A Tale of Two Projects: Week 2 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project)

This blog entry describes what my students and I did during Week 2 of the Emerging Tech (NSF Grant) project.  The events in this blog entry took place at the same time as the events in this article.  As a pair, these describe what a PBL teacher does while running two projects in two different preps at one time.  To see accounts on earlier or later weeks of these projects, go here.


Week 2, Day 1 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



During Day 1, I was not available to work directly with the students because I was at a training related to my responsibilities as Campus Testing Coordinator.  The students started work on informal presentations on physicists who had contributed to our understanding of nuclear phenomena and quantum mechanics.  The students delivered these presentations on Day 4 of this week.

Each team was assigned a different physicist.  To start preparing students for a grant they would write several weeks later, the research questions for each physicist focused on the research of the physicist, its intellectual merit, and its broad impact.  The assigned physicists and related questions for teams 1 to 6 are shown in this linked image.  I provided them with at least 3 age-appropriate and accurate sources to research the questions to streamline their research process.


Each team was also given a template slide deck that limited teams to 3 slides per scientist (see linked template).  The template also constrained students to mostly images and very limited text on the slides.  The bulk of their responses to the research questions were hidden in the slides’ speaker notes sections.


Later on Day 1, I finalized a lesson for Day 2 of this week by analyzing test bank questions related to TEKS on nuclear phenomena and the weak nuclear force.  I found that my workshop needed to focus on types of radiation (alpha, beta, and gamma) and their relationships to nuclear forces (weak and strong) and various technology.  They also needed to introduce half-life and how to use half-life to select appropriate isotopes for different types of technology.  I designed a graphic organizer that included an embedded half-life chart and questions that asked students to interpret the chart to select isotopes for different technology applications – see Day 2 handout.


Week 2, Day 2 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



Early on Day 2, I made some minor adjustments to my visuals for the upcoming Nuclear Workshop because I needed to look up specific radioactivity values that corresponded to harmless and harmful levels of radiation and their effects.  I typically outline and draft lesson plans and related resources several days ahead of time and then refine them until the day before (or day of) the actual lesson.


Later on Day 2, I facilitated a workshop on Radioactivity with the IPE classes.  In this workshop, we introduced healthy and dangerous levels of radioactivity and used these thresholds to interpret the harmfulness (or harmlessness) of different types of radioactive technology.  We introduced the idea of half life and used specific half lives to discuss whether or not various isotopes were safe (or not) for consumer use.  We also introduced 3 types of radioactive processes (alpha, gamma, and beta) and discussed their connections to nuclear forces and technology applications.  After the workshop, students had time to answer the questions on the graphic organizer and to continue developing their presentations on nuclear / quantum physicists.


Later on Day 2, I finished grading revised reports from the previous IPE project on Rube Goldberg machines.  In this project, students built and tested Rube Goldberg devices in order to investigate conservation of energy and conservation of momentum.


Week 2, Day 3 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



Day 3 was the final work day that students had to prepare for their informal presentations on nuclear / quantum physicists.  In the warmup, we practiced using the half life chart to select the appropriate isotopes for specific technology applications.  During the warmup discussion, I was able to repeat and model correct thinking relating to interpreting the half lives of isotopes in the context of emerging technology.


While the students worked on their slides, I started contacting potential panelists in order to provide feedback to students during Week 5 of the project when students would draft their grant proposals.  I drafted a recruitment letter that summarized the project logistics and the types of support the student needed.  I linked the recruitment letter to a Google form that gathered information on volunteer panelists’ degrees, areas of expertise, and availability.  By the end of this week, this work yielded 5 panelists, a great number to support 10 student teams.  If you’d like to volunteer to be a panelists at CINGHS, click the linked form above.


Also during student work time, I ordered equipment from the UTeach department that related to an upcoming emission spectra lab.  I thought this equipment was critical to give students hands on experiences related to modern physics and to give students a break from a project featuring lots of online research and very few hands-on research activities.


My co-teacher and I prepared for presentations the following day by setting up Google Forms to gather peer grades on collaboration and oral communication.  I created a set of note sheets for capturing our teacher notes on teams’ presentations on quantum and nuclear physicists.  To prepare for our notebook grading day later that week (Friday, Day 5), we decided what assignments we would grade for that week and how many points we would assign to each assignment in each of our class’s learning outcomes (Oral Communication, Written Communication, Collaboration, Agency, Knowledge & Thinking, Engineering Content, Physics Content).


