Rethinking Grading: Ch. 4

Chapter 4: What, How, and When to Grade
Cathy Vatterott

Pre-tests set the stage, shave instruction for all, and guide individual learning. After the pre--testing process, formative assessment provides feedback to students while they are still learning; summative assessment shows the level of mastery at the end of the learning cycle.

Most teachers of you and formal feedback and formative assessment as two different things. It's easier to think of formative assessment as structured tasks designed by the teacher, results of which may be marked or documented in some fashion, so students and parents can have a record of the students progress toward the learning targets.

Feedback is a two-way recurring conversation between teacher and student.

For teachers to be able to give feedback to students, it is necessary to limit direct instruction enter create activity-based lessons.

All feedback does not have to come from the teacher; peer feedback can also be useful.

As we get targeted feedback to individual student and as they are empowered to learn in their own way, the differences in learners become smaller.

If, after repeated attempts, a student or group of students has failed to master a learning target we must take a fearless inventory of our instructional process and ask yourself these questions;
What's their level of learning properly diagnosed with pretesting?
What's the feedback about learning timely specific and helpful?
Did our differentiation move the student or group of students forward?

Using the result of a pre-test, feedback, or formative or summative assessment, teachers can identify patterns in the students work or clusters of student need. Students can then be organized into two or more groups for ungraded group learning the activities at each table are based on the errors that students made on the form of assessment.

In a purely standards-based grading system, only summative assessment counts in the final grade.

Typically formative assessments are evaluated and descriptive feedback is given to the learner, such as with practice tests.

Ungraded practice tests are especially beneficial to learn as they Activate "retrieval learning" and strengthen the connections in the brain.

One technique for practice test is called "find it and fix it." Rather than marking the answers that are incorrect, the teacher notes to the student, "five of these are incorrect; find them and fix them". This requires a student to reengage with the questions and precipitates a lot of learning.

Mastery checks: these assessments are written using three levels: green, yellow, and red. The green level questions are basic skill problems and didn't really require only one or two steps to solve. Yellow level questions require multiple steps and or multiple ideas to solve. The red level questions are generally questions of the students have never seen before, requiring them to go beyond knowledge they have obtained and\or apply the knowledge to a new situation. Students are expected to attend all three levels of questions. Their answers help the teacher to determine the students his level of mastery.

The current consensus is that homework should be formative assessment the checks for understanding or that helps prepare students for summative assessments. Therefore, and I truly standards-based system, homework should not be graded. Standards-based policies usually state that homework will be reviewed and feedback will be given, but not counted in the grade.

The final achievement of learning is more important than the steps it took to get there.

Formative assessment is assessment for learning and occurs when there is still time to improve. Summative assessments are assessment of learning that occur the end of a predetermined learning cycle, after learning has taken place.

How in assessment is used is what determines whether it is formative or summative.

Students who eventually achieve mastery should not be penalized for earlier struggles.

The most recent evidence of learning is the most accurate and grades should be replaced by the most recent evidence.

Student should never be allowed to retest without showing additional evidence that they have mastered the concept that caused him to do poorly on the original assessment.

Remember that our goal is to minimize the number of retakes a student needs to show mastery.

We want to hoops to result in additional learning, not just for students to complete missing work.

Feedback is free help-there is no grade or Mark associated with feedback.

Formative assessments give students multiple opportunities to improve, free from the threat of grades while they are still learning, and summative assessments verify and report their learning progress.


  1. Hello, I enjoyed reading your post, as I am preparing to enter the education field and have been recently learning more about standards based grading. I feel that standard based grading does have a lot of positive aspects in a mathematics classroom. I especially liked your thoughts on how students should not be penalized for initially not knowing a concept if later on, they can show they have achieved mastery of it. This is often the case in my classrooms today, at all levels of education. I was curious on how standards based grading often works in regards to work outside of the classroom. For example, since homework does not count towards a final grade, do students often work on math outside of the classroom, or in general does all of the learning occur in the classroom itself during class time? And how do students typically react to this strategy?

    1. I don't give homework at all so yes, all of the learning occurs in the classroom. Some teachers meet with students outside of class for remediation so students can retest on a concept to improve their score.

      Um I would say students are pretty happy with not having homework!

  2. I really like the idea behind your “find it and fix it” problems. I think that is a great way to check for a complete understanding of the procedure. With such a heavy focus on justification with CCSS and PARCC testing I think that is a great way to put students continuous practice of justification to the test. Overall it sounds like you have found a great way to blend formative and summative assessments in your class structure.

    1. These are just notes from a book I read, not my classroom. :)