Saturday, July 2, 2016

Assignment Points

I had been very frustrated with grades for years. I had learned through my teaching experience that some of my "A" students did not remember anything from my class. And sometimes my "C" and "D" students went and and did quite well in the subject in later classes. About four or five years ago I decided to do away with lots of points on assignments.

For years I had worked with multiple points on assignments. Some assignments were worth 10 points while others (the ones I thought were more important) were worth 50 or 100 points. However, this turned out to be awful in the end. I was trying to "tell" my students that the 100 point assignments were more important than the 10 point assignments, but that inference never was implied by most of my students. If they wanted to raise their grades, most of the time students would look at the simple assignments to get those done first before going onto the huge assignment that was worth more points.

I also had started consulting with a testing company that creates international tests. Their point of view on their tests was that either a test-taker passed the test, or they did not. It doesn't matter if the test-taker barely passed the test or got a really high score and passed the test. Both test-takers passed the test.

As I started thinking about that I decided to change the point value on ALL of my assignments to one point. That point indicated to students that they either passed the test or assignment to my satisfaction or they did not. If they did not pass the test or assignment to my satisfaction, then I would indicate where they had gone wrong and allow them to resubmit the assignment.

This ended up being one of the best things I could ever do in my teaching career. It was difficult at first for students (and especially parents) to get used to the binary system of grades. However, once they found out that they could resubmit assignments as many times as they needed, the anxiousness from both students and parents subsided. Students would then ask me what they could do to raise their grade, and I just told them to complete their assignments. Any assignment could raise their grade.

What Assignments Should We Give?

Near the same time my principal started talking to our whole faculty about our assignments as well. He asked us if all of our assignments were necessary. He brought up the idea that if a student had a 59% F and 60% was a D- and they only assignment they were missing was a cross-word puzzle, then we really need to think again about what assignments we are giving our students.

This means that all tests, homework, class work, participation, etc. were valued at the same level. That then started me thinking about the assignments that I was having my students do. Were all of them necessary? Were some of them fun, but didn't really help students to learn anything? Did I have students complete some of them because they were easy for me to grade? I had to start reflecting a lot about the assignments. In the end I had to walk away from some that I enjoyed doing in favor of assignments that were better for my student learning. Other assignment I had to tweak a little to help them work better for student learning.

Driver's Education

I also had an experience with my own daughter. She had just taken driver's ed and we were waiting to see her final grade. At her high school they required students to get a C+ or higher in order to qualify to get their driver's license. When her grades came out, she had a C. When I went in to look at her total points and percentage I found that she was two percentage points away from the C+. When I looked at the assignments listed on her grade I saw two word-search assignments that were marked as missing. When I asked her about it she said she had turned them in. When I asked if she had put her name on them she was stumped. So, essentially the teacher was saying that because she did not put her name on a word-search assignment, my daughter could not get a driver's license. That seemed pretty excessive to me. 

Her teacher retired the day after the semester ended and could not be reached. I emailed the department head and when he replied several months later he was very accommodating and had her complete a small research assignment. I did indicate to him that I did not expect a grade change. She got earned the grade she deserved. He told me that she could just do that assignment and we could talk afterwards. I emailed him a few weeks later, but no reply came (in his defense it was summer, and I am assuming he was having a good time and not worrying about school at all). Near the end of summer he emailed back and asked if my daughter had completed the paper. I indicated that she did and he told me he would send her information on to the DLD so she could go get her license. He didn't ask to see the paper!

Well, this is not about the politics of getting a driver's license. What was surprising is that a grade had been placed at this high school to indicate that a student would be a safe driver. And what made up that grade? Assignments, word searches, participation in class, etc. Nothing from her range time or her driving with the instructor. 

Binary Point System

Wow, this went sideways really fast.

Getting back to assignment points. All of my assignments were worth one point. Once a due date came up, if a student hadn't turned in the assignment, they got a zero on that assignment until they could complete it to my satisfaction. On assignments this would be different for each assignment. For tests I could indicate that 80% on the test was the "passing" and anything from 80-100% would get them the one on the assignment. 

As I have talked with teachers about this over the years, most of the time their first reaction is one of horror. Basically I was saying that 80% and above is an A on the assignment. After thinking about that, yes, that is what is means. If we could complete any task at 80% or above level at least 80% of the time, I think that is pretty good. How many of us can actually do 100% of our job 100% of the time? I would think there are very few people in the world that could do that. If my students could pass a test at 80% or above, I was extremely happy. If they could do higher, great, but that doesn't mean anything for their grade.

Extra Credit

I also don't give extra credit points. As stated, if a student wants to raise their grade they should complete the assignments given in class to my satisfaction. If they didn't do well, they should redo the part(s) that I told them to.


For several years I had a great time with the 1 and 0 idea. Students got used to the idea and parents did too. Several other teachers in our building started using the same idea and have loved using it as well. I wouldn't say that everyone in our building uses it or would love it, but I think the idea is starting to catch on.

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