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- Teachers in the Iowa City school district are trying out a new grading method.
- Instead of asking students to earn points for homework and good behavior, the method grades students on how well they understand a concept.
- Liberty High School reports that students are motivated to do better, and the school has seen a decrease in D's and F's.
IOWA CITY — More students are finding success in the classroom at Iowa City schools as teachers move away from traditional grading practices.
About 40 educators in the district are studying and implementing a newer grading method called “Grading for Equity” created by Joe Feldman. The method is a form of standards-based grading that conveys student learning by focusing on growth. Equity in schools recognizes each student is different and might need different resources and opportunities to reach an equal outcome.
Liberty High School Principal Justin Colbert said there has been a decrease already in the overall number of D’s and F’s students earn, and it motivates students to strive to do better. Liberty High’s grading guidelines includes accepting late work with no substantial penalty, allowing students to redo an assessment, not considering attendance in grading and not calculating homework as more than 15 percent of the final grade.
Other recommended grading practices include not offering extra credit points and not including student behaviors in grades, but to use individual achievement in scores and make sure students understand how grades are determined.
This is a move away from traditional grading practices in the United States, which haven’t changed in about 150 years, Colbert said. Traditional grading practices sustain the opportunity gaps for historically marginalized students, he said.
Colbert is working toward his Ph.D. at the University of Iowa and writing his dissertation on equitable grading practices.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll see less failing grades within students of color — because we do have an opportunity gap there,” said Nick Proud, chief human resource officer for Iowa City schools. “We can close that gap by looking at our grading practices.”
The practice removes factors that could influence a students’ grade that have nothing to do with learning, such as earning extra credit points for bringing in a box of tissues for the classroom, Proud said. Teachers also are removing “grade killers” — “that one assignment worth a ton of points, and if you just didn’t do well you may have no way to get an A in that class,” he said.
“We’re getting away from kids chasing points to maintain a (grade-point average),” Proud said. “Time doesn’t need to be the greatest variable in a grade,” Proud said. “For me it doesn’t matter when a student learns something. It matters if they learned it.”
Sasha Murphy, a science teacher at Liberty High, said she was a skeptic of standards-based grading before trying it. “I would advocate people — whether it’s parents whose kids are in a class with this or teachers — give it a chance because it really surprised me,” she said. “I was coming in to it the word’s biggest skeptic.”
Instead of chasing points, students are asking what practice they can do to demonstrate a better understanding of the concept, Murphy said.
In physics class, for example, her students learn seven standards a trimester. For each of those standards, they have four opportunities to show their understanding and then Murphy averages the highest two scores. She also doesn’t grade homework.
Wendi Peterson, a math teacher at South East Junior High School, has a no homework policy because not every student has the same access to learning at home, she said. “My own children have access to a math teacher at home and their dad is a history professor,” she said.
In the past, students would get points for things like good behavior instead of showing understanding of the concept, Peterson said. Those expectations are often “very Eurocentric” and not very culturally inclusive. Being quiet, for example, is not something that’s expected in every culture, she said.
The move to equitable grading practices helps Peterson work one-on-one with students on what specific skills they need to improve. Giving them opportunities to relearn gives them a chance to demonstrate their learning later.
“Not everyone learns at the same rate,” Peterson said.
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