Big Bad Wolf or Home Inspector? Reporting a Final Grade

Ravaged. Snarling. Hungry. The beast is on the prowl. Can you feel it approaching? Students sense it. So do teachers. I know what lies ahead. No one can escape. Anxiety levels rising. The end is near. The semester is coming to a close.

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A dark cloud of reality disrupts the sunny skies of the fairy tale world in the secure, carefree (gradeless, gamified, personalized, fill-in-the edublank) classroom. All the talk about learning and growth, feedback and revision, fades into the past, like a story from our childhood. Once upon a time there was hope—exciting new worlds to explore, characters to encounter, paths to choose. With challenges and adventures at every turn, lessons were learned, progress made, and artifacts collected.

But now, with one turn of the page, the fable reaches a resolution. The moral of the story speaks truth. There is no more practice. No opportunity to reassess. Time has expired. Despite months of training, the report card reduces an entire body of work to a single letter grade with room for several prefabricated comments. Although learning will continue into the next term, the calendar says it’s time to report a grade. How can one letter grade narrate an entire story? No wonder the end of a mark period is as daunting as the evil figure from a child’s bedtime story.

As an educator, the semester grade haunts me as well, but I refuse to let it become the symbol of evil in this tale. However, in a predictable plot twist, I somehow become the bad guy, holding the fate of each student in my hands and delivering a final judgment. Why is the teacher always perceived as the Big Bad Wolf?

Fortunately for the learner, the final grade is not about how long it took to get to Grandmother’s house, nor how many points were collected on the way. Rather, each student, with my guidance, will do a thorough house inspection to provide an honest, accurate assessment of the structures they’ve built. Then, we will reread the learner’s story to determine a final grade together.
What kind of house have you built?

A quality inspector considers process, materials used, design, construction, and craftsmanship. How solid is the foundation? How sturdy is the structure? Can it stand on its own, withstand the elements, and endure tests of time? Is the body of work complete? Is it up to code?

The F house is incomplete. With only one leg at its base, it does not have enough of a foundation to stand on; it will topple over. It is certainly not ready for inspection.

The D house is made of straw. Construction is still in the beginning stages of design. The letter D is a semi-circle, unbalanced and lacking wholeness. The rounded base is unstable and the D-shaped structure is hollow inside. Straw may be quality material for birds to build nests, but it provides nothing more than a temporary shelter for a human. Even a sneeze could demolish this house.

The C house is made of sticks. Consider it an open concept with obvious gaps where connections were not made. The stick house is still in the developmental stages and could collapse at any time. The C’s curved base requires assistance to stand on its own; it could topple over in the wind. On its back, the C house looks more like a U—unsatisfactory and inadequate for living. Realistically, the C house is still under construction and efforts need to be made to bring it up to code. The carpenter may need improved comprehension of contents, finer craftsmanship, or assistance pouring concrete to solidify the foundation. With the necessary renovations and chinking to fill in the cracks, the stick house could be transformed into a log cabin.

2001_02_2-letter-b_web

The B house is made of brick. Its stable structure was created by stacking bricks all semester. With time and effort, the brick house shows a complete body of work. The builder followed a blueprint to meet code and pass inspection by the end of the process. Bricks are durable, but without mortar to hold the bricks together, the B house may never consolidate each unit into one cohesive structure. Consequently, the end product may not endure the elements of time in its current form. The builder will repeat the brick stacking process again in the next term. The routine gets the job done but sounds tedious.

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The A house is not only made of brick and mortar, but also designed with a keen eye for craftsmanship. To some, it is a work of art. With consistency over time or revision throughout the process, the builder was intentional in each move, finding a way to excel at the current set of plans. The independent contractor produced exemplary work, creating original outcomes with the materials and contents. The front door is an open invitation to guests and fresh perspectives. The interior triangle of the A is not empty space. It is a window to envision future possibilities. Unlike the slightly rounded base of the B, the A frame is completely stable. The foundation establishes a wide, sturdy base and the apex extends to new heights. The triangular structure stands on its own; the results are meaningful and enduring.

HOME INSPECTION GUIDE: Questions to consider during inspection of 5 standard groups…

#1. COMPREHENSION: How complete is your knowledge base?

  • What concepts do you know and how well do you comprehend them?
  • Do you still rely on the manual or can you independently navigate the contents?
  • Do you still need training or could you teach others about how to use the materials?

#2. CRITICAL THINKING AND ANALYSIS: How well do you understand the concepts?

  • What can you do with the materials?
  • How can you apply the learning and skills?
  • How well do you interpret the designs?
  • What connections to major concepts can you make?

#3. CREATION OF ORIGINAL OUTCOMES: What did you create with your knowledge, understanding, and skills?

  • Do you have a complete body of work? Does it tell the entire story of your learning
  • Do you provide enough evidence to indicate your proficiency?
  • How original and enduring is your work? Can it stand on its own?

#4. CRAFT: How coherently is the purpose of your work communicated to its audience?

  • What level of skill and craftsmanship did you demonstrate?
  • How intentional were the moves you made to complete each task?
  • Is your handiwork original or could it be matched by anyone?
  • What distinguishing qualities are evident in your work?

#5. CREDIBILITY: Is your performance trustworthy and professional?

  • Is the quality of your work up to code? Does it meet standards?
  • Did you pay attention to details and fix flaws?
  • Have you made revisions and improved your skills throughout the process?
  • Did you utilize your strengths to enhance our community?
  • What did you contribute to the learning environment?

Arriving at a final grade

With an honest assessment of each of the five components, we will arrive at a final grade. We will look at the entire story in each standard category to find patterns or trends. With ample evidence, we will likely use the mode to recognize consistency over time. If the sampling is skewed, median might be more logical. To reward improvement and hold all learners accountable to the end, the most recent indicators may be more appropriate. If there are questions about proficiency level, final exam questions can be co-created to assess specific gaps in learning.

Then, we are ready to assign a number to each qualifier. Because our grading system is like a folktale, bound by tradition to a 100-point scale (93-100 = A, 90-92 = A-), each of the 5 standard categories will be assigned a number out of 20 (5 x 20 = 100) according to proficiency level.

EXEMPLARY = 20
PROFICIENT = 17
DEVELOPING = 14
BEGINNING = 10

There are no percentages, no decimals, no need to round, no magic spells. Just simple addition of five numbers to support a logic-based method for final grade calculation (3 EXEMP + 2 PROF = 94 A, 2 EXEMP + 3 PROF = 91 A-, 1 EXEMP + 4 PROF = 88 B+, and so on).

Wait. Doesn’t that mean everyone can get an A if they excel in a majority of standards? Yes.
But, if I want an A, do I have to be perfect every time I’m assessed? No.
If I provide enough evidence to show progress toward multiple standards, isn’t the course difficult to fail? Yes.
Will I live happily ever after? Hopefully.
Is the system flawless? No…

…But it provides a transparent, logical, and fair solution to determine a final grade for a learner’s semester of work.

The Moral of the Story

Don’t let the stress and anxiety of grading make you huff and puff at the end of the mark period. The Big Bad Wolf already appears in too many other places in our lives. Does he have to interfere with our end of semester reporting process?

Not by the hair on my chinny, chin, chin.

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One comment

  1. Joy Kirr

    Brian, I’m SOOOO going to share (most of) this story with my students!! We begin our conferences the Thursday we come back (Jan 11?). I hate feeling like the big, bad wolf, so this should help alleviate a bit of that feeling. I hope the students calm down and look at their evidence one more time, as well! Thank you for sharing!

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