I consider myself to be fortunate enough to teach at a school that did away with traditional letter/percentage grades last spring in favor of a progress report. The administrators realized that we would not be measuring true ability in the subject matter but would instead be assessing things like the students’ ability to work successfully in the remote setting, stability of their home life, access to electronic devices and reliable Wi-Fi, and other issues of inequity that hinder academic performance.
That all changed when I came back in August to teach in a hybrid/remote setting. The feedback the administration had received was that parents wanted the school to return to traditional grades. The spring progress report was OUT and the old letter/percentage report card was back IN (Let me digress for a moment to say how disappointed I was in this decision, because my assumption is that those parents whose feedback we decided to honor are those whose children don’t have many equity issues with remote learning. Education is full of instances of nice white parents calling the shots).
Since I was now responsible for supplying a letter grade, I had to figure out what and how to assess both accurately and equitably but also design activities and tasks that limited student dishonesty. I’ll talk about both of those in the remainder of this post. First, I will talk about the day-to-day grades that students earned in class and then I will describe how I calculated final quarter averages.
Here’s a list, in no particular order, of how I approached my day-to-day grades:
- I counted as many grades as possible for completion only (Completed/Missing).
- I counted as many graded activities as possible as formative assessments.
- I used Google Forms in Locked mode for quick assessments, because students couldn’t click out of the form until it was completed (FYI, this is only available on managed devices supplied by the school).
- I had students take assessment online using quiz sites like Quizizz and EdPuzzle (Other teachers have used similar sites like Textivate and Go Formative).
- I set up assignments in Voces Digital so that students couldn’t click out of the page they were in until they had submitted their work.
- I saved all texts as an image before I uploaded them so students couldn’t easily cut/paste it into a translation program.
- I recorded myself speaking in the target language, which I then uploaded to Padlet and Flipgrid for students to respond to.
- I uploaded Google Slides presentations to Pear Deck with embedded questions that students answered in real time.
As the quarter ended, I thought long and hard about how to report grades on student report cards. Here is how I calculated students’ letter grades:
- My three summative scores counted for 60% of my students’ grade. They consisted of one reading assessment loosely based on the Interpretive Reading section of the AAPPL test completed on a locked Chromebook and two self-reflection score sheets (one at the midpoint and one at the end of the quarter) asking students to comment on their classroom engagement and language proficiency gains.
- My graded formative scores counted for 40% of my students’ grade. Those scores came from any graded assignment that would be difficult for students to do dishonestly. Most of those came from Voces Digital, Edpuzzle, Flipgrid, or Google Forms in locked mode.
- I did NOT put zeroes in my gradebook for missing assignments. If students had twenty grades but only submitted fifteen assignments, I calculated their grade out of those fifteen that they did, and then I described their work ethic (or lack thereof) in the comments section of the report card.
At first I was skeptical about how accurately this would reflect student performance, but it turns out that almost none of those students with multiple missing assignments ended up getting an “A” for the quarter, for two reasons. First, their lack of consistent practice made it more difficult for them to score well on the reading assessment and on graded formative assignments that they did turn in. Second, when faced with questions about their own work habits and proficiency development on the self-reflection score sheets, students had no choice but to assess their ability and practice accurately as lower than those of their classmates who were working consistently. When I explained this to students and parents, I used a sports analogy. Students on a track team who train consistently are usually going to outperform those students who don’t practice regularly and/or improve their overall personal time. Language proficiency is no different.
Can I say that my assessments and final grades are 100% accurate in measuring student performance and growth? No, of course not. If students want to cheat, they will certainly find a way to do it. But I have definitely tried to make it as difficult as possible for them to be able to. I also can’t say that I was able to make my quarter grades 100% equitable because so much is beyond my control (student attendance, home environment, and so on), but I am doing all I can to be fair. And while I would prefer not having to give letter grades at all, I’m doing my best so that the grades students earn reflect their honest ability in the language spite of inequities they may be dealing with outside of my class.