We maximize possibilities for teaching and learning when we create grading and reporting systems that are compatible with the differentiation practices we espouse. Absent this compatibility, differentiation efforts tend to stall. While discussing the possibility of introducing tiered assessments, a science colleague mused, “you’d have to be an idiot to put all that work into differentiating if you can’t report on it somehow.” Anything that lessens our motivation to differentiate is hurtful to students.
Different grading and reporting structures are presented below. Most likely, you’ll like and dislike aspects of each system. I do. Each system was developed to promote and support the learning goals teachers had for their students. Learning goals were differentiated, so grading systems were conceived with this in mind.
Perhaps you’ll like one of the following systems. Perhaps you’ll devise a better one that you can share with the rest of us!
Two different systems have been successfully used by math teachers in Jakarta.
First and currently, teachers report both the challenge level students work at and the accuracy with which they work at that level. Having moved to a standards based reporting system, teachers report performance against individual learning targets, as shown below. This has worked very well from the perspectives of teachers, students, and parents.
CLICK the image for a clearer view
Prior to the use of standards based grading and reporting, when a traditional report card was used, teachers needed to report a single course grade at the end of a marking period. The teachers adopted a weighted system of grading similar to the way some high schools give different weights to grades earned in regular and honors courses. The difference in this case was that weights were assigned to every assessment offered, so students could work at a variety of color levels within a marking period AND within the same class. This is an advantage of tiering within a class vs. tracking across classes. Students have the opportunity to be “honors” or “regular” students on a daily basis as they select their challenge level on daily tiered practice assignments and end of unit assessments.
Regardless of the system, a question many students, parents, and teachers ask is, “What happens if students don’t do well on a summative assessment?”
JIS teachers have experimented with various retesting guidelines, from letting students retest who have worked at any color level under any circumstances to only allowing students who worked at the blue and black level of challenge retest. After trying different approaches across grade levels over a two year period, teachers realized that a blanket policy for all situations was not desirable. Teacher discretion on a case-by-case basis made the most sense for maximally advancing learning at JIS.
That being said, teachers did notice patterns in what worked well and found themselves most often denying retest requests to students who attempted green level assessments. As teachers increasingly utilized formative assessments (thus offering multiple chances for success in every unit), they started realizing a greater need to help students develop effective learning dispositions as a priority over specific content focused outcomes. Denying retest requests pushed students, parents, and teachers to pinpoint specific learning approaches in need of improvement, which most often led to improved learning outcomes during future units.
The department’s retesting philosophy read as follows:
Ultimately, effectively dealing with the question of retesting across a large math department involves a lot of communication between teachers, students, and parents. It’s well worth it.
Very few students ended up retesting under these guidelines. About 40% of students try blue or black assessments, and of those, about 15% end up retesting. A negligible number of green level attempts resulted in retests.
Most recently (2013), teachers have begun combining the three color levels into a single assessment. Students choose color levels by topic areas within the assessment, which increases choice within an assessment. All students are expected to complete the most rigorous green level questions identified as “all” questions before moving on to choose problem solving tasks at the color level of their choice. This has eliminated the retesting rationale for students who struggle with blue or black level tasks because all students are required to tackle the most rigorous green level problems as part of the assessment. Here’s an example of such an assessment.
The grading approach used by Oakland science teachers was very different. Teachers were primarily concerned with motivating students to do their best, striving to provide as many intrinsic motivational forces as possible. Teachers emphasized efficacy over absolute achievement. Students played a big role in tracking their progress, collecting evidence of their achievement, and determining their final grade.
The following three images show examples of a goal setting sheet, a performance summary sheet students would fill out at the end of a unit, and a summary grade sheet that we would fill out together during an interview. On average, there were about 30 students in each of four science classes that were taught when this tiered system was implemented. As an example, the purple text shows what one student wrote.
If you take anything away from this page, I hope it’s the understanding that grading and reporting systems CAN be devised that will complement your differentiated approach with students. Taking time to carefully plan out your grading system is well worth the effort.
I highly recommend two books to inform your thinking around assessment, grading, and reporting in differentiated classrooms: How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed Ability Classrooms by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Fair Isn’t Always Equal by Rick Wormeli.