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160. Grading for Equity: Rethinking Averages and 0-100 Scales

by Lindsay Lyons
April 23rd 2024
In today's solo episode as part of a new mini series focused on transforming the systems that uphold inequity in our s... More
Educational justice coach, Lindsay Lyons, and here on the time for Teacher podcast, we learn how to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice design curricula grounded in student voice and build capacity for shared leadership. I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach. I'm striving to live a life full of learning, running, baking, traveling, and parenting because we can be rockstar educators and be full human beings if you're a principal assistant superintendent, curriculum director, instructional coach or teacher who enjoys nering out about core curriculum of students. I made this show for you. Here we go. Welcome to episode 160 of the time for teacher podcast. Today, we're continuing the conversation in our series about transforming the systems that uphold inequity in our schools and districts. And specifically in this episode, we're continuing a conversation from the previous episode, episode 159 on grading for equity. Today, we're talking about rethinking averages and 0 to 100 scales specifically.

So let's take a look at our grading policies together. Here we go. Before we jump into our conversation on grading for equity, rethinking averages and 0 to 100 scales I do want to go through the why as I usually do, I like to cite the research and think about like, why are we even doing this because it's going to be a hard shift. This is certainly as I talk about often an adaptive leadership challenge. So a through F 0 100 grades, they only work for a very small number of students. And these are the students that do well in school already. So we don't need in a conversation about equity and transforming systems to prioritize and center those students wellness, they are going to be just fine. I promise you. I was one of those students who did really well and meta studies back this up, they show that kids who get high grades are the ones that know how to do school. And these are often the students who have inequitable access to that information. I had access to that information because my parents were both teachers, right? I knew how to do school. Well, I was also just like I think skilled at specific things that made me do school. Well, I uh maybe surprisingly just I'm listening to the podcast.

I'm a rule follower in many aspects of my life. Of course, not all I push for justice and resist rules that, that contribute to injustice, but I just did school well because I was trained to do school. Well, I had access to that information. I had access to the cultural capital of having an educator in my school district. That was my mom and another educator, my dad in, in a, in a neighboring district. So that is first and foremost, right? Like we're privileging the students who already do well, if we use that as an excuse that like it's working for some kids, it's working for the kids who are already advantaged. The next thing is when we talk specifically about averages, averages penalize students who enter the class without already knowing the content and skills. Now, that's just silly. Right? If we think about a class, it is designed to teach something. So on the first day or the first month of that class, you do not expect the students to know all the things right?

When we think about and we talk about this in the previous episode, but this idea of competency based grading and grading for skills that are transferable and have a long duration. They last the whole year. We are consistently working on a handful of skills building those up the first time I tried that in September in United States schools anyways or the northeastern of the United States schools are usually in September. I am probably not going to be that good at it. That's an expectation that I should have as a teacher and as a student that should not be a surprise as a family member of that child, I should not be surprised. Right. This is the first time they're trying it. But a student who's struggling with that skill, of course, in the first month of school, they have a grade under an averaging system from that first practice, that assessment from quarter one month one that counts equally with the grade that they received an assessment in the last month of school. That is bananas like that is absolutely just confusing to my brain when I really break it down and think about it.

And I think most folks would agree. It's just that this is one of those systems and structures that we haven't questioned or maybe some folks have been questioning it, but we're fearful of maybe what other folks might think and we're fearful of disrupting the status quo. So I think this is a perfect topic for this podcast, which is why we're spending two episodes on it and probably will do more in the future. All right, one more piece on the research that I wanna share before we move on to. How do you actually address this? 0 to 100 scales seem to me to be based on the percentage of recall based questions that a student gets right or wrong on a multiple choice test. Like that's what 0 to 100 is right? It's like a percentage. I literally was just doing a coaching call with folks who were working on skill based rubrics and this is a new skill for these educators. So of course, there's going to be some questions, some confusion. And one of the things was kind of a default to that traditional mindset of like I am assessing not the skill but the content memorization.

And so this teacher was basically trying to put a 0 to 100 scale of like what's the percentage that I got correct? Or that a student got correct on a content based factual recall test and just kind of putting it into the competency category. So like three or four categories. So like the range of like 0 to 50 is here and the R 50 to 75 is here whatever. And so it it just, I think is very emblematic of like this traditional way of how we think of things and how it's easy for us to create percentages out of. OK. There is 10 questions on this test. You got eight, right? You got an 80. But what does that mean? Right. And what are we actually assessing? So tests are inequitable. We found this in the research, they're not super effective at measuring transferable skills, which is what we know we should be prioritizing. And we look at the research that specifically targets project based assessments and PB L classrooms versus traditional high stakes testing environments. Those students in the PV L classrooms, they understand the content on a deeper level, they actually retain the content longer.