Week 2, Day 4 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



Early on Day 4, I decided to create an experimental tool to keep students in the audience of presentations more engaged.  I created a graphic organizer that students could use to take notes on other teams’ presentations.  I showed this tool to my co-teacher, Mr. Fishman, and shared a related idea: why not let presenting students’ stamp the parts of the graphic organizer related to their presentation so they could get real time feedback on how well they communicated their key points and also hold their peers accountable for taking good notes?  He was willing to try it.



The experiment was a success.  The students seemed to really enjoy stamping their peers.  Also several students insisted on making their peers improve their notes prior to stamping their papers so the level of accountability was kept high throughout the note-taking activity.  In addition to note-taking, students in the audience evaluated the presenters on their oral communication skills.  Meanwhile, my co-teacher and I took notes on their presentations relating to the rubric so we could use our notes to supplement what we would later gather from reviewing their slides and their hidden speaker notes.  Sometimes students say more than they write, so we use both our notes from what they say and what they write to evaluate their presentations and related research.


Later on Day 4, I used pivot tables to analyze data gathered via Google Form to generate peer grades relating to collaboration and oral communication.  I typed out my presentation notes in order to create a graphic organizer that summarized the key points delivered by all teams in both class periods.  I shared these notes with students the following day so they could learn from students in both periods.  See linked notes on tne left.  At the end of Week 4, the students used these notes and other notes to take an open notebook test on nuclear physics, quantum mechanics and biotechnology.


 Week 2, Day 5 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



On Day 5, we switched gears by introducing emerging (and ancient) examples of biotechnology.  We opened the class with a discussion on a Washington post article on the creation of pig-human embryonic chimeras.  After this introduction, Mr. Fishman led the class through an introductory workshop / discussion on biotechnology.  Students were so open with their opinions and prior knowledge of biotechnology that the 1-day workshop spilled over into the following day.


Week 2, Day 6-7 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



On Saturday morning, I checked the file revision histories of report documents to check which students were in danger of not meeting the final report revisions deadline.  I called the homes of all students who needed extra reminders and parental support to meet this important deadline.  Later on the day, I held online office hours to support students working on their report corrections.  While doing this, I gathered and re-formatted sample grant summaries that students would eventually analyze to learn the style of writing related to their grant proposals.  I also created a test on Nuclear Physics and generated the question sheet and bubble sheets for this test.


On Sunday, I graded the final revised versions of the students’ engineering report from the prior project (the Rube Goldberg project).  I also graded students’ presentations from earlier in the week using my presentation notes and also considering all the written texts and images on students’ slides and their speaker notes.  Using our IPE tool, the rubric chart (see linked Google Sheet), I was able to grade their presentations fairly quickly and enjoy the rest of my weekend.  The presentations were easy to grade because most of the students had done the assignment perfectly or nearly so.  I think the pre-selected articles, the specific research questions and the verbal feedback on the slides given throughout the week had really helped the students create quality products.


For more grading tricks, go here.  To continue reading  about this project, go here.


86: Standards Based Grading


Chapter 8 in Berger, Ron, Leah Rugen, and Libby Woodfin.  Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming School through Student-engaged Assessment. Print.



