Revision, Redemption, and Grades?

I want a culture or climate of revision and redemption for my learners.  The first step is second chance testing.  My learners have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and redeem points from their struggle to learn.  I am comfortable and confident in this approach to testing even when my learners’ parents struggle to understand this break from tradition.  For many learners, we see immediate results in improved test scores.

I am now faced with a new struggle concerning my grading practices.  After reviewing a couple of examples, I am hoping that you will comment below to give me your opinions and thoughts to help me move forward.  Please?  Just press post comment.  It will be okay.

MC is a hard working Algebra I student.  She regularly attends Office Hours with her team to work on her homework and check her understanding.   She really struggled with exponential growth and decay, but she stuck with it and learned.  Let’s look at her test scores:

Exponential Functions:  88
Polynomial Functions:   92
Cumulative Midterm:     96

What grade or test average would you assign this learner?  Why?

FH is a great learner in class.  He makes great eye-contact; he listens and asks great questions.  His work outside of class is average.  He really struggled with the algebra of polynomials.  Let’s look at his test scores:

Exponential Functions:  72
Polynomial Functions:   52
Cumulative Midterm:     83

What grade or test average would you assign this learner? Why?

Is the average of these three grades an accurate reporting of what has been learned.  Didn’t the struggle to learn more about polynomials cause this learner to continue to improve?  Should he be held to that 52 when it may have helped him learn?  It the spirit of revision and redemption, how can we accurately represent – with one number – what he has learned. If time is the variable and learning is the constant, what do I do with this data?  How do I make an accurate report?

PK shows up and does the daily work.  She regularly attends Office Hours with MS’s team to work on her homework and check her understanding.   She really struggles to put it all together.  She is great when the learning is compartmentalized, but when given choices, she struggles to know what to do when.  Let’s look at her test scores:

Exponential Functions:  90
Polynomial Functions:   83
Cumulative Midterm:     80

What grade or test average would you assign this learner?  Why?

Is there only one algorithm for computing the summary grade?  Are the conditions where the algorithm could/should change to represent what is learned?

I want a culture or climate of revision and redemption for my learners.  But there are deadlines, right?  Should a learner be held accountable for work in January that caused them to struggle and learn?  How could/should these scores be weighted?

How can one number communicate and summarize to a learner, a parent, and a future teacher what these children know and are able to do?


  1. Seems to me that conundrum begins when you have to look for 1 grade. If that is the pressure, you’re stuck. No one grade in any one assignment is sufficient to measure learning and growth. Averages of grades don’t work because learning is not a process that can be averaged. Learning is progressive and can best be measured through a “mastery model.” This model does require that we not be bound by time.

    If the school requires grades (quarter, semester, yearend, grades on tests, grades on quizzes, etc.), then the best you can do is average the scores–BUT create some fail safe mechanisms. For example:

    drop the lowest test grade
    test corrections (which you do)
    take your top 8 test scores over the year
    an analysis of progression or progress, grades that reflect progress
    have homework count more OR don’t count homework
    have a variety of assessments so that performances on any one type won’t adversely or dramatically alter the overall grade
    and many more

    But I do agree that a simple averaging is not effective as a tool.

    I think the algorithm (there isn’t just one) needs to be clear, understandable and logical. It can’t be a moving target.

    Good post and good questions that don’t have simple answers.



    • Hi Bob…Thanks for thinking with me about this.

      I don’t want to drop a test grade, but I could be very interested in replacing a test grade. Each test measures some of the essential learnings that other tests will not measure. By dropping a test, I might send the message that these topics are not really essential, right?

      You are right; I already have my learners correct their tests. And, they can test again (and again if needed).

      I don’t count homework. Homework is for practice, struggle, risk taking, failure, and redemption. If you struggle, completely fail on your homework, and it causes you to learn, then your grade should not be penalized. You should be celebrated.

      I just not sure that averaging is the best I can do. I think it is the historical thing to do. However, it is April. I appreciate your comment about the algorithm being clear, that is shouldn’t be a moving target. Does that mean I should just average since that is what I’ve done for the previous grading periods during this academic year?

      If I find a different way, maybe ActiveGrade’s way, should I not try it now?

      I have to report by Monday at 3:00. The simple way is to average and report. I will meet the deadline and no one will question my grades.
      …except for me.


  2. I give unlimited opportunities within a chapter to retake quizzes and revise assignments, and I give 1 test and 2 retake opportunities on each chapter test (with different questions; yes, this is a lot of work). This practice has been somewhat controversial, as you said, because it is a break from tradition. Some parents love it, some don’t. Other colleagues like the idea, others don’t. The common arguments I hear against my policy: Students don’t get a 2nd chance in “real life”; students of other teachers complain to their teachers; fear that students don’t try the first time because they know they’ll have a 2nd chance. Although my system may not be perfect, I choose to stick by it because I feel that it promotes the ultimate goal of student learning. My contention is that students experience deeper learning with my policy . I feel that my students are better prepared for the next level than they use to be because they know the material better and can do more with what they know. I’m sure there a handful of students who “work the system” but there are also plenty of students who work with me at 7:00 am, who stay until 4:00pm, and who contact me in the evening and on weekends in order to deepen their learning. Student are required to see me in Office Hours to discuss the first test, make test corrections (and sometimes revise their corrections), and come back in Office Hours to retake tests. This is time-consuming, so they learn that they should study the first time.

