In my opinion, the single biggest impediment to high school teachers embracing grading practices that promote learning is an over-dependence on grading programs. The irresponsible use of these programs reduces the grading process to a collection of numbers or statistics. The problem with an over-dependence on numbers, as Mark Twain writes, is that "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
Having said that, I shudder when I think of my first five years as a social studies teacher and how I assessed and graded my students. I would assign homework assignments, projects, and tests. I would religiously input the students' scores and periodically would let the grading program assign a grade to the students.
Any question by a student or parent regarding a grade would result in the standard answer: “When I run the numbers, this is your grade” (as displayed a long list of numbers). Or better yet, “When I look at your results, I see that you missed a homework assignment (three months ago!) which has brought your grade down 7.4%”
What was I thinking? Why was I “counting” everything? What about giving students an opportunity to practice their learning (without penalty)? How about the notion that learning happens over time? Why was I averaging?
Sadly, I was letting the grading program do my job! I was abdicating my responsibility to assess and grade my students, leaving it instead to the grading program. For some reason, I was led to believe that as a teacher, there was no room for my own professional judgement (based on a comprehensive and legitimate body of evidence) to determine a grade.
I recently read the “Philosophy of Grading” out of the University of Georgia that was originally published in 1989. Part of the policy states:
... Grades are not numbers. We use numbers to ensure that grades are given fairly, but the grade itself is a teacher’s professional judgment of a student’s knowledge.
Grading and assessment should never be reduced to a set of numbers. As a teacher I assess my students - not the grading program. I distinguish between formative and summative assignments. I look for improvement over time.
Today, thankfully, I have been liberated from the clutches of the grading program!
As schools embark on the process of reforming grading practices, the reform they seek goes beyond retooling any grading program. True reform lies in shifting the hearts and minds of the practitioners.