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I Reject Your Reality: Project 180, Day 165


“Ironically, neither this narrower grade distribution nor a century of research and experience in scoring students’ writing seems to have improved the reliability of the percentage grades assigned by teachers. Recently, Hunter Brimi (2011) replicated Starch and Elliott’s 1912 study and attained almost identical results. Brimi asked 90 high school teachers²who had received nearly 20 hours of training in a writing 3 assessment program²to grade the same student paper on a 100-point percentage scale. Among the 73 teachers who responded, scores ranged from 50 to 96. And that’s among teachers who received specific professional development in writing assessment!

So even if one accepts the idea that there are truly 100 discernible levels of student writing performance, it’s clear that even well-trained teachers cannot distinguish among those different levels with much accuracy or consistency.”

–Thomas Guskey


As I begin to look ahead, I must look back. And as I look back, I begin to recall the myriad reasons I began Project 180 in the first place. And so, as the year continues to wind down and the Project prepares to pause, I will begin to reexamine some of the “why’s”of 180. I will present them in no particular order.

I Reject This #1: There exists no-real evidence to support traditional, percentage-based grading practices.

The Case Against Percentage Grades

It is what I have called education’s dirty little secret. And what’s sad is that it’s a lie that most educators unwittingly perpetuate because no one taught us differently. In truth, traditional percentage grades have been in play so long that few ever really question their effectiveness, and what’s more, in most cases, we simply use them because they were used on us.

Most outside of education, I believe, assume that there exists a standard uniformity to grading practices in our public schools, that there is a tried-and-true system in place to ensure accuracy, objectivity, and reliability when it comes to grading. It’s a lie. For the most part, teachers grade how they want to grade, enjoying an incredible amount of autonomy. Most of us only took a 3-credit course on assessment in college, which only–if it all–presented a broad stroke of the grading landscape across a sparse canvas, a canvas that we were then forced to fill on our own to survive, which resulted in our necessarily reverting back to how we were graded, leading us to make things up along the way. That, in a nutshell, is the expanse of teachers’ grading expertise.

Deep down I think I knew this a long time ago, but in the absence of any real answers or help, I conformed to the system because it was there. And I am not alone. I know others, many others, who, too, have struggled with traditional grading, wondering, really, if it was helping or hurting learning in their classrooms. And finally, after stumbling across standards-based grading, the 15 Fixes, and other alternative views of grading practices, I started to shed my traditional robes, seeking to make changes in my classroom that made better sense when it came to responding to student work and reporting student achievement. Last year, I reached my breaking point, and decided to wholly reject the status quo, seeking to call attention to the lie.

I gave every kid an “A” at the beginning of the year. I did it to take grading off the table, completely off the table, so the focus would have to be learning. I did it on a hunch that kids will work without grades, that kids can learn without grades. I did it to call attention to and raise the alarm over the BS in traditional grading practices. I did it to swing the pendulum too far the other way, so perhaps we could eventually come to a balanced rest in the middle. I did it to reject traditional grading practices. I did it because I was tired of looking at the absurd grotesqueness of a naked emperor. I did it because I believe we can and have to do better.

And to that end, the pendulum has already begun to swing back the other direction, as I seek to refine my grading practices from what I have learned this year. But I will never go back. Never. And though this year’s journey with 180 is near its end, my crusade has just begun.

Happy Friday, all.

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