It’s important all stakeholders within a place of learning be on the same page regarding grading. If they’re not, problems will appear down the road. It’s similar to building a brick wall. The first row has to be level. If not, misalignment will become apparent as more rows are added. Everyone who sees the completed wall will notice how off kilter everything is, and it won’t be difficult to locate the culprit.

Unfortunately, the culprit may be more difficult to find within education. There are a lot of moving parts within a school, and it’s not an easy task to attribute a relationship between adopted practices and student learning. Fortunately, there’s sound evidence regarding grading.

This is where you should open another window or tab in your browser, go to, and purchase a copy of Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam. I highly recommend you read his book because I can’t do justice to the wealth of information he provides concerning feedback and grades. In a nutshell, assigning a grade–even a grade in conjunction with feedback–doesn’t provide the positive results you’d think. In many cases, grades can negatively affect student learning.

This is hard to process for a number of reasons. First, we’ve all grown up in a system that regarded grades as important. Further, we had to work hard–oftentimes completing homework, classroom, and studying long hours–in order receive an “A” or “B”. This obviously shades our thinking. Second, the whole collegiate system relies heavily upon grades. This means high schools can’t jettison grades, and this trickles down to middle and elementary school. Third, the current state of grades is comfortable. Changing grades, whether that means moving to a standards based grades matrix or simply asking teachers to change the way they weigh their grades, scares people.

For these reasons and more, we can’t abolish grades. What we can do is alter the grading practice so it’s more effective. This can be done in the following ways:

  • Make grades standards based. Simply telling students they either grasp a concept or not is less nebulous than an A, B, C, D, or F. When you’re forced to say “yes” or “no”, you can quickly pivot and address a deficiency.
  • If grades can’t be made standards based, then change the weighting so grades are based 100 percent on assessments.
  • Shift toward a model that values constructive feedback opposed to grades.

Grades should be a reflection of learning and nothing else. When you use grades to cover citizenship, extra credit, overall effort, and assessments, the message gets muddled. An “A” or “F” become nebulous. This is because being a “good citizen” can skew a grade, which has nothing to do with whether a concept is understood.

For better or worse, grades aren’t going anywhere. This means the most effective way to mitigate the potential harm grading can unleash is by stating over and over the following mantra: Grades should reflect student learning. This idea will align educators so grading is conducted with similar goals in mind. It also rids both students and teachers of unnecessary work so time can be used more effectively. Ultimately, it will mean that when we look at a student’s grades, there’ll be a better understanding as to whether he or she has learned.

Data tools

There are great programs out there that help teachers collect data about student learning. Of course, there are also many factors that dissuade teachers from using information to guide instruction:

  1. Numbers can be scary.

  2. There’s trepidation when students are analyzed because the magnifying glass can quickly turn toward the teacher.

  3. There are questions about the validity of the data.

I understand the third point, but often it’s used as an excuse. It’s true that web based programs aren’t perfect at predicting student mastery of skills, but this doesn’t mean a teachers shouldn’t use them. An imperfect data collecting tool is much more valuable than no tool at all.

Educators should be embracing all necessary resources for determining student achievement–all the while adopting better programs as they’re released.

Professional Learning Communities

A week ago I wrote about implementing Edmodo Snapshot in my classroom. Using Snapshot was a great experience, and I’d like to elaborate more concerning this excerpt from my previous post:

Many teachers may not like that the tests are already made, but I think it’s wonderful. Instead of using valuable PLC time creating assessments, teachers can instead mine the student data for all it’s worth and create effective lesson plans to address student need.

A few years ago, it was understood that the weekly Professional Learning Community (PLC) time teachers were given in my district would be used to collaboratively create common formative assessments (CFA), correct the assessments, and analyze the data for how we could teach specific standards more effectively. This was a great concept, but getting five or more teachers to agree on a proper CFA proved to be difficult. How many questions would properly assess each standard? (Keep in mind, most teachers do not have extensive training in statistics.) How should we articulate the questions? How many multiple choices should there be? How often should we give a CFA? Should the test be part of the grade?

After the long process of creating a test, a week or two would go by. Many more questions would then ensue: Were all the teachers still teaching the same standards? Were the tests administered, collected, graded, and analyzed for student feedback by all team members? Did we have time to use the data to effectively modify our strategies and lessons to reteach concepts where we found student deficiencies?

If you’re a teacher, perhaps you’ve faced these and similar questions. At times, you might have felt like your PLC was working really slowly, unproductively–and, at worst–dysfunctionally.

