Stuck in a 4.0-Scale World - Part 1

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I am going to be the first to admit that I don’t have the answer. Or, for that matter, any answer. I will, however, openly say that I have lots of questions and that I am not really afraid of “getting this wrong”...what I am I talking about? The word that pained me quite frequently this year: grades.


This year, with my upper-level photography class and my AP studio class, I modified my grading policies so that growth and process was emphasized over product. Why? As an art teacher, I’ve found that once I place a numerical score or a letter grade on something, the learning comes to a screeching halt.


So after all of that time and effort, you’re done? ...really?!


I understand that art students become emotionally attached to their work. (I was once one of those perfection-driven students. I really do get it.) Students create their pieces to look a certain way, and how dare their teacher make a suggestion for them to change it after it’s “done”? Also, how on Earth is it possible to equate an expressive/individualized/unique creation with a static, objective score?




It’s an ongoing saga that many instructors face.'s one of the biggest reasons I share rubrics before an assignment or project begins. Unfortunately, rubrics are traditionally presented in a way that emphasizes points, not necessarily growth or learning.


My goal this year was to blend non-graded Outcomes with graded assignments, such as discussions. With Outcomes, I was able to still provide great feedback and initiate conversations with students, without the direct reliance on the “currency” of points. (The question about why points are so amazingly motivating to students will be one I will save for later...) This dual grading approach worked surprisingly well, and students took more risks as a result.


Part way through first semester, I started to wonder if Outcomes on formative and summative assignments/projects was enough.


Does the combination of summative and formative assessments accurately capture what a student knows or can demonstrate? Should effort be included in a grade?


For my art classes, I think the answer is “yes”. Effort, growth, and experiences can all be shared in an ongoing dialogue - conversationally or written. Unfortunately, it becomes another set of questions when it comes to assigning a numerical value on what a student shares. While complete/incomplete is nice, I wish there was a “not yet” option so I could encourage students to go back and add more to their work without feeling like they let anyone down in the process.


I know that K12 and HE come with their own unique challenges...and that everyone approaches grades in their own I hope that this rambling isn’t causing too much trouble.


Needless to say, I’m thankful to have time to simply think and to process this summer before I have to design my next syllabus. While grading, among other teaching practices, will continue to evolve, I’m okay with that. I won’t ever “get it right” but I know that I am trying to best represent my students learning in an academic world bound to a 4.0-scale.