Last school year, a group of Friendswood High School English III teachers came together to implement a new form of non-punitive grading into their classrooms. The way it works is most assignments are considered “formatives,” or a way to practice a new skill. The students receive a score and feedback on the assignments, but the grade does not count for credit in the grade book. This gives students an opportunity to be self-starters, receive and apply feedback, and work on mastering a skill. Once the teacher believes the students have mastered the skill, then they are given an assignment that does count for credit.
“We all know that saying ‘the learning happens in the struggle,’ and our current grading system seems to penalize students while they are in that struggle,” teacher Monica Whitsett said. “Our pilot program is designed to allow students to practice and eventually master the skills we present; they are only graded on the final assessment. We attempt to take to focus off of the grade and redirect students to the skill.”
According to Whitsett, a common criticism that is initially made is that students will not take tasks seriously unless they are for a grade. To respond, she quoted an article from Education Weekly titled Should Formative Assessments Be Graded? that argued if a student is engaged, they will learn.
“Students who want to pass the driving test to get their initial license generally don’t need grades or scores to motivate them to learn the material,” she quoted. “Formative assessment, if it helps them improve their chances of passing the driving test, is useful to students, and a grade is not necessary.”
Teacher Jenna Crosson, who is a part of the team, said she has seen the benefits of this learning within her own classroom.
“I can honestly say that I have seen growth in my students; current and past,” Crosson stated. “My seniors who were my last year juniors are independent, self-directed, and know how to own their mistakes, fix them, and try again. I feel confident graduating kids with those skills.”
“Our students are now taking ownership of their learning, taking risks, reflecting on their process and becoming self-advocates,” she said. “Students have a lot going on in their lives so for them to be able to get class time to learn skills without the fear of failure on a grade is so important.”
Students who participated in the pilot program last year said they are advocates for the new grading policy.
“This grading system was one of the most beneficial parts out of all my years of learning,” FHS senior Colin Cowie said. “It taught me to manage my time inside the classroom and outside the classroom, it changed the classroom environment as well and you could see the difference between students and how they chose to go about their work.”
Just as the students are experiencing substantial growth and improvement in their learning, Crosson recognized how the system also forces the teachers to evaluate themselves as well.
“This policy has made us reevaluate what we are teaching and why,” Crosson said. “If we, the teachers, cannot answer ‘what skill do I want my kids to learn from this?’ then we don’t teach it or assign it.”
Executive Director of Secondary Teaching and Learning Kim Cole said she believes this method of grading is the way of the future.
“I absolutely see these types of approaches taking hold as we shift and reflect on our true purpose as educators,” Cole said. “I am so proud of the work that this team is doing to create environments where assessment and feedback create responsibility and ownership of not just grades but of the learning that the grade should reflect. This is a big shift but one worthy of our focus.”