Such an annoying question, right? And yet, many teachers succumb. They find or create something the student can do to earn a few extra points. Especially when those points are the difference between and F and a D.
No teacher wants her students to fail.
But how did we get here in the first place?
There is no reason for students to earn Fs—or even Ds in a class. I mean , really, why do kids ever fail a class?
Is it truly because they are not capable?
If that’s the case, then there’s a system problem — a need for interventions, guidance,etc.
But, for the most part, any student sitting in your classroom is capable of earning a passing grade and of mastering what is deemed ESSENTIAL for the course.
They may not all excel, but they can and should all pass… And extra credit need not play any role.
If you haven’t already, do not give scores lower than 50. Or, if you prefer, use a 0-50 point scale.
That simply keeps the grading scale aligned.
The zero-100 scale is flawed:
A= 90-100 (10 point range)
B=80-89 (9 point range)
C= 70-79 (9 point range_
D= 60-69 (9 point range)
F= 0-59 (59 point range)
(See Monte Syrie’s discussion of the harmfulness of this scale here.)
Of course, if you want to keep the 0-100, that’s fine, but only if you insist on multiple retakes until the student reaches the desired level of proficiency. (See #3 Below)
Have you heard the one about the parachute operator? Let’s say you’re going skydiving and you have your choice of two instructors to jump with you. They both received a B in parachute opening. Instructor Jamie did really well at the beginning of class, folding the parachute correctly and doing well on quizzes about the parachute. As time went by, his grades dropped when it became clear that he couldn’t open the parachute quickly. Instructor Jody did really poorly on those early folding and multiple choice quizzes, but toward the end of the course could demonstrate her proficiency in opening the darn thing. Both averaged a B. Which one do you choose?
In my work, we’ve used a Decaying Average so that the later grades carry more weight. There are other options, including a Power Law or Replacing Grades. Erin Werra describes all three better than I can in this post.
Better yet, insist on retakes below a certain score. You can apply this to everyone so that anyone with X score has to retake it. You can also allow students to individually determine their lowest acceptable grade—with your blessing and, perhaps, with a parent notification form.
This is a shift and there will be grumbling from students (who might prefer to just ask for that dreaded extra credit later.)
Here’s a script:
In this class, it’s not okay to fail. We are working on very important skills and concepts. I wouldn’t be doing my job if any of you failed.
However, you all come to this class with different levels of skill, enthusiasm, etc. So, while it would be great if everyone got an A, that might not be reasonable —or even in your best interests if you need to conserve time and effort for some other classes.
Therefore, I want everyone to share with me your highest desired grade, the lowest you can deal with and your expectation ( a best case scenario, a worst-case scenario and a realistic expectation).
I’d also like you to share why you have this grade goal. Might be something like:
As your teacher, I simply cannot accept Ds and Fs. Luckily for you, we have a retake policy in this class. Anyone who scores below our Desired Level of Proficiency on a major assessment will have the opportunity to earn the DLP by retaking or redoing some or all of the assessment (or an alternate assessment). I have some guidelines about when, where and how that will happen.
EXTRA CREDIT Is just that..
Don’t do it! Don’t have them do some throwaway extra something that neither of you cares about. Instead, have them prove that they can do what’s necessary.
Listen, extra credit is additional time, work and energy for you and for your students. So are retakes. Which one makes more sense?Read More
Yes, they should.
But we all know that they don’t. In fact, many hate it.
By high school, many students have become disenagaged. And we’re losing some really bright minds along the way.
My friend Kelly and I have talked many times over the years about her son, Jake. For years now, Kelly has been frustrated—wondering how to support this boy she loves so much. Parent teacher conferences focus on what a great kid Jake is—how articulate he is, how full of enthusiasm about the stuff he loves. However…there’s the issue of not completing homework. And losing papers. And indecipherable handwriting. And occasional distractedness.
So, Kelly asked me. What should we do? Should we get him a tutor? A peer mentor who will help him create better homework habits?
Here’s how I see Jake. This is a kid who, at age 8, devised a trap for Santa. Wanting to get a glimpse of the elusive fat man, Jake created an elaborate trap with trip wires and bells. (It would have worked, too, if someone hadn’t tipped off Mr. Claus at the last moment.)
This is a kid who spends hours, days, months focused on projects that often involve digging up the yard and rigging contraptions. He contemplates problems and devises solutions. He’s curious and visionary. He tries, fails, learns and tries again.
And his grades are pretty lousy.
Does that add up?
So, what I told Kelly is this. If it’s a choice between better grades and his enthusiasm, joy, curiosity and creativity….well, the choice is clear, isn’t it?
This shouldn’t be a choice.
That doesn’t mean that kids don’t need to practice or that they don’t need to do work or thinking beyond the school day. Often, they do. But not always. Experiment with ways to balance practice, skill development and responsibility. Middle school math teacher Michelle Russell ended up doing this. What will you do differently?
…including the above-mentioned homework. While some may think they are better suited for elementary school, the truth is they work at all levels. I’ve worked with HS teachers to create summer reading choice boards (that included options for watching videos, listening to podcasts or audiobooks as well as space for student-created options). I’ve also used choice boards when creating professional development opportunities for teachers!
Kasey Bell shared some choice board ideas on her site, Shake Up Learning.
Here’s my Smiley Face Self-Assessment. Don’t be fooled by the name—this isn’t just for young learners. A colleague adapted this for use with his AP Physics classes—with great success.