And this is a great like punch line to this for people who are high stakes test advocates, which I don't honestly think there are many in terms of the educational world, but they still those students in PB L classrooms, they still perform as well or even better on the high stakes tests than students who have been educated in a traditional setting where they're like practicing a lot of multiple choice and things. So I think there is a lot to say for rethinking averages and 0 to 100 scales just based alone on the research. But now let's get to like, what do we do about this? So I think the first step is really to discuss the why with your staff. So share the research, share this podcast episode if that's helpful, but invite questions and concerns interrogate any sort of deficit language or harmful beliefs that arise in the discussion. So there might be a lot of, well, if I don't grade it this way, then students aren't going to do it or the student is highly motivated by being valedictorian. And what if this ruins their average? And I think these are all valid questions, right? I think we should, we should dig into them a little bit but interrogate kind of what underlies that so who are the folks that we're concerned about that are taking up space in our brain in these conversations that are making us hesitant to move forward?

Typically, in many conversations, not just conversations about rating anything that has to do with inequity, the resistance to change. And the folks in our heads as we're thinking about them and thinking about making the change. They are the folks who are currently benefiting from the system. And if we are bringing the conversation back to equity, if we're grounding in inequity, we are thinking about who is not benefiting from the system. And typically it's a much higher number of students than the students who are excelling under the current system, right? So even just in a numbers game, it's like, OK, this is like across the board, we need to have this conversation and we need to flip the script here. And I I do think it's really important here to ground this in your shared community values. If you do not have shared community values, go back and listen to an episode on that. It is really important to establish those in order to have these really critical conversations about adaptive challenges. Like that's at the heart of this and that's why today's free resource actually is going to be about adaptive challenges. I'm gonna link to you in the blog post version of this episode, you can grab it, but I'm gonna link my root cause analysis worksheet go through like the five wise, has a little bit of like data analysis, questions, different things that you can do.

I love it for strategic planning. And I do think this evolves into kind of a mini strategic planning session. When you talk with the staff, we're identifying a challenge, right? Our current grading system is inequitable. These are the students who are disservice, what's going on? How do we fix it? How do we make it better? Right. That's an adaptive challenge. We need to make sure that our values are central in that, right? If we value equity, well, then that that's going to inform our decision if we value humanity, right, that's going to impact our decision. I think there's all of those values that you have laid out and it's like now we really test them out. Now we see how they come to life. I think after you discuss with the staff or even parallel to or you know, you could flip the order of these. But I think you also want to discuss the why with families and students, this is going to be a shift for students and families too. There may be some students and families who are really interested in this idea of this shift. There are probably gonna be honestly most that are not interested because they probably don't know like the full extent of what you mean. So you need to communicate really clearly like what is this?

What is the research on this? And once they hear all of the information, we'll probably be excited. But initially, it's like, ok, this is something very different or maybe I heard things about this in the news and I am fearful for my child getting into college because like you grade on a different system or whatever, right? Like there's so many fears and they are grounded in like, I'm not quite sure about this, but my gut is to protect my child. And so I'm just gonna like share my initial gut reaction. So bring folks into a conversation again. Same thing you want to do with the staff. Invite questions, invite concerns, interrogate any of the beliefs that arise center it in your shared community values and by community, I mean, yes, you probably created staff values and school community values, like extend those and expand those to include the values of family and students as you discuss this. So you can discuss the students in like a a larger platform, you can discuss this with students in classroom size groups where they've already probably built shared community and community values.

You definitely want to um think about what clearly do we want? Why is it currently not working? What is the thing that we want and what is it not? So like, let's get clear about like it's not gonna be this, it is going to be this and why you're making that shift. And I think knowing and this is kind of step forward, I'll get to this in a minute but knowing that you have the opportunity to core what the new grading policy actually looks like with families, with educators with students like in partnership, there's going to be more ownership of the final product and also reduced hesitancy at the first kind of, hey, this is what we're thinking about doing because we want to pose it in a way that's like we're thinking about doing this together, not to you, right with you in community. I think also we wanna make sure that we learn from folks who have done this. There are many, many schools and districts who have done this work already. So let's learn from them so that, you know, they've already made the mistakes, they've already gone through the hard things.

Like let's learn from them. One huge resource that is really my go to helped me with this work when I was a teacher, helped the school I was in, we did really well with their guidance. But I also even as a coach, just go to them all the time. That is competency collaborative. I'll link to them in the blog post. They're an organization based in New York City. They're an excellent resource for all sorts of relevant research for leading to graded, for equity. They have a beautiful model. They have tons of examples of what is this rubric look like. What's a grading policy this school has. And also they have tons of stories of equitable grading shifts that schools or individual teachers have kind of gone on. And so they'll actually share stories of like here's where I started in year one. And this is the shift that we made first and then we got to the second year and then this is what we decided as a school community, right? It's it's super cool, especially if you're kind of hesitant or your stakeholders are kind of hesitant about this big shift, just look at what other folks have done and the journey they've gone on. And I believe competency collaborative will say this as well, but there is no one right, concrete path.

