May 2, 2023

Rethinking Your Grading Scale - E122

Rethinking Your Grading Scale - E122
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This week, we are chatting all about the 100-point scale, why it is biased towards failure, and what we can do instead to make our grading a bit more biased-resistant. 

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Featured Content
**For detailed show notes, please visit our website at**

  • Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman
  • 100-pt scale is biased towards failure
  • Zeroes disproportionately punishes students
  • Too many transitions points between grades (judgement between grades is much harder)
  • More inconsistencies of grading between teachers with 100-pt scale
  • Try using a scale with fewer points (0-4, 0-3, 0-5 for example)
  • Avoid marking everything - focus on summative tasks
  • Most recent, most consistent

Minimal Scales:

  • Decide how many transition points that you want
  • 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 point scales are all possibilities
  • Single point rubrics - criteria listed for level 3
  • Mastery scales (yes, no)  - criteria listed for level 4 (3 attempts allowed because expectations are high)
  • Specifications Grading - E107
  • This is NOT watering the curriculum or grading down!
  • Multiple attempts or replacing grades as skills progress

Other suggestions:

  • Setting a minimum grade (40 or 50%) - essentially equalizes the grade bands to make grading more equitable
  • Using a 4 pt scale (or something similar), you will eventually need a grade conversion chart
  • Specific grades - 95, 85, 75, 65, etc. - pick specific values for each level
  • Think about your zeroes - is it compliance or comprehension?
  • Keep students accountable instead of using a zero

Determining Final Grades:

  • Eventually you will likely need to convert back to a 100-pt scale
  • Automatic conversions in gradebook software
  • Conferencing with students (along with reflections)
  • Most recent, most consistent - look for trends
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[00:00:00] Rachel: In this episode, we are talking about why you might not wanna use the a hundred points grading scale and what you might wanna do instead.

[00:00:49] Katie: Yeah, so we will explain some of the reasons why the 100 point scale, it's not such a great scale to use, and how you can flip that around and make grading more equitable.

[00:00:59] Rachel: Let's get started.

[00:01:01] Rachel: This week Katie and I are gonna be chatting a bit about grades, and so we're gonna get into why there's an issue with using the a hundred point scale as well as what we could do instead.

[00:01:20] Katie: Yeah. So when we look at the way we've been grading and, and we've been on a bit of a journey with un grading We've done a lot of learning over time and there's some really great resources out there that kind of have helped guide us, and it's worth having that conversation because failures and zeros and all of these have huge impact on our students success and don't actually reflect their learning.

[00:01:43] Rachel: And I would say, just before we jump into this conversation, I think probably one of the best resources that I've come across that talks about different grading practices that are essentially bias resistant and equitable for students is grading for equity by Joe Feldman. It's such an excellent book and really just gets into all of the different sort of issues around.

[00:02:10] Rachel: Grades and grading.

[00:02:11] Katie: Yeah. No, and that's the one that I did a lot of referring to this week as well. It's, we were kind of preparing for this episode, but um, he, he really explains things well and in a way that it's easy to understand and it makes a lot of sense. And so if you're wondering where to start with some of this learning, his resource is definitely,

[00:02:31] Rachel: So why don't we start with talking about the a hundred point scale and what's wrong with the a hundred point scale? Because this scale, giving a student a percentage grade from zero to a hundred is something that is inherent in all of our education systems.

[00:02:48] Katie: Yes, it's everywhere and, and it's, it's hard to escape and, and we can't really escape it necessarily cuz we're still having to create a mark out of a hundred. But there are workarounds and things that we can do to help it more accurately reflect student learning.

[00:03:03] Rachel: So I think one of the, I would say probably the biggest problem with a hundred point scale is that it's biased towards failure.

[00:03:12] Katie: Yeah. 49 to 50% you have of that a hundred point scale, we're really saying, you guys got this failure. Let's go buckle it down.

