Meaningful Grading For Impact® Framework
Self-feedback for students in the form of praise has rarely proven to be effective for learning—and often even detrimental. This provides a challenge for many teachers as it relates to grading. Several studies found students from individualist cultures (e.g., the United States) often prefer direct feedback related to effort, while students from Confucian-based cultures (e.g., Asia and South Pacific) more often preferred indirect and implicit feedback, more group focused feedback, and no self-level feedback (De Luque and Sommer, 2000). This was more prevalent in older (high school) students. When given criticism after failure and neutral feedback after success, they perceived the teacher had deemed their effort low but assessed their ability to be high. This strongly implies that for effectiveness, feedback in the form of grades at the high school level must be tied to high levels of student expectations (Meyer, Bachman, Hempelmann, Ploger, and Spiller, 1979; Meyer, 1982).
For all forms of feedback including grades to be effective, errors must be welcomed as an opportunity to learn from. Students cannot view their missed attempts, mistakes, and miscalculations as permanent, if teachers want them to be viewed by students as learning opportunities at the same time. Schools wanting to foster and build greater assessment capabilities in their students, they will need to make a radical shift in their understanding and actions towards a culture of learning. This will very likely involve implementing new or adjusted grading and feedback practices. Students often determine their own risk levels for taking on questions and tasks based on their perceived ability to supply correct answers. They do so as well as based on classroom climate set up by the teacher and other students (Alton-Lee & Nuthall, 1990; Doyle, 1983). Professor John Hattie & Gregory Yates noted in their book, Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn, that survey results of middle and high student indicated that student belief of how their teachers will support their knowledge building needs when they get into trouble is critically They noted that studies have demonstrated that lower ability students ask fewer questions because it was likely to expose their vulnerability (2014, P. 30). Students typically respond only when they are fairly sure that they can do so respond correctly (Hattie and Timperley, 2007). This indicates students often respond to questions of material they have already learned and know the answers to without a great deal of effort. Teachers must foster classroom climates where errors and learning from them are welcomed.
Feedback is only effective when it aligns with clear and understood learning intentions by students. Feedback and grading targets need to originate and build from success criteria that are clear to the students. Product success criteria are the specific demonstrations of skill in a performance or creation artifacts. Most students understand their grade as a measure of how close their work is to anchors or examples. Feedback and grading for learning need to be applied at the current level students are in working toward these anchors or examples. Teachers must also define process success criteria for students. Process success criteria are steps and methods students use to develop their product or performance. Some examples are steps in a mathematical procedure, specific homework student are assigned for practice, or components in the writing process. Process success criteria help student achieve learning objectives but are not 100% necessary to do so (Clarke, 2005, p.37). If teachers grade and evaluate how students are using process success criteria, students become confused about the level of their performance. The effectiveness of teacher feedback for learning is then minimized. This can lead to grades being deflated (marks taken off), or inflated (marks added) for the use or lack of process success criteria.
Hattie also points out that goal setting is effective when they challenge Teachers planning to embed grading and marking practices with student goal setting must ensure that student’s goals adhere to the Goldilocks Principle. Helping students understand how they are progressing towards meeting goals through effective feedback techniques about what they are learning along the way is a powerful way of helping students shape individual tasks and strategies towards meeting their goals. On the contrary, when teacher feedback (grading) is focused specifically on the outcome of their work or product alone and not on the learning that is taking place along the way, this becomes a much less efficient way of helping students form understanding of the strategies they are using to meet the goal (Earley et al, 1990). Here is where it is important for teachers not to grade or evaluate student performance early in the learning process; especially as students are progressing toward their goals (See #6-Avoid Grading Early). Homework, practice, and 1st submission drafts of tasks that receive grades or marks, push student’s attention away from focusing on their learning tasks. Students then are much less likely to not welcome error and disconfirmation as a chance to learn and grow. Teachers can improve the impact of their feedback (grading) on learning, and foster more student ownership and commitment toward their goals, by avoiding marking/permanent grading during developmental tasks and lessons. Finally, when students set and establish their own goals, even with support from teachers, they are more committed because of the ownership towards them. When teachers then provide students feedback (not evaluations or grades) on how they are progressing towards these goals, it often triggers an increase in student persistence at completing smaller tasks building to the larger goal (Van-Dijk and Kluger 2000 & 2001). Students become inclined to accept critiques and disconfirmation, because of their desire to reach their goals. They focus much less on just acquiring points or marks and are also better able to refocus and resume tasks after disruptions (Bargh, Gollwitzer, Lee-Chai, Barndollar, and Trotschel 2001).
