It’s time to get rid of marks, grades and levels….no, really this time.

Standard

Teachers on social media forums are stressing about grades, marks and levels, even though they have clearly been removed from key stage 3 and don’t exist in a new specification vacuum. Every week someone is asking for grade boundaries (that are made up and don’t exist) or criteria for 1-9 to use at key stage 3. In most cases I suspect this comes from school leaders that want something on a spreadsheet.

No student needs to know a grade or mark or level or % in year 9 or 10. (I do start with marks in year 11 ready for college applications and mock papers) They are meaningless. I’ve previously blogged on the reasons why and alternative possibilities here. In fact, I’ve blogged so many times I’m probably repeating what I’ve already said elsewhere.

However I thought I’d share how I don’t use any of these yet I still feed the whole school data monster.

For several years I’ve ditched using marks/grades with students on their work and in class tests. Research suggests that we always look to the grade/marks first and that will then determine how we feel about the work and how we respond to further work on it.

Feedback not marks 

When a student does a piece of written work, it is usually some aspect of an exam style question. There is a set of criteria that will make it a ‘good’ piece of work. These are loosely based the exam board mark scheme but are very specific and have additional important aspects of written work including aspects of SPAG. These are turned into a checklist of ‘done’ and ‘not done’.

Here is an example:

New spec tick lists are under constant review…this isn’t perfect at all

These make it quick and easy for teachers to ‘mark’ and it’s clear what the students needs to focus on, on this piece of work. They are the same for every student. No ‘differentiated’ versions. This makes it clear they can all excel and work towards the ‘top’. The next lesson students then make improvements to their work. If there are common mistakes or misconceptions I go through them as a class. I might model a good part of an answer or show an example of student work on the visualiser.

These tick lists aren’t perfect. I’m yet to be satisfied that they can cater for the levels of sophistication in writing evaluative answers. We’re working on this, in the the summer term.

Trackers

In an attempt to create some sort of ‘progress’ measure it has been suggested to make trackers to show these developing. I have resisted thus far. On the whole they would be meaningless paperwork. Just because one aspect was ‘done’ in this task it doesn’t mean it won’t on another. The ‘tracking’ of student development is much more subtle than this. I’m pondering how to do this.

What grade will student x get?

It is nonsense to give a grade on a small aspect of what might appear in their exam. You cannot transfer boundaries from an 8 mark question to a paper worth 120 marks. That’s a fool’s game, yet I’m expected to enter data on the school’s system. So instead of looking at one small aspect of their work, I consider everything they do; it’s an attempt at a holistic grade. Essentially we’re all just making it up.

One way is to consider comparative judgement of students. Here is an explanation of how that might be done.

Ditch levels/marks/grades

So, on these pieces there are no marks, no levels and no grades. All students need to focus on is what they need to do to improve. The great aspect of this is that I’m doing what I know is good for the students in my class but still feeding the data monster. As no-one knows what they’re doing my data, mine will be as inaccurate as everyone else’s but meanwhile my students won’t have any shocks when we realise our made up boundaries bear no resemblance to what they will be measured against.

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