What's an "A" mean anyway?

Just read a recent post by @L_Hilt at http://lhilt.posterous.com/grading-compliance and it got me thinking. I have been in the midst of reflecting on the practice of grading for a few years now. Starting two years ago, a colleague of mine, Rob and I decided to look at how we were grading in our Language Arts classes. Neither one of us were happy with how kids were being assessed. What it boiled down to was that students who turned in neat, creative work on time were those that received an "A". Often times those students were not learning more or less than anyone else but rather they were "good students." That lead us to investigate standards based grading or at least a version of it.

Last year we took all the Language Arts standards and aligned every activity we did in class around those standards. When it came time to assessing student's work, we only looked at their level of mastery on those standards. Regardless of when work was turned in, or how neatly it was done, their grade was purely reflective of there attainment of that particular Language Arts standards. For the first time in my teaching, I could give a student an "A" and feel 100% confident that that grade was reflective of their achievement and not other behaviors that often figure into a traditional model.

This past week before the Thanksgiving holiday we had an institute were we discussed this idea of standards based grading. One idea that came up and got me thinking was as a parent, those behavioral components are crucial to the development of your child. School should be a place to develop responsibility, compliance, and good work habits. However, how do we monitor that without mixing it in with their achievement grade. One idea was to have to separate grades show up on the report card. A student would get a grade based on their achievement toward learning standards and another one based on the behavioral component of school. I like that idea as it gives good feedback and makes it very clear how a student is learning as well as behaving. While those two things are often related, should a student's grade solely reflect their learning?

Personally, I would love to see a report card that is simply more than a letter grade that leaves parents to interpret exactly what that letter means...
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