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Purposes / Uses:
  • Tie grades to specific understandings and learning
  • Communicate progress to students & their families about progress towards concrete goals (transparency)
  • Measures mastery at closure of grading period – not on average over the period
  • Make connection between work habits and skills more clear
Guiding Principles
  • Grades describe student’s progress and current level of achievement.  This involves:
    • considering trends in student work – especially most recent ones because these reflect more time to develop mastery
    • multiple opportunities for students to show mastery
  • Habits of scholarship are reported separately from content mastery grades.  This involves:
    • keeping separate grades  for assessments of character learning targets (in New Tech schools – this may be covered by showing the learning outcome grades separate from the content grades)
    • scaffolding and assess character learning targets, just as one does for academic learning targets
  • Grades communicate (not motivate or punish).  This involves:
    • knowing that low grades are not a motivation for better habits
    • early communication of grading criteria
  • Student engagement is the key to success.  This involves:
    • teaching students how to effectively self assess their knowledge and use it to plan next steps
    • knowing that effective self assessment leads to more feelings of self-efficacy
    • believing that all students can succeed with the right supports
    • comparing work to standards not to other students’ work
  • Communicating clearly about achievement.  This involves:
    • realistic accounting for early mistakes
    • opportunities to learn and improve
  • Engaging students.  This involves:
    • students playing an active role in understanding and assessing learning targets
  • Holding students accountable.  This involves:
    • holding students accountable to academic AND character learning targets
    • having frequent conversations about what that accountability means and using those conversations to guide learning
Getting started involves …
  • developing and using learning targets to guide curriculum, instruction and assessment
    • building supporting learning targets that build towards long term learning targets
  • defining clear character learning targets based on school-wide behavior expectations
  • committing to student-engaged assessment practices
School-wide implementation involves …
  • formulating and communicating school-wide grading guidelines to ensure school-wide consistent grading. These include expectations for …
    • building body of evidence for mastery
    • using formative and summative assessments
    • fine tuning instruction in response to assessments
  • vertically aligning curriculum that prioritizing essential standards and shows a clear progression from grade level to grade level
  • developing consistent criteria for meeting or exceeding proficiency on learning targets
  • professional development on good practices relating to writing, scaffolding and assessing learning targets
Casco Bay High High School’s Grading System
  • 1 = Does not meet standards.  Does not demonstrate substantive progress towards learning target over the course of several assessments.
  • 2  = Approaches the standards.  Substantive progress towards learning target, but more time needed for mastery
  • 3 = Meets the standards.  Demonstrates competency in learning target.
  • 4 = Exceeds standards.  Demonstrates deeper level of understanding / skill than learning target required.
Sample Guidelines for Determining Progress Towards Long Term Learning Targets
  • Break long-term learning targets into several supporting learning targets that scaffold up to long term targets
  • Create assessments built on supporting learning targets
  • Assess long term target over the course of several assessments tied to relating supporting learning targets
  • Require students to demonstrate long term target RELIABLY not PERFECTLY
  • Value and reward long term progression towards mastery of long term learning targets over early demonstrations of mastery that can not be reproduced reliably later
  • Base mastery of long term learning targets on multiple summative assessments
Different approaches to passing courses:
  • Base passing grade on average grade over all learning targets
  • Passing course can only occur if student passes ALL learning targets.  Scores 3 or above (see above) on all learning targets.  (Casco Bay HS approach)
Reporting on habits of scholarship.  This involves:
  • Consistent school-wides standards for assessing and reporting grades on character learning targets
    • Interesting features of Casco Bay example:
      • Uses 1-4 grading scale on character learning targets (similar to academic learning targets)
      • HOW honor roll for students who earn 3 or above on all character learning targets
      • HOW scores of 3 or above on all character learning targets can NOT fail.  Instead get an incomplete and extra support and time (2 wks) to meet academic learning target criteria
  • Structures for supporting students who don’t meet character learning targets.  This can include:
    • Team teacher meetings that brainstorm how to provide support to students who are struggling to meet targets
    • Regular student opportunities for self assessment on character learning targets
    • More formal individualized intervention programs for students who are still failing to meet standards by the end of the grading period
Examples of Student-Engaged Assessment Practices:
  • Regular formative assessments
  • Descriptive feedback that supports multiple revisions of work
  • Formal presentations of learning
  • Passage presentations – students present their progress to an audience
  • Assessments tied to meaningful work
  • Peer and self assessments made by comparing work to established criteria tied to learning targets
Checklist for Quality Assessment Plans:
  • Learning targets are high quality:
    • aligned to standards
    • includes ONLY ONE clear, aligned verb
    • divided into long term and supporting standards
    • student friendly language
    • I can … format
    • collection includes variety: reasoning, knowledge & skills targets
    • knowledge and skills targets build up to reasoning targets
    • collection includes prioritized collection of content, literacy, numeracy & character learning target
  • Summative Assessments:
    • multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery of long-term learning targets
    • clear assessment tools used to measure mastery
    • learning targets and assessment tools align
    • collection is varied in format and type
    • motivate students
    • includes smaller formative assessments
    • aligned to standards
  • Formative Assessments:
    • formative assessments for each supportive learning target
    • prepare students for summative assessments
    • accommodates multiple learning styles
    • motivate students
    • clearly communicate learning target and means to achieve them
    • involve self & peer assessment and reflections
Supporting Students who need Additional (outside class) Time & Support
  • Intensives
    • 4-8 day remediation courses
    • intense focused study on learning targets not met
    • students who don’t need these have menu of electives to choose from
    • earns back lost credit
    • involves 1-on-1 conferences, small group instructions, lots of formative feedback
  • Block seven
    • extra study hall period with teacher support
  • Mud season school
    • opportunity to earn 3’s on character learning targets and 2+’s on academic learning target
  • Summer standards intensives
    • See above.   Takes place in summer instead of school year.
  • Out of class tutorials
    • afterschool, before school, Saturday, etc


