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Interpreting the meaning of grades: A descriptive analysis of middle school teachers' assessment and grading practices

Dissertation
Author: Tameshia Vaden Grimes
Abstract:
This descriptive, non-experimental, quantitative study was designed to answer the broad question, "What do grades mean?" Core academic subject middle school teachers from one large, suburban school district in Virginia were administered an electronic survey that asked them to report on aspects of their grading practices and assessment methods for one class taught during the 2008-2009 school year. The survey addressed the following topics: (1) primary purposes for grades, (2) attitudes toward grading, (3) assessment method, and (4) grading practices. Additionally, the study examined the relationship between teachers' reported assessment and grading methods and student achievement. Overall results and results disaggregated by subject area, grade level, and student ability level suggest that teachers are consistent in what they consider the primary purposes for grades. The vast majority indicated that grades should communicate student levels of mastery of content and skills. However, sizable percentages of teachers reported that they also considered non-academic indicators such as effort, attendance, and paying attention in class when determining student grades, suggesting a lack of alignment between their reported beliefs and practice. The study examined the extent to which teachers' reported grading and assessment practices were consistent with those recommended in the literature on measurement and assessment. The study findings are consistent with those of findings from previous studies suggesting that teachers engage in "hodgepodge grading," a practice which incorporates non-academic factors into student grades. The results also show that teachers use a variety of assessment methods and types of questions when measuring student achievement. The results indicate that projects, student exhibits, essays, inclusion of zeros, and extra credit were associated with higher levels of student achievement. Conversely, norm-referencing, classwork, participation, and matching were negatively correlated with student grades and test scores.

Table of Contents Page Acknowledgements ........................................................................................................ iv List of Tables ................................................................................................................. xi Chapter 1 Introduction.................................................................................................. 20 Introduction ............................................................................................. 20 Statement of Problem ............................................................................... 22 Purpose of the Study ................................................................................ 24 Rationale and Significance of the Study ................................................... 25 Review of Literature ................................................................................ 27 Research Questions .................................................................................. 30 Methodology............................................................................................ 30 Limitations and Delimitations .................................................................. 31 Summary ................................................................................................. 32 Terminology ............................................................................................ 33 2 Literature Review ......................................................................................... 37 Introduction ............................................................................................. 37 Measurement Theory ............................................................................... 38 Reliability and Validity ...................................................................... 39 Recommendations of Measurement Experts ....................................... 42 Purposes of Grading ................................................................................. 49

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Practices of Grading ................................................................................. 53 Realities of Grading ................................................................................. 62 Inappropriate Grading Practices ......................................................... 65 Implications for Middle School Teachers ................................................. 68 The Potential Role of Formative Assessment...................................... 68 Summary ................................................................................................. 74 3 Methodology ................................................................................................ 76 Introduction ............................................................................................. 76 Population................................................................................................ 77 Sample ..................................................................................................... 78 Participant Characteristics ........................................................................ 80 Instrumentation ........................................................................................ 83 Development ...................................................................................... 83 Survey Administration ....................................................................... 85 Achievement Data Collection................................................................... 86 Data Analysis........................................................................................... 87 Missing Data ...................................................................................... 87 Overall Analysis................................................................................. 88 Sub-group Analyses ........................................................................... 89 Relationship to Student Achievement ....................................................... 89 Delimitations ........................................................................................... 90 Summary ................................................................................................. 90

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4 Results ......................................................................................................... 91 Introduction ............................................................................................. 91 Purpose of Grading .................................................................................. 92 Overall Results ................................................................................... 92 Results by Subject Area ..................................................................... 94 Results by Grade Level .................................................................... 103 Results by Ability Level ................................................................... 107 Attitudes Toward Grading ...................................................................... 112 Results by Subject Area ................................................................... 115 Results by Grade Level .................................................................... 118 Results by Ability Level ................................................................... 120 Assessment and Grading Practices ......................................................... 122 Overall Results ................................................................................. 122 Results by Subject Area ................................................................... 129 Results by Grade Level .................................................................... 149 Results by Ability Level ................................................................... 164 Relationships Among Assessment and Grading Practices and Student Achievement .................................................................................... 178 Overall Results ................................................................................. 180 Results by Subject Area ................................................................... 182 Results by Grade Level .................................................................... 188 Results by Ability Level ................................................................... 192