[00:03:21] Rachel: Well, and if any of our listeners are in the states passing grade is 60% or greater, so there's 60 points in this a hundred point scale that are dedicated to failure and only 40 points that are dedicated towards passing in Ontario. Slightly better, right? 50 points dedicated to passing, 50 points dedicated to failure, but still half of it, at least half of it is dedicated towards.

[00:03:49] Katie: Yeah, and it, it does make you think, why do we have so much of a breakdown for failure criteria? Instead of, you know, boosting what passing can look

[00:03:58] Rachel: And so if you then think about, well, if you give a student a zero, 

[00:04:02] Katie: Yeah. 

[00:04:03] Rachel: about how challenging that is for that student to then overcome that grade to be able to recover from that. it basically disproportionately punishes students.

[00:04:15] Katie: And I mean, like I know why we do it around reporting times. For students that having completed work just as like a, like you need to complete something so I have something to mark on and to, to grade you. but all of the zeros aren't necessary. We should be looking at overall learning and not every single step of the process.

[00:04:33] Rachel: Yeah. And one other thing that really kind of goes against this, this a hundred point scale. So the reason why a hundred point scale is not great is because you have. Too many transition points between grades for you to be able to make any sort of good judgment on student work. So for example, you can't like judging between an 88 and an 87.

[00:04:59] Rachel: Like really? What is that? Right? There are so many. There are 101 I. Transition points between grades that you have to judge student work, and so that then becomes really tricky in defining criteria for, well, what is an 88 versus an 87? That's really, really hard to do.

[00:05:20] Katie: Yeah. And if you were to show me an assignment that I marked as an 87 versus an 88, I would have no idea why they were different. I'm, I'm gonna be honest, because like, it, it is really hard to distinguish.

[00:05:31] Rachel: And then that becomes a big issue. You know, if you take a piece of work and you have. Say your department team or your course team all grade, this one piece of student work on a hundred point scale. That's where you get all the different discrepancies between grades. Like some people might give it a 90 versus some people might give it an 80 or 70, and you get this sort of wide range of grades, which then becomes that issue of consistency, right?

[00:06:00] Rachel: Between different teachers evaluating the same piece of.

[00:06:05] Katie: Now one thing I think that has helped with that is the use of levels. Cuz here in Ontario we use levels one through four where they're all passes, but there's a one minus one and a one plus. So there is that range within. And then it's not getting that nitpicky between like an 87 and an 80. It is more kind of, I don't know if you wanna say averaged, but it's a bigger ballpark in terms of the

[00:06:28] Rachel: And that is one of the recommendations that we would have in terms of moving away from a hundred point scale and moving away from this bias and this discrepancy between assigning different grades is using a scale that has fewer points in Ontario. Like you said, we have this scale already built.

[00:06:49] Rachel: Through growing success where we have a four level, well, I guess essentially five level scale, right? We have a, a level 4, 3, 2, 1, or R for those students who are not meeting at least the minimum criteria to have a passing grade.

[00:07:06] Katie: Yeah, and, and I do like that better, but I mean, there's still room for improvement. I think, because another thing that we tend to do as teachers is we give quizzes as we are teaching, and then we do more activities that we're marking, and then we do a final unit test where we're doing overall learning.

[00:07:23] Katie: And, pardon me, questions why are we marking all of them? Like if you're struggling at the beginning and with a quiz, And your teacher sees that and then addresses it with you and finds a way for you to improve that mark and that learning so that by the end, you're demonstrating it much more consistently and effectively.

[00:07:41] Katie: Why aren't we taking that most effective mark? Because that's the learning, right?

[00:07:45] Rachel: Right. Yeah. So focusing on the summative tasks over the, the formative ones for.

[00:07:51] Katie: And most recent, most consistent, which is in growing success as well. Like we should be doing that. And in my class that makes sense because it's a language class and so skills we're building on throughout the semester, and you're gonna demonstrate these skills differently throughout the semester.