Woah! This looks hard.  However some advantages I can see:
  • better communication of what students are actually learning
  • better means to target support
  • assessments that reward reliable knowledge built over time instead of averages over instances of learning that may or may not be reliable
  • clear separation between scaffolding, assessments and consequences (both good and bad) for academic and character learning targets
  • school-wide consistency on how grades are assigned
  • school-wide consistency on how students are supported in their efforts to achieve mastery
  • stronger professional culture in staff that emerges from school-wide agreements, training, & experimentation related to meaningful assessment practices



Preparation Steps
  • Identify a team of guinea big teachers who are willing to commit to building prototype systems that lay the foundation for this strategy.  These systems:
    • break up courses into long term and supporting learning targets
    • establish agreements on high priority character learning targets and develop long term and supporting targets for these
    • define consistent means for assessing long term and supporting learning targets
  • Conducting classroom trials to test and refine these systems
Early Implementation Steps
  • Guinea pig team of teachers implement and refine prototype systems described above
  • Consolidate tested strategies into a Faculty Standards Based Grading Guide
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Wide implementation of Standards Based grading based on field guide and related professional development sessions
  • School-wide agreements are made and supported that relate to grading and support structures



73: Writing Workshops





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Main components of writing workshops
  • students write during workshops that occur during class
  • teachers observe and give individual feedback
  • teach writing skills in a step-by-step manner
Reasons to Run Writing Workshops
  • ensures that students get writing done
  • diagnostic – learn what students are succeeding at and not
  • individualize instruction
  • can be more efficient than whole group instruction
  • model discipline specific thinking patterns and writing styles
Play by Play:
  • Building engagement, choice & individual goal setting:
    • students list possible writing topics they’d like to explore
    • teachers assign topics based on their interests and to ensure class-wide variety in topics
    • students conduct preliminary research to narrow down writing topic
    • student complete individual goal setting sheets that list specific content and writing goals they’d like to achieve in the project
  • Students working independently:
    • students conduct more research on color-coded notecards that categorize types of information and that record summaries and resources
    • students create outlines and draft pieces while waiting for conferences
    • set norms for independent work so that conferences can occur simultanously
      • write need-to-knows on sticky notes and place them on designated board
      • if you finish writing early, work on editing and revising
      • use low voices and sit close to thought partners
      • go to writing resource area for more ideas if you get stuck
  • Brief, Focused Teaching & Modeling:
    • assign a thinking sheet that outlines how to think / draft a small section of writing piece
    • conduct a mini-lesson on contents of thinking sheet
    • also support mini-lesson with modeling
    • can assign thinking sheets, teach mini-lessons, and model other key features of the writing pieces
    • could use tree diagrams and other graphic organizers to represent and outline arguments
  • Teacher Student Conferences and observations:
    • doesn’t instruct on right and wrong – instead asks questions that get students to make connections, justify arguments, etc.
    • can be short – 2-3 minutes and focused
      • commit to a learning target (writing or content) and focus feedback and inquiries on that focus to keep meetings targeted and short
    • could address any idea that students need help
    • possible prompts –
      • what are you working on?
      • how is it going?
      • what help do you need to move forward?
      • tell me more about why you …
      • what else do you know about …
      • how are you achieving your goals?
    • incorporate individual goal sheets – lists skills students want to master in current project
    • incorporate rubric
      • highlight rubric together or go over student highlighted rubric
      • give feedback specific to the rubric
      • use a rubric reflection sheet with columns: rubric criteria, successful or not, evidence, next steps
    • another way to share feedback
      • take notes on post-its while working the room
      • place on student work during work time or during conference times
    • storing conference notes
      • write on sticky notes that start on clipboard
      • move to student work
      • after it is used by student, move to a notebook that has pages for each student
  • Writing Folders:
    • keep work organized in writing folders – contain note cards, drafts, outlines, brainstorm ideas, individual goal sheets, peer review sheets, etc 
  • Share the Results:
    • conclude with oral presentations to share findings
Making time:
  • focus writing assignments on topics that involve big subtle ideas that are need to be taught over time
  • use writing workshop format for other types of problem solving – e.g. solving real world math problems, writing lab reports, etc


See Reasons for running writing workshops above.


