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Rethinking averaging of grades

David Wees Learning Specialist: Technology for Stratford Hall

I work in a school which believes wholeheartedly in assessment for learning, rather than assessment of learning. The big difference is that assessments are used to inform our instruction and guide student learning, rather than take an anatomy of what the child has learned.

One consequence is that we no longer average grades together. Our final grade for a student reflects, as best we can, what we think the child would be capable of doing on a good day. We also split the summary of a child's learning habits (which we call approaches to learning) from their learning outcomes (which we call their summative assessments). If our "approaches to learning" grade reflects the coach-ability of a child, the summative grade reflects their performance "at the big game."

If you still average grades together to determine a final grade for students, ask yourself these questions:
1. What is the purpose of averaging grades?
2. What else is included in those grades?
3. How reliable are the measures you are using to create those grades?
4. What is the final grade supposed to represent?

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Hi David,
I agree completely. Averaging grades can unduly punish a student for struggling with a subject at the beginning of the term even if they mastered it by the end. By using a decaying average or the most recent score we can better reflect what the student knows right now.

On the other hand, if you want to keep track of certain life skills, like timeliness and time management, taking the most recent score might not paint the best picture of the student's responsibility in this area (being on time the last day of school after a year full of tardiness does not mean the student has mastered the skill of punctuality).

So I think choosing the right calculation method depends on the skill being assessed. We have to think about the overall picture we are trying to communicate...which relates to your point #4 I suppose :)

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