It is like let's have these underlying shared principles of grading for equity and assessing and feedback being prioritized over grading. And let's move forward with our community members to figure out what works best for us. There are guidelines from a crescendo ed group. I believe that basically are taken from this big study they did where they figured out that there are a couple different things to consider and I just want to name them here again, learning from those who have done it before. So in their research, they said use a 0 to 4 scale instead of a 0 to 100 point scale and avoid giving students any scores of zero, right? So a zero is like, I there is no effort made. Um And I think really important here too is like there were many, many opportunities to get it done. It wasn't like you miss the deadline, it's over, right? So we really decrease um the idea of giving a zero if any were is completed and we give multiple opportunities for that work to be completed, right? That's not to say that if a student is just not ever showing work that like you need to give a zero, this is for a student who is is trying um is putting in work.

And when I say trying, I mean, like at all ever after multiple opportunities not like, oh they didn't turn on the deadline, they're not trying, right? So I think, I think there's these are really important points to consider it. You wanna weigh recent performance more heavily. This is super important. What I was saying before month one very different from month nine in your school year. We want to we the month nine way heavier. Like if you still want to count the month one fine and there are actually models that are like we don't even count month one, right? We don't, we certainly don't count a practice time. Maybe we count the summit of assessment from quarter one. But we actually there are some extremes where it's like you don't even count anything aside from like what is done at the end the last summative project, right? I'm not necessarily advocating for that. I'm just saying like give it as a thought experiment, give it some thought, right? It makes sense theoretically. So wait the recent performance more heavily. I think this also gives students a chance if they're like sitting in December, like, wow, I'm still, like, not doing well in my grades. And certainly my students early on were thinking this like, ok, well, this is nuts.

I am sitting here at like a, a two out of four. This, like, I am a student who really typically does well and like our first year of doing this and I was like, ok, you need to know that the next few months are actually gonna count more. So I need you to keep on like you are doing great. You are on the path and I've seen the growth, you're only gonna grow more. You are gonna be pleased with the end of the year's final grade, the way that we average and wait more recent stuff and, and they were, but it was a conversation to certainly have in, you know, December, January and where there's usually at that low. Um there's that reset, right? Um Another, another thing to get back to their list is to grade content, not subjective effort, like attendance or homework, grading for completion is far more. Um kind of like fluffy grade inflation, uh grading for like efforts. Um Attendance is super inequitable, right? Because you can't like determine who had the success to be able to attend today. You don't know what's going on in their home, right? All these things, your grade should be emblematic of what they can do with the content and skills, right?

That's what the grade should be not like button seat time allow retakes. We talked about that replace previous scores with current scores, right. So if they did poorly in the first draft, second draft do better. Great that just completely replaces it, create effective grade based on standard aligned rubrics. So the grades are are based on standards aligned rubrics, excuse me. So that's what we talked about in the previous episode. 159 that you are sharing with students. So right up front, here's the assessment, here's how I'm going to grade you. And again, when you create a year long rubric, they already know what it is, especially when you're in uh like a grade team that really collaborates. Well, you might have an assessment and and the um competency collaborative has shared this before in a video which I can link to this episode. But they share an example of, I think it's the young Women's Leadership Academy of Astoria in New York that has like school wide standards, nine through 12th grade, regardless of subject area. And they are all content agnostic.

So they know, like argue as the standard is gonna look different in a math class than a social studies class. But like it's still the same like sentence that we recognize as like here's the standard. So I think there's a ton of cool stuff there um that you can do with that. I also think another thing they were saying, I think this is a really interesting one is using self reflection, peer feedback and supporting uh self regulation to support independent learning skills. So you don't want to necessarily in their, in their research, they found you don't necessarily want to grade the independent learning skills. I know competency collaborative does um say that's OK and they put it under like work habits, like a can't be more than 20% I think is typically um the advice but I could be wrong. But that is I think really important. And when we have that leverage of self reflection and pure feedback, we open up opportunities for teachers to then conference with students one on one and do a lot more of uh what I believe, competency collaborative calls the cognitive coaching, which I love um for students, step four is to co create an equitable grading policy.

