Several years ago, two public schools in Michigan became teacher-powered—meaning, teachers have the autonomy to make decisions about what goes on with school operations. After that transition, one of the main areas the educators reevaluated was grading.
Typically, teachers spend hours outside of school grading assignments. What would happen if that task was outsourced?
According to Sarah and Dan Giddings, two (married) teachers in Ann Arbor, Mich., who teach at two different teacher-powered schools within the Washtenaw Educational Options Consortium, removing grading from teachers’ list of responsibilities can free teachers up to focus on designing the curriculum and creating meaningful relationships with students.
The concept is not uncommon in higher education—in 2011, the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote about a handful of institutions that turned over their grading to independent assessors or even computers—but it’s rarely seen in K-12. Education Week Teacher spoke to Sarah and Dan about how and why their schools outsource grading.
Dan is the International Baccalaureate coordinator and the lead teacher at Washtenaw International High School (WIHI), an IB diploma program school. His school has about 10 graduate students on staff who help in the classroom, take on substitute duties, and assist with grading. Similar to how teaching assistants help university professors, WIHI grad assistants will grade a stack of math quizzes, for example.
Sarah is the curriculum coordinator, adviser, and instructor at the Washtenaw Alliance for Virtual Education, an alternative high school (that is not completely virtual). Her school’s grading system, which the teachers designed and set aside money for, is a bit more unique: Pay non-WAVE teachers in the county an hourly rate to grade WAVE students’ work.
“It’s amazing how many more teachers are up for grading students’ work when they’re being paid for it,” Sarah said. And, she added, it helps the classroom teachers prioritize student relationships, lesson plans, and curriculum.
Dan and Sarah both taught previously at traditional schools, where they said they would spend hours grading at night. Now, Dan has the option to earn extra money by grading Sarah’s students, and Sarah can focus on one-on-one tutoring sessions, evening phone calls with students, or even home visits.
“We’re still spending the same amount of time [working], but I’m focusing more on relationships and social-emotional learning,” she said.
WAVE has about 10 online graders who are all certified teachers in Michigan. They teach at other schools in the county or work part-time.
Sarah said some students were initially hesitant with the system, with some saying they didn’t want to submit their essays or work to someone they didn’t have a relationship with. But these are not faceless names—WAVE has videos and bios of all the graders, and they’re willing to video-chat, text, or speak on the phone to students.
The outside graders at both WAVE and WIHI are expected to match the rubric, which is developed by the teachers at the schools. Sarah said outside grading provides a level of quality control.
“It’s much more unbiased ... You try really hard to be unbiased when you’re grading [as a teacher], but there’s always a measure of familiarity that sinks in,” she said. If you don’t know the student personally, “there’s a check of ‘I’m [an outside] person looking at this, and I really don’t think this student has mastered this concept.’”
And if students have a problem with or question about their grades, their classroom teachers can take a second look. Teachers stay abreast of students’ progress through periodic check-ins—WAVE also assigns a teacher to monitor students’ assessment and feedback.
Sarah and Dan both said that this model of grading has been successful, because it prioritizes the results of student achievement, rather than the work itself. Typically, teaching in an alternative school is rife with high stress and a high turnover rate, Sarah said, but “what we have done has led to a very happy staff.”
Still, Sarah and Dan both stress that their grading models are not one-size-fits-all, and may not work at every school.
“These are both systems that we as teachers helped develop and embrace because it frees up our time,” Sarah said. “We’re not interested in bottling this up and making it a model that people can buy.”
That’s the beauty, they said, of working in teacher-powered schools. Teachers are able to make the decisions about what works for them without miles of bureaucratic red tape. For more on that concept, Wendi Pillars wrote an opinion essay for Education Week Teacher about five takeaways from the recent Teacher-Powered Schools Conference.
A previous version of this post incorrectly said that WAVE’s online graders can be retired teachers; they cannot be.
Image via Getty
More on Grading:
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.