The Problem with Points and Averaged Grades


Recently, I have been getting into the blog Grading for Growth. The blog is about alternative grading, which I believe can be incredibly useful in bilingual education.

In short (though I suggest you read the blog), alternative grading focuses on feedback over grades.

For bilingual students battling numerous challenges when learning through a non-dominant language, this feedback can help direct them toward what matters most for their development.

But beyond this, alternative grading offers teachers better quality data about their students’ progress.

If I told you Student A received an 85 on an essay explaining the water cycle, would you know how to help this student? No—because the number is meaningless.

But numerical points can also be misleading at the end of a term as well if you average them. Robert Talbert at the Grading for Growth blog shows why this is problematic:

Suppose Alice and Bob are taking a class that uses three 100-point exams. Alice’s grades on these are 0, 80, and 100. Bob’s grade are 60, 60, and 60. Both students have the same average: 60. The average is computable, but what does it mean? It’s supposed to be a measure of central tendency, but it’s clear that the same average doesn’t mean the same thing for both students. If we interpret the grades categorically — 90-100 is “excellent”, 80-90 is “good”, 70-80 is “OK”, 60-70 is “not good”, and below 60 is “not acceptable” — then both students are “not good” on average. But 2/3 of Alice’s individual grades are “good” or “excellent” whereas all of Bob’s work is “not good”. Averaging destroys the categorical meaning of the original data. (SOURCE: Grading for Growth)

One of the biggest concerns of bilingual educators is whether teaching bilingually will affect student outcomes (i.e., poorer outcomes compared with dominant-language-only instruction). But as the example above shows, comparing using traditional grading systems may be challenging due to faulty data.

Therefore, to ensure bilingual students succeed, I suggest we look more toward alternative grading approaches where students are told whether they achieved the outcome rather than through points. For more on what this could look like, I highly recommend the Grading for Growth blog or the first book I read on the topic, Robert Marzano’s Formative Assessment & Standards-Based Grading.

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