This year my school shifted to competency based grading. For those unfamiliar with this, grading is centered on students’ mastery of the Common Core competencies. While I have found it differs from state to state, our school has integrated competency based grading by requiring all classes to follow a grading percentage of 80 percent summative assessments and 20 percent formative assessments. In addition, students are allowed to retake summative assessments as many times as they would like assuming they initially approached the assessments having prepared with good effort.
For me, as an English teacher, this process of retakes and revisions isn’t new. That being said, the idea of 80 percent of my students’ grades being summative assessments is most certainly a shift. In the past, while their final product has always served as a large portion of their grade (over 50 percent), it hasn’t counted quite as much as it does now.
I value formative assessments; I cherish the time my students spend cracking apart texts, mimicking authors’ craft, and simply reading. For many of us, high school was a formative experience. The time we spent exploring who we were paid off long term, yet competency-based grading values the final product more than the process.
To a degree, I take fault with this. I understand that once students enter the workplace they are assessed based on their final products. In the same breath, I also believe that high school must provide a platform for students to explore their interests in a safe and supportive environment that values process. My life has largely looked like the reverse of my gradebook—80 percent of my time is spent reading, writing, brainstorming, drafting, discussing, and working, while maybe 20 percent of it is actually publishing, sharing, or posting my work. I learned this process in high school.
Because summative assessments count for so much this year, I hate (even more than usual) applying a specific number to my students’ work. In turn, to compensate for this competency based grading, I ask my students to assess themselves.
Every time my students hand in a paper or summative assessment like a notebook check, they grade themselves, writing a brief “metacognition analysis” in which they explain their writing, thought process, and reasoning. In turn, instead of being blind sided by my grades, they have a say in how and even whether or not they met the competencies of the assignment. Typically, they’re spot on with their grading.
Nicole wrote, “I think my essay deserves that grade because I worked really hard on it. I ended up printing it 4 times because every time I printed it I would self edit and have someone else edit it so that it came out just how I wanted it. Just like always, I put a lot of my personality and voice into this piece. I wanted people to laugh when they read it. I added lots of detail about tiny situations and background.”
Ryan, had a similar assessment, “I think I did well with my development of ideas/organization and cohesion, and my ending. I was proud of all of my writing because I thought it was one of the best things I’ve written.”
Ultimately students are also willing to honestly discuss their shortcomings. Maddie targeted areas she hoped to improve in future pieces: “I feel I did well but could’ve been better. I struggled with creating sensory details, but I feel I wrote this piece pretty well. I would like to try and make this story more vivid, putting the reader in my position.”
While I’m still addressing these changes and gauging my own understanding of competency based grading, self-assessments are the single most important change I’ve made in my classroom this year. After I’m done reading rubrics, circling boxes, and checking off competencies, their voice is the resounding voice I hear.
Do you have competency based grading in your school? Have you shifted to the 80:20 grading system? What changes have you made to better meet the needs of your students?