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A mystery teacher has become an internet scholar after imgur user SharkyTheSharkDog shared photos of the extra credit questions on their exams.


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Schopfer teaches English at Colfax High School in Placer County, California, a rural district where many of her students are eligible for free- and reduced lunch. Ultimately, Schopfer concluded that traditional grading was negatively affecting students' lives.

So the way I was grading did not feel good to me.

This was not why I became a teacher. Conventional grading practices still have widespread support among educators, but more teachers have chosen to take a different path. It isn't necessarily for everyone. It's challenging, riddled with potholes, and offers no easy solutions.

Extra credit is not really extra

Different educators adopt different strategies at a pace and a scope that's best for their students. Still, it's a journey that usually begins with the same nagging, urgent question about traditional grading: Why am I doing it this way? Like some other pillars of U.

With schools emerging slowly from the COVID pandemic, however, these practices may not be part of the "normal" educators want to return to in the Fall. Jeffrey AustinEnglish department chair at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, definitely sees a pickup in the conversation about grading policies.

After a year of unprecedented disruption and stress for students and educators, educators may want to seize on the opportunity to more clearly articulate what a grade should represent. Not everybody is on the same about what specific course to take, but they're talking about it like never before. There are three major, long-standing objections to conventional grading practices. They don't accurately measure student learning.

They are not intrinsically motivating. Perhaps most importantly, by leaning too heavily on non-academic factors such as compliance or punctuality, they are also endemically biased.

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Zero grading, in particular, has been a flashpoint in many districts. Educators and school leaders have banned the practice out of concern that such a low mark on a point scale doesn't measure learning in any way and leaves students in too deep a hole. In addition, zero grading is anything but motivating. Why are students being told they are "failing" their virtual classes? Why must we focus on grades, particularly in this moment? Too often what gets embedded in the grade, says Joe Feldman, a consultant on grading accuratelyis the timing of when work is completed. Students who have fewer resources and a weaker safety net have been disproportionately harmed by these practices," explains Feldman, who is also the author of Grading for Equity.

This doesn't necessarily mean that soft skills shouldn't be addressed or be a source of feedback from educators — only that they shouldn't be included in the actual grade. Kristal Jaaskelainen, a high school teacher at a small independent school in Ann Arbor, says many traditional grading practices are deed to punish mistakes and are generally counterintuitive to what and how we want students to learn and achieve.

Teachers — and their students — often discover the hard way that "pedagogies of compliance" don't really work, Jeff Austin adds.

Key takeaways

They have plans, they want to learn and grow. So we should give them that space to do so. It may not look and sound and feel like we think it should or how we learned — but they end up doing great work. Students who have fewer resources and a weaker safety net have been disproportionately harmed by these practices.

How to talk your way into a better grade

Austin and Jaaskelainen were colleagues at the same school when they began to ask questions and challenge assumptions about traditional grading — an important but manageable first step before they embarked on the undeniably challenging work of redeing how they evaluated students. They no longer teach at the same school, but Austin and Jaaskelainen collaborate in their advocacy for grading reform. You can hear from them about the decisions they made in the NEA webinar below That they chose different models for their own classrooms is no surprise, says Austin. Despite the heightened interest over rethinking grades, educators aren't coalescing around one specific approach.

Retired, but still entertaining

Jaaskelainen doesn't use zeros, but she isn't quite ready to give up letter grades entirely. Under a "progress points" system, she gamifies her grading by asking a students in a conference what grade they would like.

They then talk about how many points it will take for them to get there. The target doesn't change, and Jaaskelainen works closely and regularly with each student to help them meet it. Jaaskelainen believes this and other models open up multiple and continuous entry points for students that help get them to where they need to be. In the upcoming school year, progress points grading will be piloted by half the teaching staff at her school.

Early in his teaching career, Austin had defaulted to traditional grading methods and the enforcement measures that that came with them, creating a more adversarial climate in his classroom than he wanted - or even anticipated when he made the decision to become an educator. I began to feel like I was working against the kids, using grades as a means of control. I realized that I needed to make a change. Austin started with a delayed grading system. Under delayed grading, to keep students motivated and help build their confidence, teachers choose not to attach grades until the end of a process.

Austin would give his students the option of a face-to-face conference with him before they got a grade, or they would fill out a reflection form about their work and he would then write them feedback. Only after this process would a grade be issued.

Eventually, Austin went further - much further.

Extra credit never felt so good

He arrived at labor-based gradingwhich is based on the idea that the work students put into class is too easily dismissed or at least overshadowed by routine judgments about quality or, again, behavior and compliance. Under labor-based grading, "learning and judgments about quality, which are always-already biased because of their roots in single standards, are separated," explains Austin. Each term, Austin creates a "contract" with each student laying out how much work is required to reach a A,B,C or D. Austin meets individually with students five times during the term and provides regular written feedback in between conferences.

It's a philosophy steeped in equity because it acknowledges the different ways different students learn. For some educators and parents, however, it may sound like the "wild, wild west" for students who may be looking to game the system. Five years ago, Sarah Schopfer took a long hard look at her asments to weed out those that didn't align close enough with the standards. She found lot of busywork that didn't help measure student learning. I owed that to them. Schopfer also decided that her students wouldn't incur a loss in points if they handed work in late and she implemented a flexible retake policy.

Scopfer largely sets aside class participation and other "performance" factors in grading that in her view don't reflect anything tangible about learning. And no more "atomic zeros," she says. Schopfer also ditched extra credit asments, which are deed specifically to help certain students to bump up their grades, regardless of whether the actual task has any real value.

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Extra credit can be inherently biased, because students with greater access to resources are likely more able to complete this additional work. For Schopfer, a more equitable grading system puts the responsibility on students to show that they know their stuff.

Regardless of the grading model, timeline, or the specific school although some are clearly more supportive of these reforms than othersno educator who has revised their grading practice will ever say it is easy work. Quite the opposite. Austin urges any educator who is beginning to question traditional grading to tap into learning communities inside and outside of school.

At the end of the day, he says, this is about advocacy, which requires collaboration and a commitment to be in it for the long haul. That doesn't mean it's not urgent, but it does take time. Relationships and support systems are essential, says Joe Feldman, because t eachers aren't trained in how to grade and they fall back onto practices that are unsupported by research.

Five years later, Schopfer continues to revise the standards-based system, which is now being implemented school-wide. Explaining it to parents can be challenge and Schopfer and her colleagues to constantly make sure their classwork is good practice.

And managing retakes, she concedes, can be "really tough. I have a much more healthy, positive relationship with students.

When you put the power in their hands, they step up I could never unsee or unhear the things I was doing before. So for me, there's no going back. Skip We use cookies to offer you a better browsing experience, provideanalyze site traffic, and personalize content. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies.

By: Tim WalkerSenior Writer. Key Takeaways After a year of unprecedented disruption and stress for students and educators, more educators are taking the opportunity to more clearly articulate what a grade should represent. Educators aren't coalescing around one specific approach. Sarah Schopfer "As teachers, we should always work to do what is best for the .

Pandemic Spotlights Flaws Like some other pillars of U. People are at a different place. This is a very complicated issue. Progress points gives students a tangible target that they need to hit.

Every Asment Has to Mean Something Five years ago, Sarah Schopfer took a long hard look at her asments to weed out those that didn't align close enough with the standards. Take us with you! NEA Today's mobile app gives you access to all the public education news, trends and views found in our print magazine, plus exclusive multimedia content that take you deeper into our stories.

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Yea, well Jack Rappaport may take it a little too far.


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This is the second article in a two-part series about equitable grading practices.