One of the nice things about my new job is the freedom I have to do things my way. At my last job, my Department Head dictated how and what we would grade. At first I didn’t have a problem with calculating a grade in which I assessed homework, participation, quizzes and tests at certain percentages. But as time went on and I read more about Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and comprehensible input (CI) practices, I started to have issues with my department’s grading practices.
First of all, I felt that grading participation (based on students volunteering to answer questions) was unfair to quiet kids. I had many shy students who did not ever raise a hand to answer questions in class, so their participation grade was unusually low. I came to the realization that this just wasn’t fair. Some students, no matter what, would rather do anything besides raise their hands to answer a question, and I felt that they should not be penalized for their very nature. Second, I stopped giving high-stakes tests, which meant I was not using the testing percentage at all. This put unfair weight on other grading categories. And finally, I disliked the fact that students could fail all assessments but could end up passing the class if they had an A in both homework and participation, and, alternatively, that students who got an A on all assessments could end up with a C or even lower if they had a low participation and homework grade. All in all, the grade students got in my class was not a reflection of how well they could use speak, write, understand, or read the target language (TL).
Then I met a Spanish teacher at a conference who had four categories in his grade book, which were listening, writing, speaking, and reading. All categories were worth 25%. At first I thought that this sounded like a fantastic way to grade in a language class. But after I had some time to think about this setup, and I realized that there were a few flaws in that system. First of all, some activities done in class could encompass two grading categories, such as an activi listening and writing. In that case, in which category would that assignment belong? Would I just have to pick one or would I count it twice, once in each category? Second, assessing speaking is a long process, because a teacher needs to have a conversation with EVERY student in class. With a large class, this might take up to three days. Chances are, I would only be able to assess speaking once a quarter, which means that 25% of a student’s grade would be based on one assessment. That just isn’t fair or valid.
So after spending some time thinking and reading blog posts about grading, I decided to simplify things. Currently I only have two grading categories in my grade book, formative and summative assessments. Formative assessments refer to those daily, ongoing assessments I give to check for comprehension. Sometimes it is a homework assignment. Other times it is a quick “pop” quiz with five True/False questions about the topic we happened to be discussing in class that day. Sometimes it is a timed writing to see how many words a student can write in five minutes. Summative assessments refer to longer assessments, usually at the end of a unit. Sometimes it is part of a project we are working on or a free write that students have time to edit, rewrite, and resubmit. Other times it is a “pop” test when we are done with a unit.
In addition, all quizzes and tests, either formative or summative, are unannounced. I do this because I want to assess what they have acquired and not what they can quickly memorize and forget once the assessment is over. I have also found that the element of surprise also helps keep my students focused in class, because they never know when an assessment will be given.
And lastly, I operate based on what is called the 80-80 rule. I do not put a grade in my grade book unless 80% of the class scores at least 80% on the assessment. If more than 20% of the class can’t perform well on the assessment, it tells me that I have not done my job correctly and that my students don’t have enough input to perform the task at hand. So when that happens, I go back, reteach, and assess again according to the 80-80 rule.
In addition, I have completely done away with grades for homework and participation. I want my students’ grade to reflect how well they can handle the language. I do not want to assess their work habits or willingness to answer questions, because that is not part of acquiring language.
At my last department meeting I learned that my new district may be moving away from traditional grading practices. For World Language, this means the possibility of grading our students using the ACTFL Proficiency Scale. I’m excited to go that route, because then will we truly be assessing language proficiency. I’ll let you know how it goes.