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This post was originally posted on Assessment FOR Learning.

After studying Assessment FOR Learning pretty intensely for the past few school years, I am now beginning to think that we might do ourselves a favor if we would change some of our terminology.  Specifically, I think it's time to stop using the words "grading" or "grade" as often as we do and replace them - at times - with "scoring" or "score".


You don't have to go very far down the AFL road to realize that traditional grading practices often get in the way of our attempts to use AFL strategies.  Traditional grade books and grading strategies typically average together all of a student's grades for the grading period to determine a final grade.  Therefore, practice assignments such as homework and classwork will have an impact on the student's grade.  Since the concept of assigning lots of practice so that students and teachers can receive the feedback necessary to increase learning is central to AFL (see Heart of AFL), averaging practice grades into a student's overall grade becomes obviously problematic.  What if the additional practice helps a student learn but also lowers the student's grade?  The natural reaction to this problem is for teachers to feel that they should not grade practice assignments.  For more on this topic see:

So the philosophy of AFL naturally leads to teachers feeling as though they should not grade practice assignments.  This is where Newton's third law of motion comes into play: "To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction."  When students realize that some things are graded and some things are not, they react by asking before most assignments, "Is this going to be graded?"  Implied in their question is the idea that if the answer is "Yes" then they will work harder than if the answer is "No".  As a result, teachers are reluctant to not grade assignments - even if they agree with the philosophy of practice assignments not lowering a grade - for fear that students won't work hard and, therefore, won't learn as much. 


So we're left with a quandary.  We don't want to let practice impact the student's final grade but we want students to work on each assignment as though their final grade depended on it.  Part of this quandary is of our own making.  As explored previously in What we WANT students to do v. What we TRAIN students to do, we wish that students worked for the love of learning but we then use points and grades as a Sea World trainer uses a fish.  It's difficult to argue that students should not be motivated by grades when we, in turn, use grades as motivators.  We have to find a new way.  Perhaps our new AFL philosophy requires some new terminology.


What would happen if we started "scoring" all assignments and "grading" only a few?  The term "grading" implies the following:

  1. The teacher will assess how well the student did on the assignment.
  2. The student will receive feedback on well they have mastered the content.
  3. The grade will go into the grade book to be used to help determine the student's final grade.
In most classrooms, "grading" is the only tool the teacher has - or uses - for providing feedback.  There is an old adage that describes this problem: "When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."  


"Scoring" could be the new tool needed to help us out of our quandary.  The difference between scoring and grading is in implication #3 from the list above.  Both scoring and grading provide the teacher with feedback and both provide the student with feedback.  However, a score on an assignment may or may not be used by the teacher to determine the final grade.  Here's how I envision scoring working in a typical AFL classroom:

  1. The teacher assigns practice everyday.
  2. The teacher provides feedback on all practice.  While this feedback is often provided very informally, the majority of feedback given formally is in the form of a score.
  3. The score looks very similar to a grade.
  4. The score goes into the grade book.
  5. The students understand up front that the teacher will be looking over all of a student's scores - and grades - to determine what the appropriate final grade is for the student.  While graded assignments are the few that will definitely count toward the final grade, they will be much fewer in number than the scored assignments.  Rather than being tied down to averaging all graded assignments, the teacher who uses scoring will now be able to study the evidence and arrive at the most appropriate final grade.

The point here is that every score counts toward helping the teacher determine a grade.  When students ask, "Is this graded," what they really means is, "Does this count?"  With scoring, the answer to that question is:

"Yes, it counts.  Everything counts.  As the teacher, I will be analyzing ALL the evidence - just like a good detective - before arriving at a conclusion (your grade).  How it counts could be different for each of you, depending on how you perform, but ALL assignments count."

Scoring satisfies our desire to be AFL-ish:

  • teachers receive feedback
  • students receive feedback
  • practice doesn't have to lower - or overly inflate - the final grade

At the same time, scoring doesn't entice students to fall into the trap of only working "when it counts."


What do you think?


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