Schools have policies to insure that students are treated fairly and have similar expectations across all courses. These policies are critical to ensure student achievement and graduation rates continue to improve. If a school district wanted to change one thing that would have a drastic and immediate effect on failure rate, they could revise their grading policy (Reeves, 2008). Currently, grading practices vary greatly among teachers in the same school, teaching the same subject to the same grade. Surprisingly, practices that are supported by research are rarely seen in the classroom (Reeves, 2008).
There are three grading practices that are so ineffective they are detrimental to student achievement. First is the use of zeros for missing work (Reeves, 2008). Research shows that using grades as punishment does not work and the use of a zero on a 100-point scale causes a drastic grade shift (Reeves, 2008). Teachers defend the use of zeros by claiming students need to have consequences for failing to turn in work on time, however there is a better way to handle missing work; have the students complete the work (Reeves, 2008).
The second harmful grading practice is averaging all scores throughout the semester to produce a final grade. This practice makes an assumption about learning that is incorrect; it assumes that the learning early in the course is as important as the learning at the end of the course (Reeves, 2008). This practice also does not reflect learning in life, we are constantly working toward improvement and our previous failures do not harm us, they were learning tools. In some types of courses, teachers already understand this important practice. Teachers in the arts allow students to create a portfolio to show their best work (Reeves, 2008). These teachers understand that previous failures should not be averaged into the final grade; they were learning points where the teacher provided constructive feedback to the student resulting in better quality work later on.
The final toxic grading practice seen in our schools is the use of the “semester killer”, which is that single project, test, paper, or other assignment that has the ability to make or break a students final grade (Reeves, 2008). This practice puts a semesters worth of work at risk based solely on a single project. If a student has make remarkable gains in learning throughout the semester and then does not do well on the final project, do they really deserve to fail?
Two of the most common causes of course failure are missing homework and poor performance on a single major assignment (Reeves, 2008). Changing grading policies and enforcing those policies so that all teachers are using the same grading policies could reduce the number of failures. The benefits of effective grading are not limited to a reduction in failure rates. When failures decrease, student behavior improves, faculty morale improves, and resources that were allocated for remedial, course completion, and summer school are freed up to be used for other school needs (Reeves, 2008).
Reeves, D.B. (2008). Leading to change – Effective grading practices. Teaching Students to Think. (65)5, 85-87. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb08/vol65/num05/Effective-Grading-Practices.aspx