Saturday, August 15, 2015

8/15/15 - Holy Crap!! I'm Going to Stop GIVING My Students Grades! #MTBoSblaugust

Over the summer, I attended the CUE Rockstar Conference in La Jolla, CA.  On of the most memorable sessions for me was led by Jeff Heil. He talked about his use of the one-column rubric and badges instead of a traditional grading system.  The basic idea behind one-column rubrics, as I understand them, is mastery is the only option. Rubrics that allow for options below mastery are unconsciously communicating this is acceptable. In a one-column rubric classroom below mastery level work must be revised until mastery is achieved.

After the conference, I gave Jeff's ideas a lot of thought.  I have always encouraged my students to revise and retake but requiring revision until mastery was going to a completely new level. So many things to consider. What would it look like in an 8th grade math class? Could my students handle it? Would parents freak out? How much more work would it take to manage? How will I know if it working? I thought long and hard, did some reading on the subject, asked some trusted members of my PLN for their take, and decided to go for it.

I'm using Jeff's plan - mastery as the only option and awarding badges, instead of grades, when mastery is achieved. During the first week, I outlined my "grading system" to students. I began by explaining that the minimal acceptable level of performance on any assignment was mastery. I qualified this by revealing that I did not expect mastery to necessarily happen after one attempt. Some would have to work on a skill, and revise assignments a few times before mastery was achieved.

For many students, the notion of getting a second chance on an assignment is rather novel. They are familiar with rough drafts when they write essays in english class, putting their initial ideas out on paper, getting feedback from the teacher, making revisions and resubmitting. However, the idea that other assignments in other classes could be approached in this manner was unheard of. I explained that, instead of grades, they would be earning badges (, like in a video game, when mastery was achieved on assignments. Then I really blew their minds by proclaiming that if they earned all their badges, they could TAKE what ever grade they wanted.  You can probably imagine this revelation was met with a combination of confusion, disbelief and excitement. Heehee.

I've been back in school for a few weeks now and have had time to administer and review the first assessment. During my summer planning I realized I needed to completely rethink the way I gave feedback to students. How was I going to let them know when they where on the right track and when they went off the rails?  Standards based grading seems to be the best option. I would analyze student responses to each question and give feedback regardless of accuracy.  Students not achieving mastery on a particular skill would be required to analyze their errors, devise a plan to avoid similar errors in the future, practice the skill and attempt to demonstrate mastery by retaking.  Revisions (IGTQWB) are required on every assessment (quiz, test, project, performance task, etc.) not reaching mastery level.

I gave back the first quiz on Friday. But before I did, I reminded students there would be no grades on the quizzes, simply feedback. I reiterated that mastery was the goal and those not achieving mastery would get the opportunity to revise and try again. Students immediately began reading the feedback and making revisions to their assessment. Despite having explained and reexplained the process, I half expected someone to complain or asked what the feedback translated to as a grade but no one did. Retakes are scheduled for next week.

Follow up post to come.


  1. Laurie,
    This is so awesome. I especially love that you are trying it in a math class! Teachers like you fuel my soul and I cannot thank you enough on behalf of students everywhere! Please continue to write and share your progress on your blog. I look forward to celebrating your progress.

  2. Thank you, Jeff. You really inspired me. I will definitely share how it goes. I have high hopes.