Sunday, 4 November 2012

What do numeric grades really tell us?

This past week, I attended ECOO 2012, which is a conference in Ontario regarding technology in the classroom.  Not all of the sessions focus on technology, though.  I attended one session that didn't focus on technology, but rather on student assessment.  The speaker was Scott Kemp, an English teacher in the Wateroo Region District School Board.
I found Scott's session to be informative and challenging.  It informed me of a way to more authentically evaluate my students' work and it challenged me to think about how I can change my grading practices.  Before the session I had been doing some thinking about how superficial specific grades are.  What is the difference between 81% and 82%?  What does an 82% paper have that an 81% paper doesn't?
I think that numeric marking is here to stay, but in Ontario, we only need to give numeric marks twice a semester (midterm and final).  My goal for second semester (I don't feel comfortable starting a new way of grading in the middle of the semester) is to focus on providing students with useful feedback, but no number grade.  Like Scott, I will provide a numeric grade only at the required times, and the numbers will only be in increments of 5% (ie. 75%, 80%, 85%).  I plan on documenting my students' work more thoroughly, especially through the use of teacher-student conferences.
I am not putting these new (to me) ideas on complete hold until second semester.  This week end, I was marking Grade Nine English ISU assignments.  I focused on providing useful feedback and I looked at the rubric and assigned a grade based on where most of the check marks fell and I only used increments of 5%.  Additionally, my Grade Twelve History class is starting on a presentation task tomorrow.  I created a "checklist" to guide my student-teacher conferences, as a way to keep track of the formative feedback I will give the students while working on the presentations.
How are you evaluating your students' tasks?  What are your thoughts about numeric grades?  Do you think it is possible to get rid of numeric grades completely?

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