Tough grading moments….

One of the toughest things about grading is when the students with 79% or 89% ask/plead/argue for the B- or the A-. I do round an 89.5% or higher, to the 90%. I think that’s just doing proper rounding, as I like to teach in my classes, as opposed to truncating the grades. [Don’t know what truncating is? You can find out here] . But then, the 89.2% kid asks for the A-, too. I would be inclined if their test scores were in the A range, but they weren’t completing all the assignments, and so homework was dragging the grade down. But, if the test scores are in the B range, and homework completion is bringing the grade up to B+, I think that’s good enough.

I have several students who’ve missed a lot of school, or have ADHD and just don’t complete every assignment, or just never are there or aren’t organized enough to present the assignments for credit. If they have high test scores, I’m inclined to round their grades towards those test scores. However, high homework scores with lower test scores are not a compelling argument for me to round the grades higher, even though that’s the request I get a lot.

We just had final exams, another tough grading challenge. I think it’s normal for students to score about one grade lower on the final exam than their unit test scores. And, when that happens, I usually let them keep the grade they earned prior to the exam. An example would be a student who had a B in the course, earned a C on the final, bringing their grade to a B-. I would be inclined to let them keep the B. But, if they score low on the final (a D or an F), I do let the grade drop, but not by more that a half a grade. And, if that same student with the B earned a D on the final, they would end up with a B-. They see the B part and are still feeling content, I think. However, if a student had a B- to begin with, scored a D on the final, and ended up with a C+, they will see the C and possibly (probably) be upset about the outcome. The difference in the GPA would be the same (0.3 points) but, suddenly, the letter B to the letter C is very noticeable. That’s when I get the email with the ask/plead/argue message. Sometimes the parents get involved, too. But, I have to stick with my convictions on the grading in these situations.

My grading policies and decisions around tests versus homework and semester grade versus final exam grade are pretty generous in my opinion. Many teachers let the computer calculate the grade based on the settings for the weights they decided at the start of the semester. Many others make exceptions, too.

In addition to the above rules of thumb around my grading decisions at the end of the semester, during the semester I’ve been known to drop some low scores when the class doesn’t do well on a quiz. I think that I didn’t teach them very well when that happens, and we revisit the material.

Algebra 2 is a hard class and not everyone will get an A, even if they usually get As in other classes or in prior math classes. This is one of the tougher lessons for high school students to learn. They are hitting a level of math that really requires studying, critical thinking and perseverance for the longer, more involved problems. They aren’t all ready for that level of problem solving. Even if they are, the course is content rich, meaning there is a lot to learn and a set amount of time in which to learn it.

Students are busy with tough course loads, sports, hobbies or jobs, and social and family activities. Many students don’t have adequate time outside of school to study as much as they need to in order to get the grade they want. Others make sacrifices and get every assignment done every day. They come in and ask questions after they’ve tried to figure things out on their own. Some ask questions immediately without giving themselves time to try a solution, because they are used to the quick answer or they feel pressed to get the questions answered quickly, without a deeper understanding for when the next question comes. In learning math, you learn so much from making mistakes and trying new approaches. Especially at this level. But, I think that requires a level of calm and concentration that many teens aren’t used to. Trial and error are involved. I try to talk abut this to my students when I can.

Some people may wonder about the purpose of the final. Well, I think it’s important to review what they learned over the year. I think it’s important to have a idea of what they’ve retained and to remind students what they need to know for the next course. I think it’s good for them to have an idea of what they remember and what they may need to re-study. And, I don’t let the final exam kill their grade. I think that’s the bad part about finals, which is why I have some of the policies listed above. A final exam can bring a student’s semester grade down much more than it can raise it.

I plan to include these grading philosophies and practices, and study tips and techniques for retention and deeper understanding in my beginning of the year mini-unit next year. I introduced the idea in my blog post  Summer reading, relaxing and revamping…. and will post it when it’s done.

Comments, experiences, input welcome…

Summer reading, relaxing and revamping….

For Summer 2016, I plan to do a lot of relaxing, enjoying time my family, cleaning out closets and thinking about next year. I also plan to revamp my grading and record keeping. And overhaul my unit plans. I want to think about making things easy for students in terms of being able to understand what’s expected of them and what their grade depends on.

For next year, I’d like to make unit packets for students that consist of

  • Pre-requisite skills questions
  • Sample test problems
  • Practice Sets
  • A portfolio project
  • Open questions
  • Note organizers
  • Formulas
  • Reflection prompts
  • Spiraled review questions

I know, that’s an ambitious list. Well, I’m an ambitious gal. But, I’ll leave myself some wiggle room. I may not include everything on every plan. Or, it may turn out that some things aren’t needed while other things are, depending on the topics. Some spaces will be blank, allowing students to fill-in as we go. After all, I don’t want to toss all the cool open questions out in a lump. I want to use those to set a low entry point, an opportunity to engage students and an opportunity to talk to the class about options. Those will likely be saved for openers during block periods.

I also think, it will get easier as I get through the first couple of units. I’d like to have the first two units ready to go before school starts. That’s my summer goal.

I want to start the year with a mini-unit on study skills for math. I want to talk with them about passive versus active learning and how that makes wanting success and high grades either a wish or a goal. If you are passive, then your goals are more like wishes. If you are active, your goals are more likely to be achieved. I want them to know what working towards a goal is versus doing the minimum and hoping for a high grade.

Another part of that mini-unit will include how to handle absences. We have a lot of absences at my school. I kept a record in May/June (see photo) because it was really getting to be too much to compensate for. We have block periods, so when kids are absent, they miss a lot. However, I think these unit packets will help them when they are absent too.


The top display is for my Tuesday/Thursday classes, the bottom is for my Wed/Fri classes. Everyone meets on Monday. Some of those percents are pretty high and there are perhaps too many days with more than 10% absent. I didn’t even include senior ditch day.

So, the absences are driving my desire to make things really clear at the start of the unit and have a packet so that kids can know what’s coming and when. I don’t plan to give them a 50 page booklet, but at least an outline, a schedule, a grade tracker, etc. I think I may handout homework packets on Mondays and collect them the following Monday, too.

Part of my planning will be doing some reading and research. I’m looking forward to re-reading some books and finding some new ones. Teaching Struggling Students in Math is my newest acquisition and should be a good one. Check out my new and ever growing list of favorite books for teaching, especially teaching high school math.  My Favorite Books on Teaching Math

Enjoy your summer!!