[00:08:04] Katie: So like most recent, most consistent makes so much sense for me. It doesn't in a lot of like, like science is harder because it's content, but don't know.

[00:08:13] Rachel: Okay, so if we focus then on, well, okay, we're not gonna use a hundred point scale, what are we going to use? As we just suggested, using a scale with fewer points is kind of an ideal way to go. So you don't have to use a five point scale. You could use a three point scale, you could use a two point scale, you could use a one point scale.

[00:08:34] Rachel: So really it kind of. Depends on how many sort of transition points you want between different grades and how you wanna be able to discern between the different levels. 

[00:08:46] Rachel: The reason I like these minimum scales quite a bit is because it's a lot easier for you to say, okay, yeah, students a level four versus a level three versus a level two or a level one.

[00:08:57] Rachel: Like there's actually it's, it's easier to make that 

[00:09:02] Katie: Yeah, you can see it more clearly at that point.

[00:09:04] Rachel: And that's because we're not then having to decide between that 88 or 87. 

[00:09:09] Rachel: Right. And so it's not as difficult to be able to discern between those different levels.

[00:09:15] Katie: And I kind of like rubrics though that are that one point scale. I kind of give them the success criteria as like a checklist, and I think that's like my level three. Is what I've been figuring out because if you can do all of this, I know that you have you, you've demonstrated that learning, which is like our level three, but then within there I can see the differences between the three and four, if that makes sense.

[00:09:36] Rachel: That's interesting because I, I've got kind of gone the opposite and um, I, I do again like that sort of one point scale, but I've started creating these mastery criteria and listing out exactly what I would want to see for. Basically a level four, so a student achieving 80% or greater on a particular task.

[00:10:00] Rachel: And so I, I will list out everything that would be essentially that top level. And then I set my criteria so that in order for students to get a pass for that particular thing, they have to, they have to have checked off at least 80% of the criteria that I've.

[00:10:21] Rachel: So I guess, I don't know, maybe 80% of the mastery criteria.

[00:10:25] Rachel: Like is that a level four? Is that a level three? I don't know. 

[00:10:28] Katie: Yeah. Yeah. I don't know. That's the question, but it's been, it's been an interesting experience and I've liked kind of my student's reaction to it and how they like that it's so clearly laid out like this is what we need to do. We've had these conversations and there are no guessing games, which is always nice.

[00:10:47] Rachel: Now, I would say like with, with the way I lay out my mastery criteria, and I do that in my classroom, I do allow my students three attempts to demonstrate mastery on that particular assignment or task. For me because then when I come up with grades, I, I have a whole system and if you wanna go back and listen and learn a little bit more about my system, we do have that episode on specifications grading.

[00:11:12] Rachel: We can link it in the show notes for you if you wanna check that out.

[00:11:16] Katie: I love the three attempts. I love that you're giving students a chance to kind of go back and work on it to improve it, and I think that that's, that makes such a big difference. I think that's a great idea.

[00:11:26] Rachel: It is, and for the most part parents love it. It's interesting though. We just had our parent teacher interview night and I did have one parent. And these are, these are high achieving students, so maybe this is why. But she kind of questioned at first why I had three attempts. She's like, I think he should only have one attempt. But then I explained my process. I explained like how bo, how high I keep my expectations for students and how high the bar is set. And that's the reason why I have the three attempts. Plus, you know, not every. Can develop mastery of a skill on the first attempt. So once I had gone through that explanation, like she understood it a lot better, but I thought that was kind of funny.

[00:12:09] Katie: That is kind of funny. You shouldn't be giving my son or daughter that many attempts. I get that though. I, they're probably thinking like we're watering it down and really we're not, we're actually hiring the expectations. We're raising those so that it's like, it's no longer a 50 to pass, like, we're looking to get you up there 

[00:12:26] Katie: higher.

[00:12:27] Katie: So I mean, it, it, it's great.

