Every course syllabus specifies the academic content standards that are contained in the course. Standards are statements about what we expect students to know and be able to do. Teachers help students learn these essential skills and knowledge and use assessments to judge how well they have done so.
Our assessments are graded with a rubric that is aligned to our schoolwide performance scale, seen below:
Student shows in-depth mastery of knowledge, can reason using that knowledge and can consistently apply skills at a high level independently.
Student shows proficiency with knowledge, and can reason using that knowledge and perform skills independently most of the time.
Student shows limited proficiency with knowledge, but needs assistance to apply it or perform skills.
Student has minimal proficiency with knowledge, and can’t apply that knowledge or perform skills.
Assessments measure performance within standards -- some assessments measure just one standard while others cover multiple standards. In each case the rubric for each standard is used to assign an integer (1-4) to the student's performance. The best way to understand this is to see examples of assessments and rubrics. See below:
Assessment grades, then, don't show up as "80% on a quiz" or "95% on the test," but rather, performance within standards. Over time, numerous assessments produce more accurate overall grades because each standard is measured by at least three assessments. Many classes feature standards that are measured multiple times throughout the school year. In the end, overall marks for each standard are calculated in one of several ways:
- Most recent: The final mark in each standard becomes the overall mark for the standard. EX: In Social Studies class, using original source documents to construct an argument is a skill that is taught, reinforced, and assessed several times throughout the year. Social Studies teachers using the "most recent" standard calculation would use the student's mark on the final assessment as the final mark for the standard. In theory, this allows students to learn and perfect the skill, practicing it many times without penalty.
- Mode: Over the span of a school year, some standards are assessed many times because the same skill is applied to different content. EX: In Spanish class, students learn Spanish vocabulary at the rate of 20 words per week and their weekly assessments commonly cover those new words learned. Teachers mark students using the 1-4 scale, so over the course of the year, their marks for vocabulary quizzes would look something like this: 4, 3, 3, 2, 3, 4, 4, 3. 3, 3, 3. A 'modal' standard calculation would mean this student's mark within the vocabulary standard would be a "3," because that is the score he or she got most often.
- Decaying Average: Viewed chronologically, every assessment takes on more and more 'weight' within the overall standard calculation, which is an average. EX: In Science class, creating experiments and recording results in a lab report is a common set of skills that is measured. Students go through basically the same procedure every time. A teacher using decaying average would grade lab reports and enter marks within standards each time. Within those standards (An example of one is "Conduct a controlled experiment, record and present data that is systematic, relevant, accurate, and organized, and make appropriate graphs that enhance the communication of data.") students would receive a 1,2,3 or 4 on every lab. Use of 'Decaying Average' would derive the overall standard mark from an average of all the scores, with each one being weighted 66% more than the one before it. In this way, assessments toward the end of the class (when students have performed the skills many times) count for more in the overall 'grade.'
Reporting student performance within standards is truly all that is needed to accurately paint a picture of that student's knowledge and skills. Using the most appropriate calculations, teachers report areas of strengh and weakness to parents and students. However, external stakeholders (like colleges) are just beginning to understand high-quality grading and reporting, and they still demand an overall "letter grade" for each class. Thus, we combine standard marks into an overall weighted average and convert it to a letter grade. (The "weighted" refers to the fact that teachers have the discretion to give more weight to certain standards, owing to their importance within the discipline and the emphasis they recieve in class.)
The graphic below shows the conversion scale we use to turn integers into letter grades: