Minimum Amount of Grades Per Week? Good in Theory, Often Bad in Practice

04/22/2013 03:10 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2013

I was talking with a colleague as we were both going to a school to work with a group of teachers to provide some professional development. I was explaining what I learned from a phone call with the leadership at the school, and one major issue came to the forefront: Teachers are Required to input a certain amount of grading marks per week in their class. Because the school was a "failing school," the "powers that be" has decided to come in and make some major changes, such as getting rid of the block schedule, having students take extra math classes and of course demanding a certain amount of grades be entered per week, in this case 2.

Now I totally understand where this policy decision comes from. It actually comes from an instructionally "good place." Great teachers are continually monitoring student performance, collecting formative assessments in the process, and reflecting upon and adjusting teaching practice to make sure all students are successful. The problem comes with the transfer of best practice to policy. Instead of focusing professional development and resources on improving teacher practice so that teachers do what I articulated earlier, policy came first to force teachers to mechanically and hopefully move them to best practice...hopefully.

This is a serious problem in my eyes. Here's what can occur when this sort of policy is enacted. Teachers start putting in grade books arbitrarily, without any sort of intention to important learning objectives. Or, teachers grade a piece of work that is formative, not summative. When we grade formative assessments and have them count towards the final grade, we run the risk of not rewarding students at their best, and punishing them for mistakes in the learning process. Now we can mark formative assessments in the grade book, but marks are often confused with grades. Policy of that requires a minimum number of grades can push teachers to these and other pitfalls.

If we want best practices in assessment to become normative, we need to empower teachers with professional development on these best practices and allow control over the grade book to determine how many marks should go in the grade book. An arbitrary number is not going to support student achievement and teacher practice; focus on a best practice is. Instead of focusing on quantity of assessments, let's focus on quality of assessment practices.