Effective Grading Practices

This blog does receive comments on Facebook but it is rare when people directly post their comments on this blog. The blog received one comment last night and I would like to share the first two paragraphs of that comment:
"The Philippine government doesn't want the citizens knowing how far behind the rest of the world their educational system is. The last time Philippines took international tests that I am aware of was 2003, with their fourth graders scoring 358 against an international average of 495 in Math and 332 against an average of 439 in science. There is a lot of false pride instilled in the students with celebrations, ribbons, balloons, and downright delusional thinking. My sister in law was a highly decorated student, representing her school in regional mass communications events. She didn't know Philippines was #3 in the world for murdered journalists nor the corrupt practices in Philippines where journalists take bribes to write the exact opposite of the truth in their articles. She scored roughly half the cut-off on the SASE for admission to MSU-IIT, and not one student from her school qualified. 
Her teachers were frankly her worst enemies, filling her head with fairy tales about how bright their futures were, how the teachers should be worshiped for equipping them with this magic potion called "education". All you have to do is be present. The students are booted out the door after more than a decade of appallingly poor education, and the teachers could not care less what happens to them. If they did, then the students would be told their place on international measures of achievement and they would instill an urgent work ethic in catching up to the rest of the world. But instead it's "party, party, party, three cheers for how great we are!"."
Ken O'Connor, an independent consultant, has been working for over a decade now on issues concerning grading and how in general we must communicate with both students and parents about achievements in school. In the following short video, Ken O'Connor emphasizes four conditions that need to be met for effective grading practices.

The four conditions are: Grading must be
  1. consistent
  2. accurate
  3. meaningful
  4. supportive of learning
Every week my son brings home a folder that contains the things he had been working on as well as a sheet from the team of teachers teaching his class that narrates what is happening in the classroom during the week. At the end of this sheet is actually a quiz for the parent. Below is the quiz for this week.

The first part is a quiz. The first three questions can be addressed and answered correctly by any parent who has read the summary for the week. However, the fourth question cannot be answered without help from my son. I need to ask my son to find out the answer. That is how I got "Patrick Henry". The last part is a weekly check-in showing how my son's teacher rates my son's performance during the week. It is about "classwork" and "behavior". In this grading, 4 is highest and 1 is lowest. 

In my son's school and throughout Fairfax county, elementary students receive information regarding their performance in class with the following measures:

In middle and high school, Fairfax county adopts a much more common grading scale that is now based on tests and projects. For instance, in middle school, the following is a description of what is found in a student's progress report:
Quarterly Progress Reports 
A. Progress reports reflect student learning based on identified standards of knowledge and competencies included in the curriculum. The grading symbols for academic achievement are A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D+, D, and F. Progress reports should separate achievement from responsibility and/or work habits. Teacher-assigned homework may be part of the academic grade. 
B. Throughout the quarter grading periods, teachers will maintain a record of student progress using various assessments. All students will be graded on achievement after sufficient instruction, feedback, and practice have been provided. Final grades reflect the mastery level at the end of the regular school year. Final grades include averaging results of assessments along with professional judgment based on the student’s overall pattern of progress throughout the school year. 
At the moment, the county is in fact examining its grading policy for grades 6-12. The main questions are:
  • Do grades represent a student’s achievement or their work habits?
  • Does the way grades are calculated result in misrepresentation of student achievement?
  • Do grading practices encourage students to be persistent in achieving mastery?
Clearly, these questions essentially contain the four conditions given by Ken O'Connor: consistency, accuracy, meaningful and supportive. Hanover Research had examined current grading practices in middle school and high schools in the US. They found that with regard to the accuracy of grading, the following causes problems:
  • Grading for Behavioral Issues
  • Incorporating Teacher Expectations and Judgments into Grades 
  • Using Zeroes as a Punishment 
  • Using a Points System and Averages 
  • Grading Homework and Other Formative Assignments 
  • Grading on a Curve 
  • Allowing Extra Credit
Clearly, behavioral issues should be separate for these do not inform us of how much a student has learned. In the Philippines, DepEd's K to 12 maintains "participation" as part of a student's academic grade:

Above copied from DepEd Order No. 73, s. 2012

"Participating voluntarily, actively, enthusiastically" and having "consideration for the feelings/opinions of others" are obviously not measures of student learning. These are behaviors.

The most accessed or viewed article on this blog is DepEd's K to 12 New Grading System. I am not sure why this is the case. Seeing the paragraph below from O'Connor's webpage makes me wonder:
With considerable regret, I have decided to remove the ability to post questions about grading issues on this website. I am doing this because I am overwhelmed by the number of questions that are simply about calculating grades. This happens continually despite the clear statement in red on the "Ask the Grade Doctor" page - "The purpose of "Ask the Grade Doctor" is to answer substantive questions about grading and reporting philosophy, policy, procedures, and practices. I will not answer questions that are only about the calculation of grades. Please do not post this type of question."
That is why I appreciate the comment I received which I shared at the beginning of this article. Our reflections on basic education must really navigate substantial and not superficial issues.