Teaching students how to write within discipline-specific genres is tricky.  The elements of the writing workshop can be used to scaffold key features of writing pieces, guide students during work time and give specific formative feedback on work.  Incorporating student goals and student choice into the work builds student engagement, agency, and ownership of the work.


Preparation Steps
  • Develop thinking sheets and mini lessons and gather models to scaffold key features of the writing piece
  • Develop overarching topic or essential question that can be used to stimulate and focus student-geneterated topics and questions
  • Develop assessment sheets – could have columns for rubric criteria, successful or not?, related evidence, next steps
  • Plan logistics and gather resources – writing folders (physical or online), sticky notes
    • Tech Note: Google keep might be a good substitute for conference sticky notes because they can be shared with students and organized by tags and students can check off items in the list as they complete them.  Google keep may be good for storing student goals for similar reasons.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Run writing workshop that focuses on 1 to 2 elements of writing piece.  See elements listed above for details:
    • build engagement though some student choice
    • conduct mini-lessons, provide thinking sheets and model each feature (1 at a time)
    • facilitate independent work time – focus work time goals and communicate norms
    • meet with students in conferences and record feedback
    • organize work in writing folders
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Make writing workshops part of work time routine in multiple projects
  • Track writing samples over several projects and use these to help students reflect and set progressive writing goals



41: Rubric Design & Implementation

1-sourcesChapter 8 in Wiggins, Grant P., and Jay McTighe.  Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1998.  Print. 




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Types of rubrics:

  • Holistic – assign one score to performance
  • Analytic – assign multiple scores to multiple factors that evaluate performance
  • Analytic rubrics communicate more information than holistic rubrics

Rubric purposes:

  • communicate criteria for evaluating performances and products when there is no single correct answer to the challenge
  • communicate expectations to students
  • establish consistent ways to evaluate performances and products

Rubric writing suggestions:

  • develop rubrics for understanding (content) and performance quality (21st century rubrics)
  • derive criteria from targeted standards.  One method:
    • Use VERB in standard for proficient column
    • Use VERB that is a lower Bloom’s verb than standard VERB for emerging column.  Select a verb that describes an  skill that supports the development of the targeted skill.
    • Use VERB that is a higher Bloom’s verb than standard VERB for advanced column.  Select a verb that describes an enrichment task relative to criteria in proficient column
  • double check that targets align with learning targets
  • use 6 facets of understanding to develop advanced criteria
  • do not confuse “just engaging” assessments with “engaging AND valid” assessments
  • use past student work
    • divide student work into piles of similar quality
    • cluster reasons that unite piles into traits
    • write a definition for each trait
    • select samples that illustrate each trait
    • continually refine
  • rubric evaluating questions:
    • could student do well on this task without understanding key learning goals?
    • could student do poorly on this task while understanding key learning goals?

Rubric implementation tips:

  • use rubric to evaluate exemplars and provide rationales for scores
  • use rubrics to give formative feedback from teacher, self, and peers throughout the project
  • use rubric feedback to refine products



Rubric criteria are needed to evaluate responses to open-ended questions and to measure levels of understanding.  Rubric criteria help communicate clear communication expectations.  They make evaluations more clear, consistent and fair.  Designing aligned rubrics ensures that the performances we require from students demonstrate mastery of targeted standards.  Criteria can steer attention from correctness to levels of understanding.  Evaluating rubrics can help us make inferences about what students are learning.



Preparation Steps

  • Analyze NOUNS, VERBS and CONTEXTS in targeted standards.
  • If possible, analyze student work using method describe above.
  • Use analysis of student work and standards to develop rubric criteria.
  • Ask for feedback on rubric from teachers and student – check for alignment (from other teachers) and clarity (from students).

Early Implementation Steps

  • Distribute rubrics to students early in the project
  • Let students analyze rubric using tools such as Knows & Need-to-Knows charts and GRASPS – see this article for more on GRASPS
  • Use rubrics to generate teacher, self, and peer feedback that students use to improve understanding and product
  • Clarify expectations by evaluating exemplars using rubrics and providing rationales for scores and concrete tips for achieving criteria.

