What if I’m wrong? This is a recurring thought for me during the grading process, a thought that worries and haunts me, sometimes for days and weeks after the process is over. For those who are not teachers, this may seem a strange admission, but for those of us who are teachers, teachers who are reflective about our practice, we know all too well the worry of our judgment on student work. You see, grading is not exactly an objective process; in fact, much of it is subjective, left to the professional judgment of the teacher, especially in my area–language arts. And while we try to make it less subjective through the use of criteria-based rubrics and scoring guides, we never really arrive at a place where we can make the process purely objective. Consequently, in the end, it is what it is, and we simply strive to make it if not objective, then at least clear. Even so, subjectivity still persists, allowing for error, creating some doubt.
Granted, there are some subjects where less subjectivity is more easily achieved, such as math, but even math is not entirely immune to the subjective judgment of the teacher, for any time partial points or credit is given, the possibility of error exists, and teachers may inadvertently punish kids on the basis of their interpretation. Now to be fair, in many cases our interpretation may have a positive impact on students’ grades, but then this, too, calls into question whether we follow the same standard for all kids in all situations. If I like Jimmy a little more than I like Susie, might I not award more points to Jimmy? Is it possible that I might do it and not even know it? The truth is, I don’t know. I am certainly not above human shortcomings and failings, and in the end, I may be human and unconsciously award or punish kids unwittingly, unfairly. And this is what worries me. And though it may end up being a wash in the end, the odds eventually evening out, I find it unsettling. So, this is what I’ve done about it.
Every semester, at the end, I add a grade to the grade book that I’ve come to call “the fairness factor.” Essentially, I give each kid five points. That may not sound like much, but for many it makes the difference between a B- and a B, which could impact their getting accepted to college, their getting a scholarship, or their getting a discount on their auto insurance. Five points can make, for some, a huge difference. In fact, I am still surprised as I watch each score go up every time I input the five points. I witness the difference. Of course, each semester, I communicate the purpose of the fairness-factor grade to the kids, and they just think I am being nice, but I quickly correct them and tell them it’s not about being nice; it’s about being fair. I think it’s about taking an honest look at one’s grading practices and recognizing the possibility of a margin of error and then erring on the side of the students’ best interests. Could the margin be greater than five? Maybe. But as I reflect on my practice, my professional judgment, I have to be fair to myself, too, for who knows I might be right.
Today’s Parting Questions
- Teachers, how do you account for the subjectivity in your grading?
- Students and parents, have you inquired about how your teachers account for subjectivity in their grading practices?
Happy Monday, all. Hard to believe a month has already gone by since I launched on January 1. Thank you for the support. Look for some changes. I will send a post this evening, highlighting some course corrections as we enter month two of our journey.