Ask for feedback about projects, assignments, their child’s response. (I included a more detailed, teacher-facing overview template in my last post.)
Why do you do this work? Why do you teach? What do you want your legacy to be?
Here are some hints:
YOU are preparing students for a future you cannot fully imagine or appreciate. Therefore, YOU need to create the conditions where they will learn how to learn. YOU have complete control over whether students are cognitively engaged, thinking hard and working with enthusiasm.
For more thoughts about this, see the awesome Catlin Tucker’s post about Articulating your Why
All kids can love school. All kids can learn deeply and joyfully every day. So can you
*Names have been changedRead More
In theory, most educators likely agree with the philosophy behind Mastery Learning—that there are specific standards that matter most in each course and that our goal is to make sure that each student truly masters, or reaches proficiency, on those standards.
Yet, once we move the the details of how it works, sticking points arise.
In my experience, one of the biggest was coming to agreement on the idea of “sufficient opportunity to demonstrate proficiency”. Teachers, understandably, worried about the following:
1. If students know that they can keep trying, they won’t put effort in the first time around. i.e, they won’t study hard for test on Tuesday, knowing they can just make it up on Friday.
2. Teachers will be inundated with creating multiple versions of tests in order to allow for retakes and THEN, they will have to correct all of those.
Here’s how I would address those reasonable concerns. (I would love to hear others’ thoughts.)
I do think the first concern is somewhat unfounded. Most students don’t want to keep taking the same, or similar, assessments over and over again. However, we do want to make sure that retakes aren’t just for getting a better grade, but are an opportunity to show mastery of important standards.
Therefore, I recommend using a RETAKE TICKET.
a. It puts ownership on the student. As she reflects on her learning, she has to articulate where she’s having trouble and what she, in partnership with the teacher, can do about it.
b. It connects teacher, student and parent. Including space for parent comments and not just a signature brings the parent into the conversation about the student’s learning.
The second concern, the one that reasonably worries about teachers’ time to create additional assessments, is valid. Here are my thoughts:
1. Only have students redo work that was sub-par. If a test was designed to assess proficiency on standards 1, 2, and 3 and the student demonstrated proficiency in standards 1 and 2, then he/she now only needs to demonstrate proficiency on that 3rd standard.
2. Use the same test. At my children’s school, students are required to do “test corrections” after math assessments. It’s a wonderful practice because it forces students to reflect on what they know and don’t, where and why they made errors, and how to come at a problem differently in order to solve it correctly. Currently, “test corrections” is its own grading category, counting for far less than assessments in calculating a final grade. I would recommend simply replacing assessment grades when test corrections show proficiency.
3. Put a “hold” on the grade. Make it clear that the original assessment grade will be adjusted once the student demonstrates proficiency. That might be done via test corrections or at the next point of assessment.
A couple of other points about retakes. I know some teachers and schools set a cut-off grade for retakes. For example, a student who scores an 80 or better cannot retake the test. I don’t get this. Yes, we want to avoid grade-grubbing (and in my perfect world, we wouldn’t use traditional grades), but if a student wants to go deeper, self-correct, get better—then by all means let him or her. In using the retake sheet and comments, we can see if the student’s motives are about true learning. If not, that’s fodder for a conversation—but not a reason to not allow.
Also, I can hear teachers saying, What about the kid who always needs a retake? Well, this is the same problem you would have if you didn’t allow retakes—the kid who is failing class. It’s time for a conversation with student, parent and, perhaps, a learning specialist to begin to figure out why the student is either not learning or not performing.
Really, these are just steps along the way to shifting mindsets—of students and educators. Mastery learning is a mindset, not just a set of strategies that tinker around the edges of the old system. However, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And using retake sheets is as good a step as any.
P.S. Another way to shift the burden from teachers to students is to have students self-assess. That’s another post 🙂Read More
David Aderhold, a superintendent in New Jersey recently put an end to HS mid-term and final exams in a well-intentioned attempt to ease pressure on increasingly anxious kids–pressure also discussed in this recent NY Times opinion piece and the film Race to Nowhere.
Aderhold’s decision led to a vigorous debate in his community–with one side firmly standing with the superintendent, led by concern about their children’s mental health. Those on the other side worried that the superintendent was dumbing down education.
It’s possible that neither side is completely right or wrong and that there’s a way to satisfy both camps: standards-based learning (and grading).
What we really want to do is focus on learning, not grades. At the same time, we want to ensure that what kids are learning and how they demonstrate that learning is rigorous and prepares them to take on deeper and tougher material as they proceed through high school and beyond. Done right, SBL satisfies both sides. It takes away the singular focus on grades and GPA and it provides a rigorous pathway.
Using SBL, courses have clear standards–what students must know and be able to do to prove that they have successfully completed a course. Instead, each of the course’s power standards are clearly unpacked, so that any teacher teaching the course, any student learning in the course and any parent what mastery looks like, what approaching mastery looks like, and what it looks like to exceed mastery. It’s then up to the learning community to support students to reach for mastery and beyond, while supporting students who struggle by clearly showing what’s needed to get to the next level.*
Getting to SBL takes time and work and consensus building as it’s a change from what we’ve always done. I truly hope we’ll all get there someday, but until then, I have a few suggestions for schools who want to both ease pressure and promote rigor.
It is actually possible to have kids love rigorous learning. SBL could well be a key.Read More