It’s that time of year when I reflect with students about the first semester to see what worked and what we can improve on. For the last few years I’ve used XP or ‘level up’ grading in my dual enrollment classes (high school + college credit in one class). Today a student irritatedly asked why I use This grading style. It’s a fair question but one I try to answer at the beginning of the semester so I was a little surprised – mostly at the timing since grades were just finalized. Instead of jumping into a defensof the system though I asked her why she was frustrated by it. She was one of my better students and will be getting an A. 

‘It’s not what everyone else does’ she answered. 

Ah, that was the issue. A good student was frustrated because she had figured out the rules of the other classes and learned to game the system. 

‘And when my mom asked me about my grades and I told her I’m a level 12 and that I was failing she didn’t understand’ she added.

Ah ha. Ok, that told me I needed to do more parent outreach. Fair enough. In my mind though the frustration still comes down breaking traditional norms. 

It was a good opportunity to layout my defense of XP grading though. Here are the basic points in favor of XP grading that we eventually discussed (the student had an aha moment and is now a supporter).

1) Traditional grades don’t show progress – XP grading does. In weighted category systems a student could complete a homework assignment on day one, receive a 100% on the HW and the gradebook shows 100%. The student has not learned or mastered 100% of the material. The number is meaningless except as a mathematical excercise.

2) Traditional grading is confusing – XP Grading is intuitive. That student with a 100% HW average takes a Quiz and receives a 90%. What is the overall average? 95%. No, because the teacher weighted quizzes 20% and HW 10% so the student has a 92.5%. A week later the student takes a test and gets a 80%. What is the overall average? It depends on the teacher weighting. With good XP grading all XP points are equal and are openly published in advance. Students can know what to expect without doing deep math meaning:

3) XP grading shows progress. All students start at level 0 or with 0XP. As they complete activities they are demonstrating mastery of content or skills which earns them XP. With enough XP they earn a level. Since they have demonstrated mastery that demonstration cannot be taken away which means levels are not taken away either. (2 exceptions are cheating and the final mandatory 20% exam). Since the grade is ALWAYS going up the number is a demonstration of progress! It is a sign of growth! It also means:

4) Traditional Grading is (sometimes intentionally) punative but XP grading is rewarding. This goes with a previous post about loss aversion but in a traditional system a student with a 96 average could could take a test, score a 92 and still see their grade decrease. How frustrating to get an A and have your grade suffer! In an XP system that is a huge gain. Also, even a poor student will see they are making gains. 

5) XP grading allows celebration – even of minor gains! If all a poor student hears is you’ve failed it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Imagine however that student hearing ‘you have mastered 65% of the content! You have room to improve but you are no longer a level 0.’ It’s a small celebration but shows growth and a reward instead of shame and punishment. 

I realize that I need to constantly be communicating this message to students and parents and that over time I see the inherent benefits that others may not. This is a good start for that communication and an open dialogue.

What benefits or ‘opportunities’ did I forget to include? Please feel free to leave a comment below.