"Should Formative Assessments Be Graded?"

The former principal at Mason Crest Elementary School, Brian Butler, sent me a link to an article in Solution Tree that addressed the question, "Should formative assessments be graded?". It was an article written by a former school administrator, Tom Schimmer. I almost did not continue reading the article since it started with this response, "The short answer to this question is no." But I did continue and later in the article Schimmer changed the response to a maybe. Still, the article seemed to dwell unnecessarily on the difference between orthodox and reality. While citing that research had shown the importance of feedback supposedly in the absence of grades, Schimmer was trying to make the point: "With all of that said, classroom teachers don’t live in the orthodoxy of anything, and while there are important lessons and cues research has bestowed upon us, many of us have also learned that assessment is often context-dependent and nuanced." We often make things more complicated than they are when the simple answer to the question is: Yes, formative assessments should be graded properly.

Above copied from
Solution Tree Blog

Feedback is useful only when it informs. And there is no feedback if the work of a student is not graded. There are right and wrong answers in any assessment so if the work is not graded, how can a student possibly know if there is progress or none, if there is learning or none. This is what grading implies. Grades are communication tools. This is where the problem lies. Grades have become synonymous with accumulating points. This is illustrated in the following:

This is a sample record of grades for the second quarter in Grade 7 Honors Mathematics which can be viewed by a parent from the Student Information System of Fairfax County Public Schools. Homework and classwork are supposed to be formative assessments, but these grades are not reported promptly. In fact, these scores show up only when the quarter is about to end. Therefore, there is really no opportunity for a student to respond to these scores. What is likewise important to note is that in this particular case, the grades from formative assessments are evidently lower than those from summative assessments or tests. Since this class translates the use of grades in education as a mere accumulation of points, the final quarter grade is much lower than the grades obtained in the tests.

The effects of poor assessment in basic education are far-reaching. These students, if not completely discouraged by grading practices in basic education, can continue in college. And guess what. I will be seeing some of them, and they will be asking for points on homework, classwork, or even extra work for extra credit. Grading is not inherently bad. We need to communicate. Sadly, teachers in basic education have been using grades in an awful way....