[00:12:29] Rachel: Yeah, every, everything I have in my classroom, like two pass is an 80%, so that's why I allow those multiple attempts because sometimes it takes students that long to get to a level that I would consider mastery.

[00:12:45] Katie: Yeah. And for me, what I'm doing it's obviously not the same, but that's because I have a lot of repetition in some of the skills we do. so, I give them their checklist. I do mark it so that they can see what they would've gotten, but then the next time we have another. With the same writing structures, et cetera.

[00:13:00] Katie: I let them replace that mark so they can go through it again. We have that conversation. We still do a feedback cycle and um, it re it's the higher mark that they end up getting. 

[00:13:09] Rachel: I did play with that a little bit in semester one with my classes, and I, I do like that structure, but I found for mine that they weren't, I don't know, it could have been the way I framed it. Maybe it just doesn't mesh with my teaching style, which is fine, right? Not everything's gonna mesh with everybody's styles, but I really struggle to get my students to progress in their skills.

[00:13:34] Katie: Ah. Whereas like I think for us, because it is a language class and that's what we're targeting, it's a little different. 

[00:13:40] Rachel: I don't know. It could be maybe mindsets of students coming into a science class versus a language class, right? Like it could be just something, I don't know. Even as silly as that.

[00:13:50] Katie: Yeah, it could be. And it's, it's different students, different kind of goals. A lot of them really wanna move through the levels quickly, so there is that motivation to kinda step up and get those skills developed more quickly than 

[00:14:01] Katie: not. 

[00:14:02] Rachel: So there I, I have a few other suggestions that you might consider, especially if using a minimum scale is. Quite where you wanna go yet, or maybe it's a little bit too much of a change for you in your classroom. So there are some ways that you can still use a hundred point scale, but use them in different ways.

[00:14:24] Rachel: So I think the first one we should talk about is setting a minimum grade.

[00:14:29] Rachel: So, for example, let's take Ontario. A passing grade is 50, so you could set your minimum grade to 40. And so what that means is every entry that you put into your mark book, the lowest one that goes in is a 40. And that I know sounds very controversial.

[00:14:49] Rachel: You know, a student hasn't done anything. Why am I putting a 40 in? But what you're really doing with this, Is your bringing your differences between grades to something that's more equitable. So the difference between a 40 and a 50 right, is 10 points and then a 50 to 60 to the next letter grade is 10 and so on, all the way up the scale.

[00:15:13] Rachel: So every sort of gradation is, is 10 points instead of all the passing ones are only 10 points, and then that failing one is.

[00:15:21] Katie: Yeah, it's essentially like a a six point scale. 40 through a hundred.

[00:15:25] Rachel: It is, yeah. In a or a 60 point scale, I guess, maybe.

[00:15:30] Katie: Yeah. True.

[00:15:31] Rachel: So if your US base, like if you have your minimum passing grade at 60, then you set your minimum grade to 50

[00:15:37] Katie: Yeah,

[00:15:38] Rachel: see I'd like to suggest that, but that can make a lot of teachers really, really uncomfortable. Like, sit with yourself right now.

[00:15:44] Rachel: If you're listening to this right now, how uncomfortable is that making you feel,

[00:15:48] Katie: Well, I'm not gonna lie to you. Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable when I know that I haven't seen a student all semester and I'm putting in 40. That does make me uncomfortable, but I think that's also, that's also a bigger conversation. 

[00:16:00] Katie: You know what I mean? Like that's not going to be one that just sits idly, and I'm not having conversations with administration and guidance and parents and everyone else.

[00:16:10] Rachel: Yeah, and I, I think that's why I kind of like the minimum grade scale instead. So if you're gonna put something in your mark book that's based on a 4, 3, 210 scale, you just put in 4, 3, 2, 1 or zero. And that way you could still have your zeros and it doesn't feel so horrible. But then, To go from a zero to a one is only one point difference.

