Teaching Opinion

Reconsidering End of Year Grading for Student Mastery

By Starr Sackstein — May 24, 2016 2 min read
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Traditional systems deem it necessary for teachers to “grade” students on their overall performance based on an average of different experiences and often a final exam. These scores are supposed to communicate learning from the entire year, essentially marking what they know now that they didn’t know is September.

But what if there is a better way?

Too often, teachers are expected to develop methods of determining final averages that are often an isolated experience of reviewing a grade book, tests and other means of points gathering like class participation, homework and project completion. If a student who has already achieved mastery doesn’t see the value in homework, a zero is added to their homework score, drastically reducing the average and blurring the actual communication of mastery learning.

There are better ways to assess student growth by including the students in the process.

Consider the following:

  • As a school, determine what mastery looks like at each level in each discipline and norm those standards as much as possible. Get student samples of agreed upon exemplars and share them with each other, adjusting regularly to set proper benchmarks until there is a school wide calibration. Make sure to share these exemplars with students so they know what the end goal is. If students surpass the level of mastery appropriate for the next year, challenge them with what comes next rather than allowing them to sit idol and bored or get them involved with class as an “expert” to help the teacher and show their mastery in terms of teaching what they know.
  • On-going regular reflection that requires students to self-assess against the standards. Use these reflections as a basis for future conversations about learning and goal setting to move each student forward. These reflections will develop over time and can be modified as needed to help them prepare for deeper looks at their learning.
  • Self-selected portfolios that show and connect learning across disciplines to really allow students to demonstrate a level of knowing for the teachers and administration. This is a great way to gather data as well for next year’s classes based on what is seen. Next year’s teachers can view the student work and can have a much better idea of how to pace classes based on need.
  • In addition to an eportfolio, students can engage in exit portfolio presentations and/or conferences with the teacher. These give students an additional opportunity to prepare and talk about what they’ve learned in an intentional way. Check out this assignment that prepares them for these end of year self-assessments: Preparingforfinalself-assessmentsdirection.pdf
  • Give students a say in how they present their learning. They should know by now how they best show what they know and allowing them the opportunity to choose shows a respect for their process and growth.

The more involved and authentic we make end of year assessment of learning, the more engaged the students will be in their learning all year. Ownership of one’s learning is an essential way of making learning more meaningful for each individual child and that’s what we must shoot for as much as we can.

How can you change your end of year assessment process to help students own their learning? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.