So you have discussed with staff families and students you learn from who's already done it. Now you're co creating the policy, something that works for you. You're in partnership with all your stakeholders, you're considering the why of equity when making all of your decisions again, considering shared values, you're sure to leave the meeting or leave the whatever with the structures you need to put in place to make sure you're successful in implementation. There's a lot of structures. So actually, that's step five, I think you should implement with some solid systems and structures specifically around feedback and revision. So give departments and teams the time to create department wide or team wide skill based rubrics that could take an entire year but like just give them the time, right? And that way you have embedded specificity and effectively feedback into the rubrics with which your teachers are assessing all of your students work, right? These are year long rubrics. Awesome, less work for them, more consistency for the students, more reliability for tracking skill progression over time. Again, check out the previous episode for that.

If you're interested in some more information there, next, I would create resource banks. So each teacher should have or department or team again, you can kind of crowdsource these as a group if you'd like resource banks. So when students receive feedback, they have not yet met the standard, don't just leave them with that, right? Like what can they do to progress? Give them a next step. So you are going to want to share something with students, an instructional video list. You can even link those right into the rubrics themselves, which I love texts as well as activities or many projects. So they can improve their skills. But you wanna make sure that they have what they need to continue to progress. Not just leave them up now, you're not there yet that's going in the grade book, right? You can have like weekly or biweekly, whatever it would be for you, workshop or upgrade days that your teachers have put into place on their calendars, on their pacing calendars. And they say these are days for revision or, you know, taking that feedback I gave you on the last assessment and working on one of those many activities that's in the resource bank.

So this idea of giving revision opportunities, giving feedback and then giving something for the students to do and having time in class to do that work super important. And that's really making sure that you are not doing your typical grade inflation practices like the homework or completion grades, attendance effort grades because it's like you don't have to p you, you no longer see grades as penalizing students, right? It's just you will have as many chances as you can get every week, you will have a new chance to upgrade something to uh revise something based on feedback, right? So you no longer need the inflation practices like grading for effort for a kid who is putting in the effort, right? They're gonna get there because you've helped them build a scale. And finally, I would really get me meta cognitive years. So as you implement, you're asking for feedback on your feedback systems, right? Adapt as you need, but make sure maybe after a set amount of time, you're collecting the experiential data from students, families, educators, how is it going?

What can we shift if we need to shift something? And then my very final tip is that this is definitely like the dream we're creating here. I want you to have that dream grading policy that's rooted in equity if it is absolutely like a no, go for some reason this year, here's what I suggest. You try, whether you are leading a school where there's just a lot of resistance in some dimension, um resistance from above, like whatever what you can do, even as an individual classroom teacher who's like, ah, the school's not going with this. But I wanna try this. Maybe even as a leader, you can maybe have this piloted with a few teachers. I think that would be super cool and really by, have some quote unquote by and, or like a true ownership over the policy in, in that core group of teachers and like the belief really spreads itself out. Ok. So here's what you do. All feedback, grading and rubrics use the competency based categories. But at the end, if you have to convert it into a 0 to 100 scale, convert it, there are examples of this. And I actually, in the, the first couple of years we did this in one of the schools I worked at, that's what we had to do because the New York City rating system at that time, I think as of the school year 2324.

So this school year currently, as we're reporting, the doe in New York City has shifted to include the four point grading scale for competency categories as an option to put on report cards. But until then there had to be a conversion. So I'm gonna link on the blog post. Uh an example of what one school, not New York City, but one school um just as a web page up with that convergence, you can check out what it might look like, but that's a way to still kind of check the box. Yeah, we did 0 to 100 but really on the ground, super feedback driven super competency based um and all of the language that students and teachers and families are using is that language. So again, all the things, all the links to all the research that table I just talked about my root cause analysis worksheet all there for free for you on the blog post for this episode, which is located at Lindsay Bath, lions.com/blog/one 60. Thanks for tuning in. If you like this episode, I bet you'll be just as jazz as I am about my coaching program for increasing student led discussions in your school, Shane, Sapir and Jamila Dugan.

Talk about a pedagogy of student voice in their book Street data. They say students should be talking for 75% of class time. Do students in your school talk for 75% of each class period? I would love for you to walk into any classroom in your community and see this in action. If you're smiling to yourself as you listen right now. Grab 20 minutes on my calendar to brainstorm. How I can help you make this big dream a reality. I'll help you build a comprehensive plan from full day trainings and discussion protocols like circle and Socratic seminar to follow up classroom visits where I can plan witness and debrief discussion based lessons with your teachers. Sign up for a nerdy no strings attached to brainstorm. Call at Lindsay, Beth lions.com/contact. Until next time, leaders think big act brave and be your best self. This podcast is a proud member of the Teach Better Podcast Network better today, better tomorrow and the podcast to get you there, explore more podcasts at teach better.com/podcasts and we'll see you at the next episode.

160. Grading for Equity: Rethinking Averages and 0-100 Scales
160. Grading for Equity: Rethinking Averages and 0-100 Scales
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