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Summary ............................................................................................... 197 Purpose of Grading .......................................................................... 197 Attitudes Toward Grading ................................................................ 198 Assessment and Grading Methods .................................................... 199 Relationship to Student Achievement ............................................... 200 5 Conclusion and Recommendations ............................................................. 203 Overview ............................................................................................... 203 Significant Findings ............................................................................... 204 Purpose of Grading .......................................................................... 204 Attitudes Toward Grading ................................................................ 205 Assessment and Grading Practices ................................................... 206 Relationship to Student Achievement ............................................... 208 Discussion ............................................................................................. 210 Recommendations .................................................................................. 212 Implications for Practice .................................................................. 212 Future Studies .................................................................................. 216 Limitations ............................................................................................ 219 Conclusions ........................................................................................... 221 List of References ........................................................................................................ 223

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Appendices .................................................................................................................. 232 A Standards for Teacher Competence in Educational Assessment of Students 233 B Survey Instrument ...................................................................................... 234 C Data Analysis Chart ................................................................................... 253 Vita ............................................................................................................................. 254

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List of Tables Page Table 1: Comparison of Frequencies: Sample to Population. .......................................... 80 Table 2: Frequency Distribution of Respondents’ Gender by Subject Area. ................... 81 Table 3: Frequency Distribution of Respondents’ Ethnic/Racial Backgrounds by Subject Area. ............................................................................................................................. 82 Table 4: Frequency Distribution of Grade level Representation by Subject by Subject Area. ...................................................................................................................................... 82 Table 5: Frequency Distribution b Ability Levels by Subject Area. ................................ 83 Table 6: Frequency of Respondents’ Ranking of the Purpose of Grades. ........................ 93 Table 7: Frequencies of the Purpose of Grades Ranking by Subject Area: English. ........ 96 Table 8: Frequencies of the Purpose of Grades Ranking by Subject Area: Mathematics. 98 Table 9: Frequencies of the Purpose of Grades Ranking by Subject Area: Science. ...... 100 Table 10: Frequencies of the Purpose of Grades Ranking by Subject Area: Social Studies. ............................................................................................................. 102 Table 11: Frequencies of the Purpose of Grades Ranking by Grade Level: 6 th . ............ 104 Table 12: Frequencies of the Purpose of Grades Ranking by Grade Level: 7 th . ............ 105 Table 13: Frequencies of the Purpose of Grades Ranking by Grade Level: 8 th . ............ 107 Table 14: Frequencies of the Purpose of Grades Ranking by Ability Level: Comprehensive. ........................................................................................................... 109 Table 15: Frequencies of the Purpose of Grades Ranking by Ability Level: Honors and/or Gifted. ......................................................................................................................... 110

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Table 16: Frequencies of the Purpose of Grades Ranking by Ability Level: Inclusive/ Collaborative. .............................................................................................................. 112 Table 17: Percentage of Teachers Selecting “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” to Statements on Grading Practices. ....................................................................................................... 114 Table 18: Percentage of Teachers Selecting “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” to Statements on Grading Practices: Subject Area Results. ..................................................................... 117 Table 19: Percentage of Teachers Selecting “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” to Statements on Grading Practices: Grade Level Results. ...................................................................... 119 Table 20: Percentage of Teachers Selecting “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” to Statements on Grading Practices: Ability Level Results...................................................................... 121 Table 21: Frequency Distribution of Respondents’ Ranking of the Top Five Assessment Methods. ..................................................................................................................... 124 Table 22: Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades. .......................... 126 Table 23: Non-Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades. .................. 128 Table 24: Frequencies for Types of Questions. ............................................................ 129 Table 25: Frequency Distribution of Respondents’ Ranking of the Top Five Assessment Methods by Subject Area: English. .............................................................................. 131 Table 26: Percentage of Teachers Selecting “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” to Statements on Grading Practices: Mathematics................................................................................... 132 Table 27: Percentage of Teachers Selecting “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” to Statements on Grading Practices: Science. ......................................................................................... 133

