By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Beaumont Teachers Association member and 10th-grade English teacher Jessica Breed at Beaumont High School.
Some universities, including Stanford Law School, Yale University and UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, have dropped letter grades and shifted to other forms of evaluation, such as “honors,” “pass,” “restricted credit” or “no credit.” The goal is to eliminate students from “class shopping” or choosing teachers known for being easier on grading. Some schools, like UC Santa Cruz, have abandoned the “pass/fail” system and brought back traditional grades.
The Los Angeles Times recently reported that Douglas Reeves, an expert on grading systems, conducted an experiment that demonstrated how subjective grading can be. He asked more than 10,000 educators in the United States, Australia, Canada and South America to determine a final semester grade for a student who received the following grades for assignments in this order: C, C, MA (missing assignment), D, C, B, MA, MA, B and A. The educators surveyed gave the hypothetical student final grades ranging from A to F because they used different criteria for grading.
Getting educators on the “same page” with grades is challenging but possible, says Jessica Breed, a 10th-grade English teacher at Beaumont High School, where department members jointly decided that teachers should all grade on the same criteria.
“There were big differences among teachers on how many points timed essays were worth, how much homework was worth and whether late work should be accepted,” says Breed, a member of the Beaumont Teachers Association (BTA). “Some teachers were accepting late work until the final day of the quarter and some wouldn’t accept work that was even an hour overdue.”
After lots of meetings, a uniform grading policy was implemented for English and math teachers. In the English Department, for example, teachers decided major assignments were worth 90 percent of earned credit the first day late and 50 percent of earned credit the next four days.
“I think it’s fair when teachers grade the same,” says 10th-grader Kaitlyn Nelson. “Nobody has easier or harder teachers this way and everybody knows what to expect.”
“Before, if one teacher accepted late work and another didn’t, it would turn into a big thing,” relates classmate Krystal Johnson. “It’s a pretty good system now.”
Breed says teachers are more empowered when they are unified. But she doesn’t foresee a universal grading system happening in California anytime soon.
“It was such an effort just getting 15 people to compromise in our department,” she says. “I can’t imagine getting agreement on a consistent grading policy statewide.”
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