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Lifelong Learning

Assessment expert shares changes to grading philosophy

October 8, 2019

For several years, staff members at Horizon Middle School East Campus have been moving toward feedback-based grading, which focuses on students’ learning instead of their achievement on a particular assignment.

Tom Schimmer, author of “Grading from the Inside Out,” compared learning academic content to a rehearsal and the final grade to a performance. While students are learning, they may lose points on assignments. Once they learn the material they earn better grades, but their overall grade may have already been negatively affected.

“Once I know it, it is irrelevant that once I didn’t know it,” Schimmer said.

At the beginning of the school year, Horizon East staff members worked with Schimmer on grading and assessment practices. Schimmer, who has been immersed in assessment work throughout his career as an educator, also spoke at a parent night to explain the change in grading philosophy.

Schimmer told the audience that pressure in life is unavoidable.

“The question is how do we learn to handle pressure,” he said.

He explained that stress is a situation of too many demands and not enough resources, while pressure is a situation where something at stake is dependent on the outcome of your performance.

“Those people who perform better under pressure than other people have a ‘COTE’ of armor,” Schimmer said. “They have confidence, optimism, tenacity and enthusiasm. To what degree are we contributing to or taking away from our children’s or students’ ‘COTE’ of armor?”

Schimmer said most of the time adults are doing this inadvertently, though testing and quizzes. Grades shouldn’t be leverage or used to coerce behavior, he said. Instead grades need to be an accurate reflection of where students are in their learning.

“Through decades of research, if you want to advance student learning it’s through feedback,” Schimmer said.

He explained it is important to let parents know how students are doing, but a 0 to 100 grading scale is not very reliable. He advocated replacing the unreliable percentage grading scale with a grading scale that includes fewer but more reliably discernable categories of performance.

“The fewer categories you have, the more consistency you’ll have in grading,” Schimmer said.

He provided an example showing how a score of 15 out of 20 is not as precise as people may think it is. In the example, the first student scored 15 out of 20 by making simple mistakes on the first five questions. The second student earned 15 out of 20 because the student didn’t know how to answer the last five questions and left them blank. The third student missed the answer on one question that was worth five points and also scored 15 out of 20.

While all three students achieved the same score, they are in very different places as learners, Schimmer said. By making grading more specific and reporting on behavior and work habits separately, students’ grades are measured against the standards and the focus is on the learning.


Tom Schimmer, author of “Grading from the Inside Out,” spoke about changing grading philosophy to focus on student learning during a parent night at Horizon Middle School East Campus earlier this school year.

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