Grades: the low-down on the drop-downs

In addition to submitting a grade for each student, and a last date of attendance of they failed, we are now asked to assess the level of learning outcomes for each student for two elements: critical thinking and global awareness.

Our grade sheet is starting to look like a data entry form.

I have heard faculty complain that this is ridiculous and impossible – it would take far too much time to reassess each student’s class performance in outcome areas (last year it was just one) as well as their final grade.

I don’t think so.

I remember many, many years ago, we had a full faculty meeting about developing and tracking our first Student Learning Outcomes. It was the third or fourth iteration of this idea, and we were all sick of it – sick of hearing about this stuff that had clearly come in from the outside, through administrative fiat. And one of my favorite colleagues stood up and said, “Don’t we already have this? It’s called GRADES.”

I’ve never forgotten that. The grade I give means something. I spend a lot of time determining what percentage of the final grade counts for each assignment and skill. So does my grade now mean nothing when set up against outcomes? Do I really have to reassess each student for their demonstration of critical thinking and global awareness?

No, because these are built into the Course of Study, the class design, and my pedagogy. When I give that final grade, it says something already about the student’s achievement in critical thinking and global awareness.

The drop-downs have levels of achievement on these:

My default for a real passing grade (A, B or C) is “Practitioner – Met”. If they hadn’t met my standard for critical thinking and global awareness, they wouldn’t have passed the course.

My default for a D or F is “Apprentice- Not Met” if the student finished the class. If they stopped attending, it’s “Novice-Not Met”.

If I recall their work as being excellent, Critical Thinking jumps to “Expert – Exceeded”. Few get this designation – I am the expert, and few excel in either critical thinking or global awareness. But if they did, I remember it – I don’t have to look anything up.

Similarly, I recall other details leading to exceptions: the brilliant expert student who got a D for not turning stuff in, the B student who didn’t know where China was, etc. Again, no need to look those up.

So even though it seems burdensome, the process goes pretty quickly. Because I trust my grades.

Co-posted at MiraCosta’s Reflections on Practice blog

4 thoughts on “Grades: the low-down on the drop-downs

  1. Wow, nothing like that at my school.

    I am very hesitant to judge my students’ thinking processes when the only evidence I can get is both indirect and incomplete.

    But if I were asked to assess my students’ writing, I could do that confidently because I do see their writing, and lots of it. Not that my school really cares that much about student writing…

    At same time, though, I don’t find the reductionism of rubrics and labels to be very helpful. What’s important to me is to provide detailed feedback to students about their actual writing, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. I think that benefits them more than a label, although I can see how these labels might be useful for administrative purposes. If, that is, my school really cared about student writing! I’m not holding my breath on that one… 🙂


  2. I guess my confidence in my grades comes from knowing absolutely that they in no way reflect anything about my students that relates to real learning, or real outcomes. I don’t find grades themselves to be helpful either – to me, this stuff is just another manifestation of the wongheadedness of grades in general.


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