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A Nontraditional Approach to Grading

A Nontraditional Approach to Grading

Author: Trisha Fyfe

In this lesson, you will consider a nontraditional approach to grading, one that is compatible with standards-based teaching.

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Source: Image of light bulb, Public Domain,; Image of grading, public Domain,

Video Transcription

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Welcome. I'm Tricia Fyfe. And in today's video lesson, I will explore the topic, A Nontraditional Approach to Grading. As we learn about this topic, we will work towards several learning objectives.

Together, we will answer the following questions. What does a nontraditional approach to grading look like? And what are the benefits of using nontraditional grading in our teaching?

Thomas Guskey encourages us as teachers to think about whether we are being fair and representative in our grading. In his book "Practical Solutions for Serious Problems in Standards-Based Grading," he indicates this. That grading and report cards should be fair, effective, and represent students' abilities. Focusing on developing talents and not just using students' abilities to differentiate is what we should focus on as well as eliminating the idea of grades falling on a bell curve.

Instead, we want our students to fall on the high end of distribution for grades. And if we want to motivate our students, we need to motivate them to try harder-- not discourage them with low grades. By using the most recent assessment evidence, as opposed to averaging all of the grades, including the zeroes, we get a good picture of what learning takes place.

We also should think about several types of grades-- product, process, and progress grading. Product grades are those received by completing a product using what students know. Process grades are how the students are getting to the product. What behaviors are they're exhibiting? Effort, participation, things like that. And lastly, progress is the overall learning gain through the learning process.

A nontraditional approach that Guskey suggests is using incompletes instead of zeroes for grades. When students receive zeroes, it can have several negative impacts. First, students might lose motivation because they're discouraged. And second, it can bring down the overall grade, which makes it no longer representative to the work throughout the entire unit or process.

Incomplete should be used instead he says. And students must be directed to follow through and complete the work immediately, such as attending after school help sessions. Incompletes have less impact over the whole grading process.

So let's talk about what we learned today. We looked at the following questions-- what does a nontraditional approach to grading look like? And what are the benefits of using nontraditional grading in our teaching?

We looked at the work of Thomas Guskey on grading and evaluation. Guskey is an advocate for changing the way that we grade as teachers and scoring in standards-based learning. He feels we need to increase student motivation and sense of responsibility. And we can do this by using incompletes instead of zeroes, using the most recent assessment evidence to see true learning that is taking place rather than averaging, and changing our focus to developing talents in our students-- not differentiating based on grades.

Now that you have a better understanding of some of the issues with standards-based grading as well as some solutions offered by Thomas Guskey, let's reflect. How can nontraditional grading impact your teaching in a positive way? What might the challenges be to moving away from traditional grading methods?

Thanks for joining me today in discussing the lesson "A Nontraditional Approach to Grading." I hope you found value in these ideas and in this video lesson and you're able to apply these ideas and resources to your own teaching.

For more information on how to apply what you've learned in this video, please view the additional resources section that accompanies the video presentation. The additional resources section includes hyperlinks useful for applications of the course material, including a brief description of each resource.

Notes on “A Nontraditional Approach to Grading”


(00:00- 00:22) Introduction/Objectives

(00:23- 01:24) Who is Thomas Guskey?

(01:25- 01:44) Product, Process and Progress Grading   

(01:45- 02:27) Zeros Vs. Incompletes

(02:28- 03:12) Recap

(03:13- 04:02) Reflection  

Additional Resources

Standards-Based Grading: Frequently Asked Questions

This handbook from Excelsior Springs High School demonstrates one high school's commitment and approach to standards based grading. The handbook provides an excellent overview of standards based grading in action and can serve as a model when developing a communication tool for teachers transitioning to standards based grading.

Standards-Based Grading Implementation

This blog post includes resources and strategies for implementing standards based grading. The first three links provide useful strategies for creating topic scales, creating assessments, and tracking progress.