When the numbers don’t add up

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photo credit: Mykl Roventine via photopin cc
One day, I was looking at students’ grades in other classes (we have this ability, using an online grade book). I came across several that didn’t make sense. Of course, by now, you know that grades, in general, don’t make much sense to me. Take a look at this example how the numbers don’t add up: 
In a class with 391 possible points, a student has 195 for a 50% F.
Seven of the assignments have 100% scores, which account for 73 points, meaning the student is perfect on nearly 20% of the material. Obviously, this is not a completely inept kid.
Three missing assignments account for 49 points — 13% of the total. How much incentive does the student have to make them up? Based on the late penalties outlined below, I’d say there’s very little incentive.
Penalizing learning

The student is penalized 25 points for several late activities. These penalties are harsh — 50% of the value of the activity. Pretty tough for a 13-year-old. If I turn something in late to my principal, I certainly don’t lose half of my pay.
Our sample student receives 28.5/99 on two tests, with no evidence of a retake on either. (Don’t even get me started on the problem with two tests being 25% of the value of what a student produces in 45 days of work.)
These numbers simply don’t add up. I got to thinking that if a report card grade is absolutely necessary, why can’t we at least help students like this one taste a little success? So, I did some basic math, and here’s what I came up with.
Raising the bar
If the late penalties are eliminated completely, this adds 25 points to the student’s total score. Assume that the teacher does some re-teaching/coaching and the student retakes both tests. If the student improves to just 60% on both, her test total increases to 59/99.
These two simple changes (eliminating late penalties and bringing low test scores to just 60%) bring this student to a grade of C. Even if the student gets only 50% on one of the test retakes, she’ll still get a C-.
I’d much prefer narrative feedback over the grade, but if some effort is made to help students perform well and embrace learning, the grades they have to get will increase. Then, perhaps they’ll feel better about themselves and develop a thirst for learning.
As long as numbers exist, they might as well add up.

Mark Barnes is an education author and consultant and the publisher of Brilliant or Insane. Learn more about Mark on our Team page. Follow him on Twitter here.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books and other series that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 150,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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