Friday, October 8, 2010

E for Effort?

I went to a teacher training today regarding the six-trait writing scoring guide. For those of you who are saying to yourself, "six whaaah?" let me explain. This is the form that is supposed to allow for teachers to grade student writing objectively. The six traits of writing are: ideas, organization, word choice, voice, sentence fluency and conventions. Stick with me non-teacher-folk. I promise to not continue in Teacherese!

Part of the training included us scoring three student samples to determine what samples of each score would look like. We then were asked to discuss our scores with a small group of other teachers. In my group, the comment was made, "Well, it would help to know the student. If this is the student's best work I would grade it higher than if this wasn't." I brought up my understanding that the scoring guide was to take the bias out of scoring this writing. This teacher continued that if a student's absolutely best work only brought him/her up to a C, then that should become an A.

Let me propose a scenario. A student works really hard to write a paper. He/she goes through the editing process and turns in a final product. Using the scoring guide, the student only scores a 3/5 (not proficient). However, you know this kid worked his/her tail off to turn this in. Do you give them an inflated grade for effort? What about when this kid goes to the next grade or college? The kid does the same caliber of work and gets the lower score. Is that fair? The kid has potential...but has the teacher provided the potential to be blindsided later?

So, my question is: Should students be graded on potential? Is the "E for effort" style of grading helping or hurting our students?


  1. I remember sitting through a short class at my kid's school when they did the statewide writing assessment last year. The teachers gave us writing samples, and the scoring guide and asked us to score the papers, then told us what the papers would actually be graded as. It was nice to know because when we worked with our kids we were able to take a serious look at what they were writing and know how they were measuring up to expectations and their peers. Not only that but even when they did "their best work" if it was lacking in areas, we were able to help them focus on that area.

    To me it made a lot of sense. There are very specific things that they are looking for. In my mind when a child does a writing assessment like this, or any test, they are being graded on their ability, not their potential.

    I may be more harsh than others, but no matter how hard a child works, if the final product doesn't cut it, it doesn't cut it. Children do have different levels of development , understanding, and capabilities.

    Grading them high because they made the effort can hide developmental problems. To give a child a high grade because it was their best work even though it isn't what is expected from their grade level is only setting them up for failure later on.

    If you were a mechanic and it took you 20 hours to do a job that should take you 4 hours, you would eventually be fired. You obviously are not suited for that and should move on to something you are. The real world doesn't work on "well you tried so it's okay". There definitely are points in time that we can give our children that E for effort. They certainly need that to keep their spirits up and keep them moving forward to reach their potential. When it comes to academics though we need to be honest with ourselves and our children.

  2. Mel! I love this! I am so glad to have found your blog. I will be following you AND use your blog as a reference for other parents/teachers in my parenting classes!

    A thought provoking post. I am a sucker when it comes to the underdog, so I could see how I would be prone to bias in grading...But does that really help or hurt? Are we really preparing them to succeed or setting up a fantasy land that is nothing like the real world.

    So you give a kid the grade they "deserve," when you know they worked their tail off. Let's say it's a C or worse a D. How do you help build a kid up to understand that they are not their grade? How do you give them the low grade and motivate them to keep working harder next time?

  3. Such good questions! :) I wish I had the answers. These are things I struggle with constantly. I've found that by conferencing with kids along the way you are better able to show them what they could do to improve their scores. If you just give them the bad grade and don't explain it, then of course they will be defeated.

    I know this is "teacherese" but having kids self-evaluate using a really clear rubric (see image above) it helps them to identify their own weak areas, as well as those they excel in. It also helps to have kids edit each other's work so they can help other students with the areas they are personally strong in and seek help from others who may be strong in the areas they are not.

    I do think that we are doing kids a disservice when we give them an inflated grade. However, it must be done with tact.

  4. Mel...
    I love this post! The problem with grading - even with rubrics - is that it is very subjective because teachers often grade based on the student overall (their effort and work ethic) rather than the outcome. Standards based grading asks us to assess just what the student can do, not their overall growth.

    The sad part is that so many of our students come in at such low levels, they may only be "approaching" the standard by the end of the year, which is still not proficient. Conferencing is one way to promote sufficent growth. A fully assessed rough draft with opportunities for the student to edit and revise can make the difference.

    Most students never complete the writing process, they work up through the rough draft and, if we're lucky, turn in a rough draft that has been edited a bit. If the student has the opportunity to fully fix the paper,(provided they meet all requirements and deadlines), then they complete the process and will also learn how valuable the proofread, edit, and revise steps are PRIOR to turning it in!

    I say that if we want excellence, we must be unbiased and honest in our grading. Base it on what they can do - not what they may be able to do one day. Only then will we stop having high school graduates who cannot read or write at grade level or above!