A third of the academic year is complete and we are nearing the end of the first week of the winter trimester. Due to off-campus programs and alterations in schedules, each student has a fresh start in terms of academic grades at the beginning of each term. But does our traditional grading system truly give students a clean slate?
Like most schools, Proctor gives grades to students based on their demonstrated competence in each subject. Each teacher grades slightly differently, but a standard is set toward which students strive. A few students may demonstrate nearly perfect work, but the majority fall short of achieving perfection. This article
made me question how I really feel about these approaches to grading. What does it teach our students? Does it encourage them to work harder to reach that perfect mark? Or does the system discourage students from reaching their potential because they are afraid to take risks in case they are ‘wrong’? The article
notes, “The current system is subtractive, i.e. as a student achieves anything less than perfect, they are punished with a decrease in score. A subtractive grading system punishes students for taking risks and stifles creativity. Students tend to be taught a specific way to perform a task, and if students try to problem solve in another way and fail (which is a core part of the learning process), they are punished with a lower grade. Therefore, students are less likely to try thinking outside of the box.”
As I reflect on my own teaching, I realize how much of my grading is focused on highlighting what is ‘wrong’, rather than what is right. Points are subtracted from each question as student answers fall short of my ‘answer key’, but what is this communicating?
It is not my intention to make students feel poorly after completing an assessment, especially when they worked incredibly hard on the assignment. It is simply how I’ve always done it and how every one of my teachers graded my own work when I was a student.
The additive grading approach discussed in the article may not solve every issue with assessing student work, but it certainly provides food for thought, “Imagine a classroom where...students would be taught basic skills and then be encouraged to figure out their own ways of problem solving.” Without fail, teachers at Proctor seek to establish classroom cultures where this type of problem solving occurs, but do methods of grading always reflect the desired learning process? While wholesale changes probably will not happen overnight in my classes, I do hope to shift my focus in grading student work as we start the Winter Term. Don’t we all want to hear what we’ve done right before we hear what we did wrong?