Imagine watching the Super Bowl. Tom Brady passes for 201 yards, 3 Touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. His opponent Patrick Mahomes passes for 270 yard, 0 touchdowns, and 2 Interceptions. Brady’s Buccaneers scored 31 points and Mahomes’ Chiefs only 9 points. Clearly a victory for Brady and the Bucs…

But are we sure?

Just because the Bucs scored more points on game day does that mean they are the Champs?

How did they look in practice? I heard that Brady looked terrible during the week leading to practice with about 5 interceptions and only 1 touchdown per practice. Meanwhile Mahomes looked fantastic and averaged 5 touchdowns and only 1 interception. Obviously we can’t weight the practice as much as the Big Game. Maybe we can make it 30%/70% weight. Maybe we could get some weighted categories like touchdowns or turnovers. Then after the game is played we could average everything together to see who won the game…

Obviously ridiculous.

Or is it?

Isn’t this what we do all the time with our traditional gradebooks?

If we really believe in formative assessment and/or mastery based learning then practice shouldn’t be reflected in the overall assessment.

The vast majority of traditional gradebooks weight practice and other formative assessments into a final average. This negates the entire concept of mastery attainment. Practice and formative assessments should not count in the final grade.

Let’s take a simple Quiz example. A quiz is supposed to assess where a student is in knowing content prior to a summative assessment. This information should guide the teacher and student’s individualized plan going forward. It is, in a sense, practice for the Big Game. In a mastery based system the student does poorly, uses the information to improve themselves, and shows gains on the final assessment. With traditional gradebooks though the student will be punished for the bad practice session because it is still calculated into the final score. 

You might argue traditional gradebooks help students that do well on practice assessments but struggle with the summative assessment. I believe that is telling us more about the practice than the student and we have some questions to ask. Were the practice assessments actually practicing the same thing being assessed on the summative assessment? Is the summative assessment appropriate for the student? Is it assessing what is intended in the standard? Is there some psychological block like anxiety brought on by the Big Game atmosphere of a Summative Test?

I know this one is hard but…. did you really teach the material well? I have eliminated any quiz grades because I found that questions students struggle on were often those questions that I barely taught. That is a reflection on me… not the student. I needed to change my actions not punish the students.

Formative assessments are a great opportunity for students to learn to fail forward, to self assess, and improve. If we punish them by keeping their failures a live in the gradebook with no chance at redemption the unspoken lesson is that perfection is an immediate requirement and that students that don’t immediately “get it” are on a second tier.