A high school principal recently lamented to me that many of his students’ grades are cratering during this time of distance learning. Much of the problem, he observes, is coming from classes whose grades are calculated using points.
Work is assigned, work is not received, and the work gets a zero in the grade book. After that, it’s out of the teacher’s hands. Simple math takes over. Average up the points. Out spits the failing grade.
Keeping our students engaged when we can’t serve them in person has, understandably, proven a challenge. Around the country, teachers are Zooming real hard and feeling disappointed by what they are getting back from students in return. But that problem is compounded by points-based grading systems, which the pandemic has exposed as a pervasive practice in our schools.
Where I see a course that organizes itself around points and percentages, I usually find a learning environment in which the teacher and the students do not share clear answers to simple questions of purpose: What are our learning goals? What are the skills we are focused on improving? What are the ways that students can demonstrate their progress?
Two principles of ELP’s High-Quality Performance Assessment (HQPA) framework are particularly germane here: 1) tight on criteria for success and 2) open to different learner approaches. In a course that is rooted in HQPA, students can describe what success looks like with words, not numbers. And the teacher can point out different paths to success. In such a course, there is no reason why a student cannot, in a single, convincing performance of the targeted skills, redeem a whole semester’s worth of struggle.
If there’s one educational practice that I wish this pandemic would eradicate, it is the use of points for calculating course grades. Its disappearance would be a major advance toward an educational system where assessment is for learning, not for sorting.
With respect and gratitude for the work of educators everywhere,