[00:16:31] Rachel: And something to consider when, when you're using a scale like that is you need to have a grade conversion scale at the end. Like a four is not a hundred percent and a three is not 75%. Like you, you have to know, okay, if I have between.

[00:16:45] Rachel: Say a 3.5 and a four, like what does that mean in terms of a hundred point scale?

[00:16:50] Rachel: Eventually you do need that great conversion of some sort, cuz eventually, like you said, we do have to put in a grade usually based on a hundred point scale at some point.

[00:17:00] Katie: that is the reality.

[00:17:01] Rachel: Yep.

[00:17:02] Katie: So, but we can still modernize it and kind of change our approach to how we get there. And I think that's the big lesson here is we don't have to just do status quo and what has been done in the past. We can find something that works better.

[00:17:15] Rachel: Another one that you might consider is specific grades. So you can still use your a hundred point scale, but instead of putting in say, a random 98 or a 76 or a 63 or whatever, you can decide on. If my students in this range, I'm gonna put a 95 or an 85 or 75. 65. 55, 45. Like you could pick specific grades and get that again, that consistent kind of scale going down in terms of how many points are in between each one.

[00:17:47] Rachel: But you only pick, pick a certain number.

[00:17:50] Katie: And, and that's I think, similar to the level system and how it's set up in our grade book system

[00:17:55] Katie: and It works. 

[00:17:56] Rachel: It is, and it works. And I think it just, it can help if you're not quite there yet with thinking about that smaller scale.

[00:18:05] Katie: Definitely.

[00:18:06] Rachel: And then I would say the other big one is think about your zero.

[00:18:10] Katie: I know, and those are hard conversations to have and I understand it, but I think that they're, they're worth having. It's kind of like when we, when we start to have some difficult conversations about equity and racism and all the rest, and we always say, You need to question your emotional responses, and why are you feeling that way?

[00:18:29] Katie: I feel like a zero is the same conversation. Why do we feel that way? Why do we get defensive about it? Why does it make us uncomfortable?

[00:18:36] Rachel: And I, I just remembered something too, or, or what you said just kind of sparked something for me in that, that minimum grade, putting in a, like a 40 instead of a zero, like if you're putting in a zero, what does that zero actually.

[00:18:50] Rachel: Does it mean that your student has zero comprehension of the skill or topic, or does it mean that they have zero compliance,

[00:18:59] Katie: 100% is zero compliance, typically. 

[00:19:03] Rachel: right? 

[00:19:04] Katie: is what it is.

[00:19:05] Rachel: So yes, maybe the comprehension is not there, but is it really.

[00:19:10] Rachel: And I think that's where the argument for putting in a MI minimum grade comes from, is that yes, there is some comp comprehension there, but what you're seeing is a lack of compliance. So you're not getting that information to be able to then put the comprehension into a number.

[00:19:27] Katie: Yes. But if you've seen them demonstrate that skill in class, is there a way that that helps you understand better why it would be a 40 versus a zero? So maybe they were non-compliant for that assignment or that test. And many different factors come into play there but you saw them completing the work and they were able to demonstrate some of that learning is that we should still value.

[00:19:50] Rachel: So that that zero, the, the non-compliance, like, I guess maybe thinking about, well, how can you get any kind of demonstration of knowledge from that student? And some students will take the zero because they just don't know what to do

[00:20:07] Katie: Or they're just not motivated by school.

[00:20:09] Rachel: Exactly. Right. So what can we then do in terms of consequences instead of putting in a.

[00:20:15] Katie: And, and I think that, you know, the title of this book is Grading for Equity. And I think it's recognizing that some of these students that are doing this, it's because school is not for them. And, and they probably come from some pretty tough situations and it's not. It's not that they want to piss you off and give you a zero, it likelihood is it just doesn't work for them, and we need to find a different way to get through to them and help them learn and be successful.