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Table 28: Percentage of Teachers Selecting “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” to Statements on Grading Practices:. ...................................................................................................... 134 Table 29: Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Subject Area: English. ....................................................................................................................... 136 Table 30: Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Subject Area: Mathematics. ............................................................................................................... 137 Table 31: Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Subject Area: Science. ....................................................................................................................... 138 Table 32: Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Subject Area: Social Studies. ............................................................................................................. 140 Table 33: Non-Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Subject Area: English. ....................................................................................................................... 142 Table 34: Non-Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Subject Area: Mathematics. ............................................................................................................... 143 Table 35: Non-Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Subject Area: Science. ....................................................................................................................... 144 Table 36: Non-Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Subject Area: Social Studies. ............................................................................................................. 145 Table 37: Frequencies for Types of Questions by Subject Area: English. ..................... 146 Table 38: Frequencies for Types of Questions by Subject Area: Mathematics. ............. 147 Table 39: Frequencies for Types of Questions by Subject Area: Science. ..................... 148 Table 40: Frequencies for Types of Questions by Subject Area: Social Studies. ........... 149

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Table 41: Frequency Distribution of Respondents’ Ranking of the Top Five Assessment Methods by Grade Level: 6 th . ...................................................................................... 151 Table 42: Frequency Distribution of Respondents’ Ranking of the Top Five Assessment Methods by Grade Level: 7 th . ...................................................................................... 152 Table 43: Frequency Distribution of Respondents’ Ranking of the Top Five Assessment Methods by Grade Level: 8 th . ...................................................................................... 153 Table 44: Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Grade Level: 6 th . .................................................................................................................................... 155 Table 45: Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Grade Level: 7 th . .................................................................................................................................... 156 Table 46: Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Grade Level: 8 th . .................................................................................................................................... 157 Table 47: Non-Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Grade Level: 6 th . .............................................................................................................................. 159 Table 48: Non-Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Grade Level: 7 th . .............................................................................................................................. 160 Table 49: Non-Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Grade Level: 8 th . .............................................................................................................................. 161 Table 50: Frequencies for Types of Questions by Grade Level: 6 th . ............................. 162 Table 51: Frequencies for Types of Questions by Grade Level: 7 th . ............................. 163 Table 52: Frequencies for Types of Questions by Grade Level: 8 th . ............................. 164

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Table 53: Frequency Distribution for Respondents’ Ranking of the Top Five Assessment Methods by Ability Level: Comprehensive. ................................................................. 166 Table 54: Frequency Distribution for Respondents’ Ranking of the Top Five Assessment Methods by Ability Level: Honors/Gifted. ................................................................... 167 Table 55: Frequency Distribution for Respondents’ Ranking of the Top Five Assessment Methods by Ability Level: Inclusive/Collaborative. ..................................................... 168 Table 56: Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Ability Level: Comprehensive. ........................................................................................................... 170 Table 57: Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Ability Level: Honors/Gifted. ............................................................................................................. 171 Table 58: Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Ability Level: Inclusive/Collaborative. ............................................................................................... 172 Table 59: Non-Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Ability Level: Comprehensive. ........................................................................................................... 173 Table 60: Non-Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Ability Level: Honors/Gifted. ............................................................................................................. 174 Table 61: Non-Academic Factors for Determining End-of-Course Grades by Ability Level: Inclusive/Collaborative. ............................................................................................... 175 Table 62: Frequencies for Types of Questions by Ability Level: Comprehensive. ........ 176 Table 63: Frequencies for Types of Questions by Ability Level: Honors/Gifted. .......... 177 Table 64: Frequencies for Types of Questions by Ability Level: Inclusive/Collaborative. .................................................................................................................................... 178

