Iowa ASCD 15: How to Grade for Learning with Ken O’Conner

“The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

Iowa ASCD 15 – An opportunity to have both an Open mind and an Open mouth to process new learnings!

What do “grades” or “percentages” mean when looking at achievement?

Yesterday, Ken O’Conner (@kenoc7) challenged 282 attendees at #IowaASCD15 to consider what grades and marks mean in the education world.  “Grades” have two basic meanings in the US and “marks”, similarly, has two different meanings in Canada.  The basic definitions go something like this:

Mark – “the number or letter “score” given to any student test or performance”

Grade – “the number or letter reported at the end of a period of time as a summary statement of student performance”

Marks and grades often seem to only be an education issue.  What if we considered the learning data from a real life scenario?

So, in real life, what if our end goal is to go skydiving?


End Goal

parachute flat

What does it take to pack a parachute correctly?

Ken O’Conner began the day with this set of data.


What does the data tell you about each student?

Student A?  What’s the trend? Are you willing to put your life via parachute on the line?

Student B?  What’s the trend? Are you willing to put your life via parachute on the line?  Do you have the urge to “see the data” for the 8th try?

Student C?  What’s the trend?  Are you willing to put your life via parachute on the line?

Do the “marks” give you enough information?

Which would you choose?

Student A, B, or C?

Or did you decide to NOT jump out of a perfectly good airplane at this point?

Another Consideration: 

What if “mastery” was 60%?  That’s a “passing grade” or a “D” in most schools?  Is that “good enough” for parachute packing?  Which students are considered to have mastered packing a parachute?  Again, how comfortable are you risking your life?

Interested in more information?  Go to Ken’s website here! The storified chat is here but do note that there were connectivity issues. . . 282 attendees . . . multiple devices . . . GREAT learning!

Final Question

Would “averaging” the percentages for a “grade” have made you more “comfortable about the most proficient parachute-packing student”? (This is similar to “averaging” homework grades when we compare first learning with last learning.)

Another great resource is the book we received at the conference, A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades.  It will spark great conversations for teachers, students, parents, and communities!  How do you grade for LEARNING?

15 fixes


4 responses

  1. What great learning! The finality of a grade is what makes me so uncomfortable with grads especially for elementary school students. We do grade on where the student ends a period which is a plus, yet I would love it if there was also a “grade” that could reflect a student’s growth. As always, thanks for the resouces Fran!

    1. Thanks, Julieanne! So many things go into “grading” that it’s hard o reflect wha we know about “learning”!

  2. Ah, grades – I wish I didn’t have to assign them, to be honest. In sixth grade, my kids are so all over the place – grades are rarely static. You’ve given me this issue to mull over and think about this Friday, Fran.

    1. Tara, that is so true. Some people think that grades are these very definite “stopping points” when they really are many things. More conversations are definitely needed!

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