Advanced Implementation Steps

  • Guide students to seek out multiple exemplars and use their common traits to develop rubric criteria.   For more info on how to use models to generate rubric criteria – see this article: Models, critique, and descriptive feedback
  • Use rubrics and related tools to guide students in goal setting and tracking progress towards those goals over time



40: Assessment Design & Implementation





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Guiding Questions for Designing Assessments:
  • What evidence can show that students have achieved desire results? (ALIGNMENT)
  • What assessment tasks and other evidence will anchor projects and guide instruction? (ANCHORING)
  • What should we look for, to determine the extent of student understanding? (EVALUATION)
  • Does the proposed evidence enable use to infer a student’s knowledge, skill or understanding? (FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT, ALIGNMENT)
Assessment Implementation tips:
  • Use judicial analogy while assembling assessment portfolio – student is ignorant until proven otherwise
  • Check that assessments align to standards, essential questions and learning targets
  • Use self and peer assessment to improve understandings and products
  • Vary assessment types depending on type of knowledge:
    • use contextualized applied assessments to assess enduring understandings
    • use more traditional assessments for enabling skills
Embed assessments in authentic tasks.  Authentic tasks …
  • involve real world contexts
  • require judgement and innovation
  • ask students to do the subject
  • simulates challenging situations handled by discipline experts
  • assess student ability to use a repertoire of knowledge to solve a complex problem
  • creates opportunities for practice, rehearsal, research, feedback and revision
Use GRASPS to design and frame authentic tasks:
  • Goals
  • Roles
  • Audience
  • Situation
  • Performances and/or products
  • Standards to evaluate performance


Rigorous coherent units are more likely to be designed when a variety of assignments are planned that align to learning goals.  Prioritizing activity planning over assessment planning can lead to watered down, unaligned assessments and activities.  Planning assessments around understanding can lead to measures of students’ ability to apply and transfer knowledge.  Well planned assessments can lead to targeted feedback that helps students improve their learning and products.


Authentic tasks and assessments can demonstrate to students how adults really use (or don’t use) knowledge.  These can also show students how discrete packets of information come together to create more meaningful solutions and performances.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze standards to determine learning targets, enduring understandings, and enabling skills
  • Uses GRASPS and standards analysis to design project contexts and product problems / products that are authentic and aligned to standards
  • Use 4 Guiding Assessment Questions (see above) to design and evaluate assessment portfolio to project
  • Design scaffolding activities that support student achievement on assessments
Early Implementation Steps
  • Use GRASPS to help students analyze project launch materials
  • Use feedback from assessments to give students helpful formative feedback and to fine tune scaffolding activities
  • Use assessment data from multiple assessments to determine whether or not students are progressing towards mastery of learning goals
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Have students evaluate the quality of assessments use student friendly versions of the assessment guiding questions
  • Have students use a Learning targets chart to provide and justify evidence from previous assessments and tasks that they have successfully achieved mastery of learning targets

38: Effective Grading & Reporting





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Guiding Principles of Effective Grading & Reporting


Grades should be based on clearly specific learning goals and performance standards
  • establish and communicate standards that are indicators of success
  • describe criteria for measuring success
  • report results in a clear and consistent manner
Evidence for grading should be valid
  • measure evidence related to learning goals
  • do not let factors unrelated to learning goals affect grading such as: students’ disabilities, learning style, forgetting to put name on a paper
  • eliminate conditions that impede students’ ability to demonstrate mastery of learning goals
Grading should be based on established criteria, not arbitrary norms
  • don’t grade on a curve
  • if student’s IEP requires grading modifications – modify learning goals and establish assessment criteria related to these goals
  • design and implement systems that allow ALL students to achieve by demonstrating clearly defined standards
Not everything should be included in grades
  • do not grade pre-assessments or diagnostic assessments
  • formative assessments should not factor too much into grades
  • base grades primarily on summative assessments that measure student mastery of learning goals over extended periods of time
Avoid grading based on averages
  • evaluate student learning later in a learning cycle
  • consider using median or mode to assign grades
  • do not average in zeroes for incomplete work
  • assign an incomplete for missing work and use consequences other than grades
Focus on Academic Achievement and Report Other Factors Separately
  • report things other than achievement in ways other than grades



Grades should provide qualitative and quantitative data on how students are progressing towards learning goals.  The evidence for measuring this progression should clearly be linked to learning goals.  Achievement is hard to strive for if criteria are unclear.

Factors other than grades should not factor into grades since grades are relative measures of academic achievement.  Grades should be a summative measure of student mastery of learning goals.  This measure can be diluted if grades from early in the learning cycle factor into the grade.  Basing grades on mastery later on the learning cycle avoids penalizing students who do not learn quickly.  Giving formative feedback is not the same as assignment grades.  One can do the former frequently and the latter less frequently.


Preparation Steps
  • Design learning targets (academic and character) that are either directly standards-based or support standards-based work
  • Design criteria that relate to learning targets and the tools needed to communicate these effectively to students (rubrics, checklists, other graphic organizers)
  • Evaluate grading practices and decide what are one’s primary purposes for assigning grades
  • Develop grading systems that align to one’s primary reasons for assigning grades
Early Implementation Steps
  • Give more formative feedback than grades
  • Assign grades to students more often late in the learning cycles
  • Seek out student feedback to determine if grading systems are fair and accurate measures of student achievement
  • Assign other consequences to late and incomplete work – for ideas see Grading smarter, not harder
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Communicate grading purposes to students and ask them to volunteer their opinions on whether to not current grading systems are achieving those purposes.
  • Ask for student suggestions on how to improve grading practices

10: Grading Smarter, not Harder


Dueck, Myron. Grading Smarter, Not Harder: Assessment Strategies That Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn. Print.






  • CARE Method for Evaluating Effectiveness of Grading Strategy:
    • C: Students care about consequences
    • A: Grades assess content mastery alone
    • R: Strategies have good results
    • E: Strategies empower students to learn better
  • Instead of assigning a zero or incomplete to an assignment …
    • Assigned due time spans instead of due dates
    • Used late incomplete form that explained reason for late assignment, next steps to turn in assignment late, and signatures of student and parent/guardian
    • Assigned overall incomplete for a marking period if student was missing any major assignments. Converted that to a grade once all major assignments were turned in
    • Used homework club to help students complete assignments
    • CARE results: Students worked harder to avoid interventions because they didn’t want to lose free time to homework club. Grades more accurately measured content mastery. Interventions on late form reduced negative behavior more that homework incomplete and late points. Personalized interventions empowered students to complete assignments.
  • Instead of grading homework sets …
    • Incentivized homework sets by making them entry tickets into meaningful classroom activities
    • Graded occasional homework quizzes
    • Used individual homework completion to identify student homework profiles, i.e. how much homework student needed to complete to develop skills
    • Used homework profiles to determine appropriate interventions
    • Provided in-school support (homework club during lunch and after school) to complete homework
    • CARE results: Students did homework to gain access to more engaging activities and to perform better on quizzes.  Homework quizzes better assess content mastery than homework sets. Shifted focus from just completing homework to using homework to perform better on other tasks. In school supports empowered students to do better.
  • Instead of just grading tests …
    • Students completed test form that graded problems and related them to key skills
    • Students used test form to identify their content strengths and gaps
    • Students allowed to retest in specific topics that match their gaps only
    • Cascaded test grades to quizzes, i.e. if student demonstrated mastery on a topic in a test, quiz grade on same topic was changed to reflect current content mastery
    • CARE results: Motivated students to do better on tests to recoup quiz grades. Did not penalize students for developing content mastery slower than others.  Better assessment of content mastery over time.  More students opted to retest because they did not need to retest on all test topics.



Designing and implementing projects can be very time consuming.  Developing systems that save time and also improve learning are invaluable to teachers who aim to be both effective and sane.  Dueck’s CARE criteria are a good checklist for evaluating similar grading experiments aimed at creating new grading strategies that are more effective and less time consuming.  Aiming to use grading practices to measure content mastery, not behavior, challenges the idea of scaffolding and assessing 21st Century skills.  One can resolve this conflict by converting learning outcomes to student-friendly, measurable learning targets and scaffolding and assessing these learning targets to the same levels as content-specific learning targets.

Preparation Steps
  • Use CARE criteria to evaluate current grading practices and determine which are effective and ineffective practices
  • Brainstorm grading practices that can replace ineffective practices
  • Use a parent letter to notify parents/guardians of new grading practices and rationale for these
  • Develop resources (e.g. forms) related to new grading practices
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement new grading practices
  • Use CARE criteria to determine if new grading practices are a good fit for one’s students
  • Make adjustments to grading practices that improve their ability to demonstrate CARE criteria
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Develop grading routines and tools around CARE-tested grading strategies
  • Have students reflect on how grading routines are affecting their mindsets and achievement levels
  • Use student input to refine grading strategies
  • Refine student strategies to make students more active agents in the grading process