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Table 65: Mean Values for Class Average and SOL Average by Subject Area. ............ 180 Table 66: Correlations for End-of-Course and SOL Averages with Grading Factors and Assessment Methods. .................................................................................................. 181 Table 67: Correlations for End-of-Course and SOL Averages with Grading Factors and Assessment Methods by Subject Area: English. ........................................................... 183 Table 68: Correlations for End-of-Course and SOL Averages with Grading Factors and Assessment Methods by Subject Area: Mathematics. ................................................... 184 Table 69: Correlations for End-of-Course and SOL Averages with Grading Factors and Assessment Methods by Subject Area: Science. ........................................................... 186 Table 70: Correlations for End-of-Course and SOL Averages with Grading Factors and Assessment Methods by Subject Area: Social Studies. ................................................. 187 Table 71: Mean Values for Class Average and SOL Average by Grade Level. ............. 188 Table 72: Correlations for End-of-Course and SOL Averages with Grading Factors and Assessment Methods by Grade Level: 6 th .................................................................... 189 Table 73: Correlations for End-of-Course and SOL Averages with Grading Factors and Assessment Methods by Grade Level: 7 th .................................................................... 190 Table 74: Correlations for End-of-Course and SOL Averages with Grading Factors and Assessment Methods by Grade Level: 8 th .................................................................... 191 Table 75: Mean Values for Class Average and SOL Averages by Ability Level. .......... 192 Table 76: Correlations for End-of-Course and SOL Averages with Grading Factors and Assessment Methods by Ability Level: Comprehensive. .............................................. 193

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Table 77: Correlations for End-of-Course and SOL Averages with Grading Factors and Assessment Methods by Ability Level: Honors/Gifted. ................................................ 195 Table 78: Correlations for End-of-Course and SOL Averages with Grading Factors and Assessment Methods by Ability Level: Inclusive/Collaborative. .................................. 196

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Abstract

INTERPRETING THE MEANING OF GRADES: A DESCRIPTIVE ANALYSIS OF MIDDLE SCHOOL TEACHERS’ ASSESSMENT AND GRADING PRACTICES By Tameshia Vaden Grimes, Ph.D. A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Virginia Commonwealth University, 2010

Major Director: Lisa M. Abrams Assistant Professor, School of Education

This descriptive, non-experimental, quantitative study was designed to answer the broad question, “What do grades mean?” Core academic subject middle school teachers from one large, suburban school district in Virginia were administered an electronic survey that asked them to report on aspects of their grading practices and assessment methods for one class taught during the 2008-2009 school year. The survey addressed the following topics: 1) primary purposes for grades, 2) attitudes toward grading, 3) assessment method, and 4) grading practices. Additionally, the study examined the relationship between teachers’ reported assessment and grading methods and student achievement.

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Overall results and results disaggregated by subject area, grade level, and student ability level suggest that teachers are consistent in what they consider the primary purposes for grades. The vast majority indicated that grades should communicate student levels of mastery of content and skills. However, sizable percentages of teachers reported that they also considered non-academic indicators such as effort, attendance, and paying attention in class when determining student grades, suggesting a lack of alignment between their reported beliefs and practice. The study examined the extent to which teachers’ reported grading and assessment practices were consistent with those recommended in the literature on measurement and assessment. The study findings are consistent with those of findings from previous studies suggesting that teachers engage in “hodgepodge grading,” a practice which incorporates non-academic factors into student grades. The results also show that teachers use a variety of assessment methods and types of questions when measuring student achievement. The results indicate that projects, student exhibits, essays, inclusion of zeros, and extra credit were associated with higher levels of student achievement. Conversely, norm-referencing, classwork, participation, and matching were negatively correlated with student grades and test scores.

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Chapter 1 Introduction

Introduction Almost all Americans share the common experience of receiving a grade for each course taken beginning with grade school and continuing throughout their educational careers. The practice of assigning grades has been occurring in U.S. schools since the late 1800s when progress reports were first written to provide students with a summary report on their level of achievement (Hirschenbaum et al., 1971). Today, report cards are issued several times throughout the school year to provide parents and students with reports on student progress in each subject area. Students, parents, teachers, and school administrators look to these grades as a tangible way of communicating how a student is achieving in the subject area for which the grade has been assigned. Since the late 1970s/early 1980s, state-mandated and/or high-stakes tests, which have gained favor with politicians and the public as an objective way to chart the academic progress of American students, have been widely embraced as a mechanism of accountability for students’ academic achievement (Airasian, 1988). Such tests are seen by many as the ideal summative assessment because the results are reported as numbers, they are standardized – everyone within a school district gets the same number and/or same types of questions for each specific test – and the pass/fail scores are established by an

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external testing authority so teachers and/or school administrators cannot change them to suit their personal professional purposes (Airasian, 1988). Discussions about grading tend to focus on summative assessments (Airasian & Jones, 1993) – those activities, assignments, tests, etc. designed with the purpose of determining how well the student has mastered the targeted content and curriculum. However, there is an increased interest and a growing discussion about the role formative assessments can have in determining students’ grades. The research on formative assessments suggests if approached and implemented correctly, formative assessments can provide the teacher with invaluable, accurate information regarding how much the student is learning while instruction is on-going (Brookhart, 2007). Carey (1988) identified two ways school personnel use student achievement data (e.g., grades, test scores): teachers use students’ performances on tests as a way to determine how they are progressing at various intervals of the school year, while school system staff members use student achievement as a measure of the effectiveness of the current curriculum and the overall performance of the school (pp. 74-75). Some parents use the grade reported to help them determine the next steps they need to take in order to help their children be successful in school (Stiggins & Knight, 1997). Measurement experts agree that grades can be a reliable and valid tool for communicating information about a student’s progress if the grade is derived from valid assessment practices and if it addresses only the area of academic achievement. For example, measurement experts recommend that information regarding non-academic behaviors, such as attendance and behavior, should be reported separately (Canady &

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Hotchkiss, 1989; Friedman, 1998; McMillan, 1999; O’Connor, 1995; Wendel & Anderson, 1994). Furthermore, experts suggest that the student’s grades must not be adversely impacted by grade deductions due to work that is turned in late or a perceived lack of interest in class (Canady & Hotchkiss, 1989). Despite these recommendations, researchers have found that, in practice, teachers include non-achievement factors when assigning students’ grades (Baron, 2000; McMillan, 1999; McMillan & Nash, 2000). Even teachers who have received instruction in sound measurement principles engage in the practice of what Cross and Frary (1993) termed “hodgepodge grading” (Brookhart, 1993). The reasons for doing so include the desire to be “fair” to students when assessing what they know and can do (McMillan & Nash, 2000). Statement of the Problem Grades are universal symbols of achievement in the United States educational system; however, the processes and procedures teachers use to determine grades are not universal. Each individual teacher records and calculates grades differently; even the criteria used to determine the grade presented on the report card can vary from teacher to teacher (Carlson, 2003; Frisbie & Waltman, 1992; Guskey, 1994). Measurement experts contend that only product criteria – summative-type assessments - should be used to determine final grades because grades issued using product criteria are based “exclusively on final examination scores, overall assessments, or other culminating demonstrations of learning” (Guskey, 1994). However, research has shown that teachers use combinations of summative and formative assessments (Brookhart, 2007), such as including/considering in the final grade the gains a student

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made from the beginning of the course to the present and factoring in whether the student consistently had turned in his/her homework, along with the student’s score on the final examination (Guskey, 1994, 2001). Using various types of criteria (e.g., grades given on tests, grades given for effort, or grades given for following directions) increases the chances of subjectivity and bias, invalidating the grade issued as a measure of achievement (Carlson, 2003; Frisbie & Waltman, 1992; Guskey, 1994, 2001). Despite their agreement that grades should communicate students’ academic progress, researchers disagree as to the assessment practice to be used (e.g., whether formative assessments should be used in conjunction with summative assessments or if the two should be kept strictly separate) (Black & Wiliam, 1998a, 1998b; Brookhart, 2007). Several researchers have written in support of teachers including both formative and summative information to improve classroom practices (Airasian & Jones, 1993; Black & Wiliam, 2003; Ornstein, 1994). Brookhart (2008), on the other hand, does not go as far as championing combining the two types of assessments. She does, however, state that the feedback element, which is crucial to formative assessment, can be incorporated into summative assessments, stressing the requirement that students be given the opportunity to use that information at another time to further their learning. In the literature there is overlap between the recommendations of measurement experts regarding how best to use formative assessments to determine and communicate student achievement and how to communicate that achievement via the ultimate summative assessment: grades (Airasian & Jones, 1993; Brookhart, 2007). Experts in measurement recommend that grades be based on students’ performance on criterion-

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referenced activities (Carey, 1998; Cauley et al., 2008); they also recommend that formative assessments be used to provide students with feedback that has the criterion- referenced purpose of focusing students on the progress they are making towards meeting the standard/objective of the assignment (Brookhart, 2007). Studies have shown that even when teachers are aware of the recommendations of measurement experts regarding valid and reliable grading practices, they continue to engage in grading behaviors that are contrary to those recommendations (Brookhart, 1993). The desire to be “fair” to students has been found to be the driving force behind this disregard of sound measurement principles (Airasian & Jones, 1993; McMillan & Nash, 2000). Stiggins (2002) argued that measurement experts need to move beyond a focus on validity and reliability when it comes to grading practices and begin to examine how to use grades to increase a student’s desire to learn and feel successful at learning. Canady and Hotchkiss (1989) argued that teachers should be able to use professional judgment when the final, resulting grade does not accurately reflect the student’s knowledge. McMillan (1999) suggested that measurement experts provide teachers with options that are less than ideal (to the specialists) but give teachers more information to better equip them to make decisions about their grading practices, resulting in grades that are a more accurate reflection of the student’s learning. Purpose of the Study This study will examine the theory, standards, and teachers’ practices of assessment and grading. The study will compare middle school, core academic subject teachers’ self- reported grading and assessment practices to the recommendations of measurement experts

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in an effort to determine if teachers’ beliefs about the purpose of grades and if their reported assessment methods and grading practices mirror those best practices suggested by measurement experts. In addition, the relationship between grading and assessment practices and student achievement will be explored. End-of-course averages in the core academic subjects (English, mathematics, science, and social studies) as well as class averages for Virginia’s state-mandated, high-stakes tests, the Standards of Learning (SOLs), will be analyzed in association with teachers’ reported assessment methods and grading practices. Rationale and Significance of the Study Students and parents consider grades an effective and reliable way of communicating the student’s academic progress in school (Brookhart, 1993). It is therefore vital that teachers clearly define their grading systems and any terms specific to that system for parents and students and consistently follow that system (Wendel & Anderson, 1994). Having a common understanding of the grading process and the terms associated with that process is necessary to ensuring that those who determine and those who receive grades share the same common understanding of what the grades mean (O’Connor, 1995). When teachers use grades for reasons other than to communicate how the student is progressing academically (e.g., using grades as a form of punishment or using grades as a source of motivation), then the grading process – and as a result, the grade – is no longer valid, especially if the teacher has not communicated to parents and students that other factors are considered when grades are assigned (Allen, 2005; Guskey, 1994, 2001; McMillan, 1999; Wendel & Anderson, 1994). McMillan (1999) stated “if

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there is an understanding that the final grade reflects more than what students know and are able to do, then teachers need to be open and explicit about how much other factors, such as effort and improvement, influence the grade” (p. 8). In this era of increased litigation and the wide acceptance of high-stakes, standardized assessments being used as the ultimate in schools’ accountability for student achievement (Airasian, 1988; Stiggins, 2002), most recently articulated in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the accuracy of grades as a symbol of students’ mastery of curriculum is increasingly important. A heightened emphasis on student achievement, coupled with the reorganization of schools labeled as failing by NCLB standards, has resulted in a closer scrutiny of students’ performances on standardized assessments. There are some who would argue that because grades are a more immediate and regular tool used to communicate student progress, they should be a good indicator of how students will perform on the standardized assessments. This study will analyze teachers’ grading and assessment practices in relation to best practices recommended by measurement experts as valid and reliable processes for assessing students and determining grades in an effort to determine which grading practices are associated with higher levels of student achievement. It will also examine middle school, core academic subjects teachers’ self- reported grading and assessment practices in relation to the recommendations asserted by grading and measurement experts as well as students’ end-of-course grades and SOL scores.

