distorted or otherwise) and then s/he has to make a final determination.

Maybe we have been asking ourselves the wrong questions about grading. I want to acklowledge my own subjectivity and at least check myself come grading time. Here are some of the things I intend to ask myself in the future when grades are due:

  • Did I challenge this student appropriately with my curriculum?
  • Did I support this student to solve gaps in their understanding?
  • Did I encourage this student to step out of their comfort zone?
  • Did this student respond in a way that bettered themselves and their understanding of how they learn?

I’m thinking that maybe I need to accept the fact that I am distorting ‘grade’ with my judgement process. Grading is imperfect by its’ very nature. We can continue to refine our practice to make it ads objective as possible but the reality is that we are all knee deep in the trenches with our students every single day. There are so many things that happened that can never be truly reflected and represented in a grade book that we secretly (and no so secretly) squirrel away in the back of our heads. When the end of the term comes around we tend to fall back on those little moments as well (consciously or subconsciously) to help us arrive at an appropriate grade.

It’s all distorted.

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