Grading Anxiety

When I was at Western, I was obsessive about my GPA. It felt like a chance to redeem myself from what felt like a huge failure at art school, it felt like a chance to finally prove that I was smart. In two and a half years, I only had one B and one BA, finishing with a 3.96 or 3.94 or something.

That number would have been higher if I hadn’t taken Early American Lit, which ruined me.

It felt like an accomplishment.

At high school graduation, I undoubtedly had the lowest GPA out of my friend group. I wasn’t dumb, but I had made some mistakes (I’m looking at you, C in freshman year Earth Science) and some things just didn’t work out the way I hoped (hey, straight Bs for the semester because I spent the week before finals in the hospital while my grandma was dying.) I graduated with a 3.4, which some of the colleges I applied to recalculated, adding in extra points for AP and honors classes.

I honestly thought that the obsession and investment and confusion over grades would be over when I graduated.

I was wrong.

My elementary school didn’t give out grades. My elementary school was, compared to the school where I teach, hippie-ish. There were movable walls! There was team-teaching! We had recess twice a day! Our report cards were a long list of skills, academic and social-emotional and practical, and you got a grade on each of those. They would include things like “Adding and subtracting two-digit numbers,” “Plays appropriately with peers,” “Using scissors” and “Identifying left and right.”

In kindergarten, I distinctly remember getting the left and right one wrong, because the person asking me gave me a hint, saying “Your right hand is the one you write with.”

I’m left-handed.

At my school, we give out grades. Numbers that translate into letters that translate into passing or failing.

Grading is frustrating because I have to give a number, to every student, for Reading, Language, and Math. That number doesn’t have a way for me to say “They are still behind but they have improved so much.” and it doesn’t have a way for me to say “Their grammar is great, but they struggle with phonics – they don’t quite get vowel patterns yet.” There’s no way for me to say “Their behavior changed recently, and we’ve been working on changing how we react to this kind of situation.”

I’ve spent this year trying to figure out how to handle grading – which assignments to grade, how to grade homework, how rigorous assignments should be in order to count them for a grade. I’m always trying to strike a balance – if the work you’re grading is too hard, everyone’s failing, if the work you’re grading is too easy, then your gradebook is full of 100’s and it’s not rigorous enough.

Then, there’s the troubleshooting side of things – how do I manage making up tests when students are absent? How do I manage making up work that was unfinished in class?

I still don’t feel like I have it figured out.