I think it’s because the model of creating, grading, and analyzing CFAs poses a Herculean task for teachers who have a lot on their plates. With grades, lesson planning, coaching, and other extracurricular events, time during a 180 day school year is a rare and precious commodity. I’ve been forced to wonder whether there is a more effective, and sustainable, way to collaborate.

This is why Snapshot works so well. Like I wrote before, instead of using valuable (very valuable) PLC time creating assessments, Snapshot allows the teacher to pick standards that kids will be tested on in a quick and efficient manner. Teachers don’t have to use time to create tests–this is huge! I’ve always believed that PLC time would be better spent mining data and collaborating to create engaging lesson plans for students. Who wants to sit around in a committee and make tests when there’s so much other stuff to accomplish and create? Why not allow Edmodo to do this work?

Also, there’s no grading or scanning Snapshot tests because Edmodo does it for you. Goodbye bubble sheets and scanners that jam! I haven’t even mentioned yet how teachers can collaborate via Edmodo, so they don’t even need to be in the same room.

The biggest question we should be asking is: What should PLC time look like now?

Technology is revolutionizing the way educators operate. It’s a very exciting time to be a teacher.

Edmodo Snapshot

Edmodo Snapshot functions exactly like its name; it is a snapshot of where your students are at any given time in relation to mastery of the Common Core Standards. Snapshot provides ready made “micro-assessments” that students take online through their Edmodo accounts. The tests are graded automatically, and instant data is provided for the teacher. The program went live recently, and it’s an exciting addition to all the wonderful features Edmodo already offers.

Wednesday morning I used what Edmodo suggested for my first 12 question Snapshot “test,” and the standards involved were RL.7.1 (citing textual evidence), RI.7.6 (author’s point of view), and RI.7.10 (reading at grade level).

First I’ll discuss Snapshot and then I’ll share my takeaway.


Snapshot is really easy to use. The teacher logs into Edmodo and clicks on the icon of a magnifying glass with a checkmark on the left hand side of the webpage. The teacher picks the group who will receive the test, the grade level, the amount of time to be given, and the Common Core Standards to be assessed. I haven’t played around with this a lot yet, but it seems you can make the assessment as short or long as you want.

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When the students log into Edmodo, they are notified of a Snapshot assessment they can take. Once my students clicked “Take Snapshot,” they had 20 minutes to complete the assessment. (That was the default amount of time, but I could have shortened it or lengthened it if I chose.) If for any reason the students click out of the assessment, they will not be allowed access again–this happened in a couple of cases. Most of the students finished the test, and only a few ran out of time.

Teachers have access to the questions students will view before the test is taken. I’m sure a lot of teachers like this feature, but I’d caution using it too much since we don’t want to “teach to the test.

As I walked around the classroom, I noticed that the tests were not the same, which is great because it’s very easy for students to look at other screens due to the group formation in which they sit. Snapshot’s text size was small, but the 1:1 devices make it possible to zoom in and out of the webpage.

My takeaway:

Snapshot is an amazing tool. I can envision using this throughout the year to gauge my students’ mastery of the standards. Whenever I teach a unit on a specific standard (or two), Snapshot is a great way of assessing whether the student grasped the concept.

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Snapshot breaks the data into three categories: “Meets the Standard,” “Borderline,” and “Behind” (There’s also “Incomplete” for when the student doesn’t finish the Snapshot in time.) My students did well on standard RI.7.10 (reading at grade level), with most of them meeting the standard or receiving a “Borderline” score. RL.7.1 (citing textual evidence) was similar, but my students did very poorly on RI.7.6 (author’s point of view). This is very valuable information, and I’m glad I know it. The speed with which the students can take the test, and the speed in which they’re graded, gives me immediate feedback, making Snapshot the best way to conduct an efficient formative assessment in class.

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Many teachers may not like that the tests are already made, but I think it’s wonderful. Instead of using valuable PLC time creating assessments, teachers can instead mine the student data for all it’s worth and create effective lesson plans to address student need.

The best thing about Snapshot, however, is that it doesn’t bog the teacher down in too much data. The program simply shows whether the student needs help–and the truth of the matter is–that’s all I need to know. I didn’t become a teacher to print out reams of paper that contain meaningless data that will either go in a binder or recycling bin. I became a teacher to positively affect lives and teach meaningful content.

Edmodo is really firing on all cylinders right now. If they were selling stock, I’d invest.