Grading for Learning

Amber has been using formative assessment in her classes at Dansville High School for the last two years. More of her “journey” with formative and summative assessment is told at Amber’s Story. Sean has comments on grading too - scroll down to read his thoughts.

Amber’s comments and resources:
"You cannot talk about formative and summative assessment and not have the issue of grading come into the picture. We cannot get away from giving grades but we can change the way we use it in our classrooms. We can change the effect grading has on our students. We can do “grading" better.

The change from “assessment OF learning” to “assessment FOR learning” was a huge change for me and I, of course, felt apprehensive and nervous that it was going to blow up in my face. Not grading any formative assessments (quizzes, homework, writing pieces, group work) and only grading summative assessments was a huge philosophy shift. However, by allowing students to retake standards (topics) they had missed on a summative assessment to increase their scores, this new method of assessment increased success because it forced students to go back and keep relearning information they missed the first go around.

I probably should go back and explain some of the first things that hit me about this subject. Carole Commodore brought up the question of “what does a grade mean?” When you really sit down and think about it, isn’t a grade supposed to mean what a student knows about a subject…for example, a B in Algebra II should mean a student knows and can apply 83-86% of the content. However, my grades had been inflated by homework completion and participation being worth a good percentage of the grade. This resulted in two common scenarios – a student would pass my grade with a C (for example) when deep down I knew they would not be able to do much past the very basic material. Because they knew how to play the game of school and turn in work on time, their grade (their reflection of content knowledge) was inflated. The other scenario that would happen would be that I would have a student pass with a C but deep down I knew that they understood and could apply all the content we covered and even beyond. In light of what a grade should mean then, the first student should receive an F or a D (because of their true demonstration of content knowledge) and the second student should receive an A. However, because I was counting non-content material as part of their grade each student passed with an inaccurate score due to their ability to comply (or not comply) with the game of school. This discrepancy had already bothered me many times when giving final grades at the end of a semester so when a new approach of assessment was brought forward in that conference, it piqued my curiosity and started me on a professional learning and teaching journey that I will never backtrack on. It was shifting responsibility of learning back on the student, and forcing the student to actually KNOW the information (which is the whole point of why we teach anyway!).

So, I will explain a little bit about where my grading stands right now (this is an area where I know things are not perfect and I am reading, researching and tweaking the process every semester). The grade for my class is 90% summative assessment and 10% work habits (actually, our entire high school staff switched to these percentages for next year). In another year we would like our work habits grade to be separated completely out of the academic grade and have the academic grade be 100% summative assessment. When I grade either a formative assessment (those don’t really count, I just grade them to show the students where they are in the learning) or a summative assessment, each question is directly connected to one of the standards and each standard is given a score from 0-4 (0 = no learning, 1 = little learning, 2 = in process, 3 = proficient, 4 = could teach others)."

View Amber's narrated video to see how she uses her grading and recording forms. Open up these four documents to follow along - the documents are a little fuzzy in the video.
Rubric for Scoring Summative Assessments.doc
Algebra II Behavior and Participation Rubric.doc
Rubric Graph.doc
Rubric Work Habits.doc

View Amber's videos of what two students and a parent like about formative assessment and Dansville's new approach to grading. Open these movies in Windows Media Player (if you're on Windows).

Sean's comments:
I have had the most success with formative assessment in situations that were either not graded at all (junior high summer school) or the grade was based solely on an exit exam (after school Algebra 1 retake). The fact that neither of these situations involved grading made a change in how students completed day-to-day work: Nearly every student completed it all. The focus of those courses was very clearly about each student’s progress towards a clearly defined learning target. The assignments were turned in only to get feedback about how they were doing and how they could improve. For students who did well the first time it was nice to be able to push with more in-depth questions and for those who did not, we really focused on what they needed help with. The lack of grades helped to make the program about learning.

I am struggling with how to move these successes into an everyday classroom experience. We have certain things that are given: we need to turn in grades for students; the students need to get grades on at least a weekly basis. Several members of my school have used different processes to work around the grade issue. One colleague issues grades but does not tell the student on their paper so the focus is still on feedback. One colleague allows infinite retakes. These teachers found that the existence of grades lessened the impact of feedback and the focus was on earning points instead of improvement. We have begun to look at other methods to compute grades including trend lines but for now we are still in the process of developing and improving ideas.

Do one or more of the following, depending on how much credit you're working toward:

Read at least one resource (see below) about grading within the formative assessment processes. Give an explanation of what makes up your current grade. Explain what you would change for next year based on what you’re reading. Write a letter to your students and their parents that explains the new grading system.

Write a reflection in the discussion tab about how the ideas expressed by Amber or Sean could be used in your classroom, how they might affect student learning, and what implications there might be across your school.

Read appropriate chapters from any of the resource books below, then write a reflection in the discussion tab on how this book has impacted your view of grading in your own classroom. Include at least one thing that you will change about your grading practices based on the information that you have learned.

On the discussion tab, describe in detail your current grading practices. Decide on 2-3 things that you will change based on the information you have read and learned, and explain those, including a concrete example if possible. Provide reasons for why you want to make these changes.

On the discussion tab, write about your own history with grading, the changes you've made over the years (or your school has made), what effect they've had on students and teachers, and what you might to change in the future.

Or write a defense of the current grading practices in your school and why you shouldn't change them. Consider students, parents, college admission, competition among students, etc. in your discussion.

Resource Books:
Chapters Nine and Ten in the book Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing it Right – Using it Well by Rick Stiggins, Judith Arter, Jan Chappuis and Steve Chappuis (

Chapters Three, Five and Six in Formative Assessment and Standards Based Grading by Robert Marzano (

A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor (Assessment Training Institute)