Here's the thing...
It is easy to reflect and change in areas that we know we are weak...It is much more difficult to accurately reflect and be willing to make changes in areas that we feel we are strong. It is important to do both.
I will come right out and say that I don't know the best way to grade students. What I know is what happened in my own classroom, how I recognized a problem (when I previously didn't believe there was one), and what I did to change it. I am in no way saying that my method is better, or even that much different than the next person... I'm just here to share the changes I have made in the last few years. I am sure there will be more change to come, as grading is and always will be a "hot-button" issue.
At least five years ago...
We were holding conferences in the gym. Each teacher had a table and parents rotated from content teacher to content teacher listening about their child's performance in those classes. I have always had positive conferences with parents, striving to always present them with strengths of their child, and adding helpful suggestions for any areas of improvement. I enjoyed meeting parents face-to-face and I liked it even more when the students came.
BUT...I was frustrated. I kept finding myself saying "your son/daughter's score in my class is a C, but their knowledge of social studies really is at a B or A level." Or...there were grades of A's or B's of students who didn't really exceed expectations in the content of social studies. That means that there was a good portion of my grading based on something other than my content level. Students losing points (or getting zeros) for late work, points based on participation and citizenship, and lots and lots of daily work grades...daily work that was very low-level thinking and/or completion assignments. I felt that there was too much "stuff" hiding the true results of the students abilities in social studies.
So...I started changing things up. Slowly at first. I started with the 0's in the grade book. Those were the ones that bothered me the most. If papers were over a certain time limit, I would no longer accept them. Seemed typical. BUT...sometimes students would bring me work that was completed, just too late. Hmmm...is there a way to still hold them accountable, but let it be reflected in the grade book that he or she actually did something? So I started offering 50% credit to any completed work that was turned in before the end of the grading period. Look...the students are still getting "penalized" for not having their stuff in on time, they're still getting an F...but there's a HUGE difference in a child's grade between a 0 and 50% credit. I wanted it to show that they actually DID SOMETHING.
Today...if a student has a 0 in my class, it means one of two things; either the student missed every, single, question OR there literally was nothing ever turned in or completed for me to see. I have very few 0's because very few times to kids do NOTHING on an assignment. Many times that have at least something they can show me, something I know they've done. I will always give credit for work, when work is done.
The next thing I looked at was my categories. I had probably 15 different categories. Daily Work, Completion, Extra Credit, Writing, Vocabulary, Tests, Projects, Quizzes, Performance Assessment, Bell Work...you name it. I operated under the idea that if you want students to do the work you have to give a grade for it.
I'm here to tell you...it's NOT TRUE!
Stop with all the grading y'all!
I now have three categories. Knowledge - Application - Assessment
These three things describe everything we do in my classroom and what level of thinking it requires. Knowledge based assignments are very simple things we do in class to gather new concepts. This could be vocabulary activities, discussions, reading activities, stations, etc... Anything in the Knowledge category is a small grade (5-10 points) and I rarely grade it. It is either completion, participation, or I just flat out ignore it and don't grade it. Yup...I said it. I don't grade everything my kids do in class. And yes...they know I don't grade everything. They just don't know WHAT I grade and what I don't. I never tell them.
You see...knowledge information (in my classroom) is many times done as a class or small group. On the off chance that it ends up as homework, I am fully aware of the fact that many middle school students copy. Do I care...nope. Cause it's basic information.
Why do I need to read through 60 copies of a vocabulary sheet and see if each student copied the definition down correctly???
I don't have time for that.
Application assignments are always worth more, and always graded. You see...application always follows knowledge. While I don't really care if a student copied the vocab definition correctly, I DO CARE if he or she can use that word correctly in the context of my content. THAT'S what I grade.
That's what I have time for.
Here is an example.
The knowledge part of this assignment involved reading and pulling information from various letters that talked about treatment of Native American Tribes on various reservations throughout Kansas. Students did this with a partner or team, we discussed it as a class. I didn't grade it.
The application piece was a short written response provided by the student. This is where I find out if he or she can apply the knowledge they learned, provide evidence to back up his or her answer, and use appropriate spelling and conventions. Students did this on their own, in class. I graded this.
You see... instead of grading 60 copies of both assignments and clogging up loads of my time, I am going to spend my time on the one that really shows me what the students know. Not what they can copy down from a discussion. Yes...the writing piece takes a little longer to grade than a simple vocab assignment...but at least I'm not stuck grading everything.
This also has an impact on their grades. Now instead of having the "fluff" assignment that doesn't truly represent what the child knows, I have a more concentrated grade composed of what the students show me they can do.
After changing my grading, system to this I have noticed a few changes. Most of them are ones I'm happy with.
Less Grades: I have less grades in the grade book. Period. I don't put in every single daily activity/assignment that we do. I'm in week 2 of school and, right now, I don't have a single grade in the grade book. We are working on projects and gathering basic information. Grades will come...just not everyday.
Less A's: I don't mean this to be harsh...but this is good. When there's less "fluff" in the grade book, the grades are more reflective of what students really truly can do with my content. Not whether or not they're responsible enough to show up.
Less F's: Again...this is a good thing. An F in my class represents very little completed close to grade level. I shouldn't fail a student based on whether or not he/she turned in work, but based on the work done by that student. Don't get me wrong...this doesn't mean that no one fails...it just means that those F's are students who are in serious need of intervention and skill work.
Less Grading: Seriously! This should be a reason to start looking at your own grading system. How can you reduce your workload and show an accurate picture of what students are capable of?
Less Worksheets/Copies to make: The fact that I don't need to pick up and grade every-single-thing that we do in class, allows me the freedom to be creative with the knowledge-type information. We can do stations, sticky notes, white boards, technology activities...and it doesn't have to involve 60+ copies! This means I can spend more of my time doing the fun things, like creating cool activities, instead of in the workroom running copies!
Whew! That got a little long-winded...but I wanted to give a clear picture of some of my changes and how it effected my classroom. I will also mention, that my school district has been very supportive of these changes. I know at some schools teachers are required to have a certain number of grades in the book each week. I know I am completely blessed to be in a school in a state that truly allows for teachers to do what they feel is best for the students in their classroom.