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Review of Literature During the 1990s, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), and the National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME) issued a joint statement and adopted professional standards that included assessment (Stiggins, 2002) (see Appendix A); however, assessment is still not a primary course in teacher preparation programs (Stiggins, 2002). Stiggins (2002) drew attention to the fact that few states require, as a part of the licensure process for teachers, that candidates demonstrate their ability to appropriately assess students, nor do they require school leaders to demonstrate competence in assessment. Stiggins (2002) also noted that there is not an assessment examination for licensing – along the lines of examinations to prove competence in a specific subject area – and argues that there should be. Allen (2005) stated that current teacher-preparatory programs do not focus enough on “measurement theory and [its] application to grading practices,” so teachers assign grades based on how they were given grades as students in both grade school and college. Teachers incorporate factors from a combination of summative assessments and formative assessments when assigning grades (Brookhart, 2007). Measurement experts state that only summative assessments should be used when determining grades; they further state that the use of confounding, non-academic factors, such as effort and behavior, leads to grades being subjective and biased (Guskey, 1994). Therefore, if the purpose of grades is to communicate information regarding a student’s academic achievement, these practices are not in line with the fundamental principles of measurement, so the grading process – and the resulting grade – is invalid.

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Parents and students view grades as a summary of the student’s mastery of the content taught for each course taken (Allen, 2005). Teachers use grades not only to communicate with parents and students about the student’s academic progress, but they also use grades as incentives for students to work harder, to ability-group students, and in some cases to punish students for a lack of effort or failure to follow the rules (Allen, 2005; Frisbie & Waltman, 1992; Guskey, 1994, 2000). Measurement experts agree that grades should provide both parents and students with an accurate picture of students’ achievement in the content area. They disagree, however, over how to ensure that grading practices used by teachers are effective in meeting this objective; because grading is a subjective endeavor (Carlson, 2003; Frisbie & Waltman, 1992; Guskey, 1994), there is not one best way of grading that meets the needs of every student impacted by grades and every teacher assigning grades. Grading is, by its very nature, subjective (Carlson, 2003; Frisbie & Waltman, 1992; Ornstein, 1994); individual teachers have their own, unique systems that they follow when assigning grades to students. Canady and Hotchkiss (1989) report inconsistent grading practices within a school, from teacher to teacher, and by the same teacher from one grading period to another. Marzano (2000) called for a complete change in the way educators assign grades, stating that “grades are so imprecise that they are almost meaningless” (p. 1). Grading practices such as grading on the curve and assigning zeros and other forms of using grades as punishment (Guskey, 2000) lend credence to Marzano’s assertion.

Full document contains 255 pages
Abstract: This descriptive, non-experimental, quantitative study was designed to answer the broad question, "What do grades mean?" Core academic subject middle school teachers from one large, suburban school district in Virginia were administered an electronic survey that asked them to report on aspects of their grading practices and assessment methods for one class taught during the 2008-2009 school year. The survey addressed the following topics: (1) primary purposes for grades, (2) attitudes toward grading, (3) assessment method, and (4) grading practices. Additionally, the study examined the relationship between teachers' reported assessment and grading methods and student achievement. Overall results and results disaggregated by subject area, grade level, and student ability level suggest that teachers are consistent in what they consider the primary purposes for grades. The vast majority indicated that grades should communicate student levels of mastery of content and skills. However, sizable percentages of teachers reported that they also considered non-academic indicators such as effort, attendance, and paying attention in class when determining student grades, suggesting a lack of alignment between their reported beliefs and practice. The study examined the extent to which teachers' reported grading and assessment practices were consistent with those recommended in the literature on measurement and assessment. The study findings are consistent with those of findings from previous studies suggesting that teachers engage in "hodgepodge grading," a practice which incorporates non-academic factors into student grades. The results also show that teachers use a variety of assessment methods and types of questions when measuring student achievement. The results indicate that projects, student exhibits, essays, inclusion of zeros, and extra credit were associated with higher levels of student achievement. Conversely, norm-referencing, classwork, participation, and matching were negatively correlated with student grades and test scores.