    I could say much more but I’ll stop here. I don’t have a short answer to your question regarding how to handle the student scenarios. For me, it would depend on whether the material was cumulative, which it would be ideally.


  3. @Kristen And it’s not like students don’t game other systems! Getting students to engage in their education is about personal connections, and I think it’s easier for students to believe that you care about what they know when you keep asking them what they know. When you just give a test and then it’s over… it’s like saying you don’t care what they learn after that. So, stopping the gaming is about your students’ relationships with you and with their education – NOT about whatever system you use, but about why you’re using it. I believe that passionately.

    @Robert You said the best we can do is average with some fail-safe (grade-inflating) mechanisms, but I think we can do better. I think finding ways to raise the grade can be harmful, because it can make it seem more like a game about grades. Standards-based grading can help a lot in this area, I think, by enabling better combination algorithms than averaging

    Thanks a lot for the post, Jill. I spent the last hour reading and responding to it – very thought provoking! I hope you’ll read about standards-based grading (which deals with a lot of this very gracefully) and check out ActiveGrade, the software I made to support better handling of grades.


    • Thank you Riley. I appreciate your thoughtful responses here and on Bo’s Connected Principals post. I’ve been working on using other functions to help with my algorithm. I started with the power function recommended by Dr. Marzano, but I wondering if a logistic function would be better.

      I have been reading about standards-based grading. My friend and colleague, John Burk, is helping think more and more about adapting/changing what I already do. I am careful to work with my team so that we move and adjust together.

      I’ve looked at ActiveGrade, and I’m going to try it this weekend with my current grades.


  4. Jill,

    I fear you are caught in a system wide trap. Most schools and districts do not have an agreed upon purpose for grades. Without that, any answer is easy to refute.

    That said, if you decide and declare that your grades are solely a measure of learning (not compliance to rules and deadlines), then you must give the score that most accurately reflects the learning.

    The first student, it seems, deserves an A because she was able to demonstrate that she had learned. For the two others, I am less certain and would want to know more about their situation.

    You are grappling with questions that are intensely challenging. I urge you to read Thomas Guskey’s book The Problems with Standards Based Grading. I will give you a link to a summary that I wrote of the book.

    Good luck and please let us know what you decide.


  5. I am reading about the challenges to grade tests and learning and at the school where I provide consulting analytics, we have two grades, one being for test scores ( achievement ) and the other being for effort ( attitude ) so we are looking at who the student is and not only what they achieve.


  6. I actually just posted on this topic ( I think too often we spend too much time on the numerical aspect of the grade. In the end, we need to take a step back and think about what we want to communicate. Don’t let numbers and averages get in the way of that.


  7. I’ve been reading along for a while, lurking…and this post has moved me to comment. This is the million dollar question for everyone who considers these kinds of questions. And I think it comes down to what you see the function of homework and tests to be. I agree with the previous comment that grading HW really puts you in a bind…kids get the message that it’s about the grade not the learning/practice. So not grading homework sends a different message….but not without you investing some significant crafting of that message. I wrote a post about my journey with this process a while back and don’t know if it might add something to your considerations.

    Can you look at the curriculum standards for each of these and develop what each “grade” would look like? And then assign that grade by where the student ends up at the time you have to assign that final grade? If your gradebook program lets you show the other grades as “exempted” from the total, you might be able to give continuing information to both student and parent and then reserve the grade for where they end up? Would that work?


  8. Jill,
    Like many of the people above I suspect that the problem is inherent in the process – i.e. when you attempt to reduce a student’s performance to a grade you lose the detail that makes that child and their performance meaningful. When you attempt to measure any student work by a single grade you reduce it to the lowest common denominator and you end up with a figure that would be close to irrelevant if it were not for the damage that that it can produce.

    This is not the place for a full fledged rebuttal of the worthiness of assigning grades – for that I can only recommend that people read practically anything by Alfie Kohn, either on his website or in his books (especially “The case against standardized testing”, or his most recent collection of essays “Feel Bad Eduction”). We need to ask not how we can make a system like assigning grades more accurate by why we want to in the first place. What meaningful information does assigning a grade without explanation provide? Why do we want to rank our students at all – especially by a single figure?

    An obvious answer is – we have to. Unless teachers are lucky enough to be employed in unorthodox school system teachers are often required to “report” on their students in such an inappropriate fashion. This situation is likely to continue unless it is challenged and questioned by practitioners – and, in the spirit of alliteration, by parents and pupils too.

    Discussions such as this are vital if we are to challenge the system – not to improve it, but to replace it.


  9. Wow. It took forever to read all these wonderful comments. When I was at CDS in the 90’s I introduced a mastery learning policy where students were allowed to take tests over. The syllabus identified critical expectations as well as “nice to have” ones. Tests were created with these expectations on mind. Once all critical expectations were mastered, no other retests were permitted. This worked extremely well in 11th and 12th grade courses; not so well in lower grades. What did work well was that as long as I did my due diligence in identifying what was critical, almost all students achieved those goals. But I must say, it almost killed me. The amount of time in creating retests was incredible. At some point I felt that I was being taken advantage of by students. But in hindsight, I feel it was worth the effort on my part and that of my students.

    I disagree with the comment that oblige we don’t get second chances. That hasn’t been my experience in any job ( thank heaven). We get opportunities to get the job done within a specified time. If a first, second or third draft isn’t acceptable, then I get to work on it again. But there are rewards for being efficient too.

    Thanks, Jill for this thought provoking topic.


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