[00:20:42] Rachel: Yeah, I think we definitely need an episode on zeros because we could talk about zeros for a very, very, very long time. And different ways that we could go get about like, what do you do if you don't give zeros? So, we'll, we'll explore that in a later episode

[00:20:58] Rachel: for. 

[00:20:59] Katie: I like

[00:21:00] Katie: it. 

[00:21:00] Rachel: I guess then the last sort of thing for us to chat about is, all right, so we, we've kind of talked about it a little bit, is if we use these minimum scales or if we don't use a hundred point scale in our classroom, what do we do when we have to use it?

[00:21:15] Rachel: How do we get back to that grade? Because inevitably that's what what's gonna happen, at least for us at midterm and final reporting. We have to enter and agreed. That's out of a hundred.

[00:21:26] Katie: Yeah, and so I think that's where coming up with those specific numbers or those specific, you know, how it relates to the different levels or whatever system that you have set up, you do need those. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I don't know, but we need to make it actually convert onto a 100 point scale because at the end of the day, that is our responsibility.

[00:21:45] Katie: So that's where like our grade, our grade book program is pretty good that way because we are levels one through four to Ontario, in Ontario and it allows for a numerical grade or mark based on those different levels. So that when I've been inputting it, I do input it by level, but it converts it automatically.

[00:22:03] Rachel: Yeah, so there's definitely that. I also really love using conferencing with my students. So I will have, for example, students will be performing within a specific level, but it might have 10 points in terms of the a hundred point scale. So where does the student lie in that specific range? Well, I sit down with them and I conference with them at midterm time and then have them do a little bit of a different process for final reporting time, but we come up with a grade together.

[00:22:36] Katie: Nice. Yeah, I like that. And that can take time, but it is worth it because it, it really does allow you to get to know the students a bit more and make them think about their grades and, and their role in that grade. And I think that's important.

[00:22:49] Rachel: Yeah, it can take a lot of time, but I have a process where I have students doing this pretty big reflection beforehand, and so we use that. We use the data that I've collected and the data and evidence that the students have collected, and we use all of those pieces together to come up with that.

[00:23:08] Katie: Which is amazing.

[00:23:08] Rachel: Yeah. 

[00:23:09] Katie: We should be doing more of 

[00:23:10] Rachel: Mm-hmm. 

[00:23:11] Katie: love that.

[00:23:11] Rachel: And then I think maybe one other suggestion I have is if you're using levels, You don't necessarily need to rely on your grade book to spit out an average, really like, like Katie was saying earlier, we do most recent, most consistent. So you could print out the list of all the levels of all the different assignments over the course of the semester and look for trends.

[00:23:34] Katie: Yeah. And then, you know, sometimes I do a quiz every once in a while mostly cuz the students like them and they ask for them and it drives me crazy. But, I often go back and I'll no market if I notice they have been steadily improving. And so that I'm like, eh, you don't need that low mark cuz you've taken that feedback and now you can actually show me.

[00:23:53] Katie: You've demonstrated that 

[00:23:54] Katie: learning. So why would I. so there are, there are ways that you can look and then make sure it is the most accurate in terms of reflecting what your students have learned and demonstrated.

[00:24:04] Rachel: Well, I think we could talk about this for ages more, but I think what we'll do is we'll wrap up our conversation here cuz that's a really sort of nice place where we've talked about some different ideas for you to consider.

[00:24:16] Rachel: So on that note, we'll uh, as I said, we'll wrap up our conversation here for today and we'll include any of the links or resources we talked about here today in our show notes. You can find our show slash 1 22. That's edu G a l 20.

[00:24:37] Katie: And if you like what you heard today, then feel free to share it with a colleague or a friend. And don't forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast app so that you don't miss out on any future content.

[00:24:46] Rachel: And as always, we'd love to hear from you. So do you use the a hundred point scale? Do you use something different? We would love, love, love to hear it. You can go onto our flip at edgy and leave us a video message there, or you can go onto our and leave us a written response

[00:25:05] Katie: Thanks for listening and see you next week.