Mastery grading is a practice where teachers score student work specifically against learning targets and success criteria with a pass / feedback do-it-again Teachers establish a cutoff, or threshold, between student product submissions demonstrating mastery of essential objectives and those that do not (Guskey, 2001, 2009). Mastery grading thresholds provide students minimum acceptable targets to strive for in their work submissions to earn a pre-established minimum amount of marks possible. Anything less in quality is considered non-mastery. Teachers then do not provide students any mark. Instead, teachers provide written or verbal feedback comments to guide students towards areas in their work needing improvement before their next revision. Teachers implementing mastery grading remove themselves from the quandary of lamenting over decisions such as how many points to give to wretched work; even from likable students that tried hard. Teachers can focus more on helping students learn and improve rather than gauging point values when work well below mastery. Students that cannot yet demonstrate proficiency or a sufficient degree of progress towards mastery can then receive the feedback and support they need. This is opposed to simply acquiring or gaining meaningless points that would seem to indicate progress towards mastery when in fact that is often far from the case. Mastery grading increases the overall truthfulness of grades.
Teachers should refrain from using grading or marking of points early in a unit or set of lessons when students are just beginning to learn new concepts. If teachers focus too much on whether answers were right or wrong, student processing is lessened as they are attempting to connect ideas and build toward larger tasks. When teachers offer too much feedback (grades) on correct or incorrect answers (provide task level feedback), this will likely encourages students to focus more on acquiring a certain number points or marks. Students then take their attention away from the strategies they need to use and apply to reach the next level in their learning (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996). Here is where feedback in the form of grades can truly be detrimental to learning and achievement. This validates the evidence that pre-tests and pre-assessments should never be graded.
Deliberate practice is essential for students to become assessment capable. Deliberate practice leads to competence and mastery when students concentrate or persist on tasks. When students are practicing a skill, teachers must help students connect the feedback they are providing to larger goals or challenge This increases students’ ability to see how their (deliberate) practice is leading them towards or away from larger targets or goals. When student are detracted from concentrating on practicing a skill because they are being evaluated through grades (points or marks), both the quantity and quality of their deliberate practice is very likely to diminish or go away completely. For example, when practice homework is graded with permanent marks or points, students are likely to worry about getting it right simply to obtain the points—not the learning that goes with it. This leads to unwanted student behaviors such as cheating or not completing the work at all to avoid the feeling of failure. Also, when students know points or marks will be deducted for process success criteria such as completing a draft or for being late, they will rarely engage in persistence in completing difficult or challenging tasks.
The amount time students have been exposed to new learning, had a chance to practice and receive feedback, and apply the feedback for revision and to demonstration of growth needs to be a strong factor and consideration in grading and marking practices. Again, from their book Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn, (2014), John Hattie & Gregory Yates state that “learning proceeds quietly and efficiently when what is new builds directly upon what is already secured” (p. 126). “If students have not been taught certain topics, or covered them in a perfunctory manner, then they cannot be expected to be familiar with test items based on those topics” (p. 39). Students develop procedural skills by accomplishing a series of sub-goals. For example, a young child learning to ride a bike does so first with training wheels, then riding with 2-wheels with Dad helping for balance, then riding without Dad’s help for balance. They do not worry about the number of mistakes made or trials attempted being held against them later. When students in school learn new concepts and skills in an academic setting, the must not feel their grades will tabulated from all of their attempts if we want the same passion for learning and reaching the goal as the child riding the bike. Finally, teachers must realize not all students will arrive at their learning goals at the same time. Grading must not be done to all students at one given pre-determined Time must become the variable and learning the constant, (Lezotte, 1991), to build assessment capabilities in students.