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Principles of Power Grading

Oct 1, 2017 | 2 comments

Power Grading is my grading system and it’s a proficiency-based grading and assessment system that aligns with student ability. It is based on standards-based-grading practices, sound assessment design, and Bloom’s Taxonomy. I have used and tested this system with thousands of students over the past fifteen years and have taught it to hundreds of teachers around the world.

Let me also say that Power Grading, and grading in general, does not lead to language acquisition, but rather, merely reports to what extent language has been acquired.

So what follows is my system of how to accurately assess students so that they know where they are on their way to proficiency and we, as teachers, know in which areas they excel and in which areas they may need to work.

1. Relate all grades to identifiable learning goals.

The more curriculum we combine into one grade, the less valid is the grade. When we group categories together and then average them out, the grade doesn’t guide our instruction. It is all mixed up not unlike a blob of purplish Play-Doh. And just looking at this purplish blob doesn’t give us any indication as to what colors and how much of each contributed to the overall blob. The same is true when we clump grades together. Which components of the grade did the student excel in and which needed some work. The overall average cannot tell us this.

The learning goals must be aligned with Bloom’s or another taxonomy. They are not all equal and each contributes only partially to the overall proficiency of a particular student. Those learning goals that merely identify knowledge must be weighted low. Those that measure understanding must be given mid-weights. And those that indicate creativity and synthesis are weighted the highest. If this is not done correctly, the overall results will be skewed.

2. Only include grades that demonstrate language acquisition.

Before entering any assignment in the grade book, ask yourself, “Does this assignment measure the students’ language ability?” If it does, it should count towards the student’s academic grade. If not, you can record it, but do not include it when calculating the academic grade.

3. Grades must have meaning.

Grades need to be a measurement of ability over time. Rick Wormeli said in his presentation on Standards-Based Assessment and Grading in Farmington, NM in 2014, “Grades are short-hand reports of what you know and can do at the end of a learning’s journey, not the path that you took to get there.” This is important because as we learn something new, we’re going to have trips and falls and those don’t necessarily affect our learning at the end of our journey. Some students may trip and fall frequently and others not so much, but in the end, if they meet the standard, that’s all that matters.

Grades must also be an accurate measurement of achievement. Achievement is the demonstration of knowledge and skill components of the standards. Just knowing lists of vocabulary and dozens of grammar rules is not achievement. Students have to be able to put the two together to be able to communicate in the language.

Grades should be focused on the idea of mastery. In his book Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom, Rick Wormeli said, “Students have mastered content when they demonstrate a thorough understanding as evidenced by doing something substantive with the content beyond merely echoing it.” In his Standards-Based Assessment and Grading presentation in Farmington, NM, he continues, “It’s what students carry forward, not what they demonstrated during the unit of learning, that is most indicative of true proficiency.” In the same presentation, he also adds, “A grade represents a valid and undiluted indicator of what a student knows and is able to do—mastery.” So again, just knowing vocabulary and grammar rules is not enough to indicate mastery. Being able to actually use the language in a substantive way—worksheets have never been substantive—is an indication of mastery and proficiency is what is left long after instruction has finished.

4. Use criterion-referenced performance standards.

Grade against the standards/outcomes, not the routes students take or techniques teachers use to achieve those standards or outcomes.

Using the standard grading categories like tests, quizzes, projects, homework, participation do little to tell you where students are in their learning. Neither do assessments based on norms or curves.

Rick Stiggens said, “Students can hit any target they can see and which stands still for them.” So if you set clear targets, base them on the standards, and share them with students, they will be able to meet and exceed them. Basing grades on high-scores, curves, and the like are basing students’ grades on variables the students have no control over and lack the ability to give you any real insight or measure or a student’s learning.

5. Live by the Minimum F.

When we talk about the Minimum F, we are talking about a standard 100% grading scale. Those who use a 4-point rubric or GPA grading, won’t have a need for a minimum F.

The Minimum F is where you limit the lowest grade entered into the grade book to 50%. Why would we do this? Every grade from an A to a D is equal to exactly 10%. However, the F is special. A whopping 60% is dedicated to the F grade. And this just isn’t fair.

As we’ve seen when discussing what a zero does to a student’s grade, allowing the F to have more percentage associated with it can have a devastating effect to the grade. By limiting the effect of the F, we now create a system where all the grades are created equal with no grade weighted any more than any other.

6. Crunch the numbers carefully.

As the professional, you need to determine, not just calculate grades.

You need to use the “body of evidence” and your professional judgment when determining an overall grade. Take into account learning that has occurred over time, that early mistakes don’t equate to current learning, behaviors have no business in measuring actual learning, and that the math can often be misleading.

When determining a student’s overall grade, think of the BIG picture. Take into account all of the evidence and if you must use math, know its limitations and biases. Remember that more recent evidence is more valid that early evidence and to only count evidence that truly demonstrates a student’s language ability as indicated in the standards.

Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Just because you assign something, doesn’t mean it has to go into the grade book, and even if it makes it into the grade book, it doesn’t have to be a part of the final grade. You be the professional and align the student’s ability with the standards to assign an accurate grade based on evidence.

So there you have it. The 6 principles of Power Grading. Live by them and your students’ abilities will be well reflected in their grades without inflation or deflation. Your grades will be an accurate measure of your students’ learning and their progress towards proficiency.


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