Give Credit, Others Say It's Not Due
Teachers frequently ask themselves: If a student shows
significant effort but averages a D on her tests, should her
hard work result in at least a C? Or does that render grades
Jay Mathews, Washington Post, June 14, 2005
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American teachers, Will Crawford includes credit for effort when
he fills out the report cards of his government and history
students at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax County.
"Grades from assignments indirectly measure effort," he said. "I
tell students that as long as they keep up with projects and
homework and make an honest effort on tests and quizzes, they
won't fail," he said.
Six miles away at West Potomac High School in the same school
district, chemistry and physics teacher Stephen Rezendes rejects
that approach because he believes it sends the wrong message to
students, and is against district policy.
"Rewarding effort and not achievement is not helping the
student," he said. "It's basically assuming they can't achieve."
While tests demanded by the No Child Left Behind law measure
each school's and each student's progress on the same scale, it
is the report cards that students and parents care about most.
And report cards are still based, as they have been for
generations, on conflicting rules and personal assumptions made
by individual teachers.
This is particularly true of the ticklish issue of grading
effort. Teachers frequently ask themselves: If a student does
all the homework, listens in class but averages a D on tests,
should hard work result in at least a C? Or does that render
grades meaningless and make it less likely the student will
master the material?
Mel Lucas, an expert on grading who is director of research and
assessment for the school board of Alachua County, Fla., said a
national effort is underway to ensure that grades measure only
academic achievement and keep effort out of the calculation.
This, he said, grows out of concern over "the quality of the
workforce and the future of our country." Some critics, he said,
say that "children are coming out of high school not as well
educated as their parents" and that one of the culprits is a
grading system that lets them slide through school if they do
what they are told, even if they don't learn much.
Official guidelines on grading are often vague, nonexistent or
ignored. Giving credit for homework, for instance, is not
addressed in the Fairfax High School Teachers Guide, which says
only that grades should measure achievement and "do not measure
potential or social performance."
One of the most aggressive efforts to eliminate, or at least
reduce, grading for effort has occurred in Montgomery County,
where a new policy -- still awaiting final school board approval
-- limits credit for completing homework for practice to no more
than 10 percent of a final grade.
Many teachers say such a policy would rob them of a useful
"I do give frequent homework assignments that are not difficult
that help boost their grades," said Anita Shepherd, chairman of
the social studies department at Patuxent High School in Calvert
County. "My purpose in giving the assignments is to motivate the
students to do the necessary reading and analysis so they can
master the material."
Brad Hopewell, who teaches social studies and theory of
knowledge at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in the
District, said: "If a student is having a difficult time but
works hard and puts forth a great deal of effort, I think that
real-life skill should be rewarded. I frankly do not see how
struggling students will be motivated to succeed if there are
not some short-term rewards for their struggles."
Jaime Escalante, the Advanced Placement calculus teacher who
inspired the film "Stand and Deliver," said he also raised
grades for effort when he taught at Garfield High School in East
Los Angeles. "If the kid put in a lot of hard work, I had to
recognize that," he said by telephone from Bolivia, where he is
semi-retired. "And if you put in a lot of effort, you're going
to learn something."
But many teachers said their experience has been different.
Better grades for showing up and turning in homework, they said,
keep students from doing what is necessary to master the
"I think this has been a particular problem in some of the
middle schools in the past," said David Stein, who teaches AP
calculus and AP statistics at Montgomery Blair High School in
Montgomery County. "It has resulted in some ninth-graders coming
to high school expecting to pass their classes without actually
Karen Gruner, who teacheschemistryat St. John's Literary
Institute at Prospect Hall in Frederick County, said: "One of
life's tough lessons is trying hard and failing. It does no kid
anywhere any good to give grades based on trying hard or
behaving nicely because sooner or later they hit the wall of not
having the knowledge the grade implied."
Julie Greenberg, who also teaches math at Montgomery Blair High,
said she, like Stein, agrees with her county's plan to reduce
the effect of effort in the grading system. "My guiding
principle in teaching is that telling the truth about mastery is
the best thing I can do for now," she said. "We're way too new
at this process of finally trying to evaluate mastery to stop in
our tracks and encourage grading that blurs effort and mastery."
There is little conclusive research on grading practices,
although one study by Lucas and University of Florida economist
David N. Figlio indicated that Florida elementary school
students showed more improvement on state tests if they had
teachers who were tough graders. The researchers noted that
tougher grading had no effect on students whose achievement
levels were extremely low, and the study did not cover high
Lucas said he thinks the solution is one grade on the report
card for achievement and a separate grade for effort. This
appears to be working in many elementary schools, but in high
school it might bring arguments about which grades would figure
into the grade-point average sent to colleges.
Clif Tramel, who teaches AP English literature at Weatherford
High School in Weatherford, Tex., said he can persuade more
students to stay in his challenging class if he does not grade
them as harshly as some of their work deserves. That helps them,
he said, because the alternative would be for them to drop down
to a much easier class.
Hopewell said the same technique worked for him last year when a
student who received a C for effort the first semester suddenly
blossomed. "He began to build on the foundation that effort
alone had built," he said. "By the third quarter, he had an A
and was showing signs of real brilliance."
It just goes to show, Hopewell added, that "if students are
motivated throughout the process of learning and graded for
effort, you're more likely to see better end results."
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