Recently, the Edmonton Journal did an article around my no percentage grades
EDMONTON - High school math teacher Dave Martin has stopped grading his students’ assignments with percentage marks.
Instead, the Red Deer teacher writes comments on homework and unit exams, then urges students to fix mistakes and demonstrate their knowledge again.
For one of his mid-terms, Martin asked his students what mark they wanted and why, “and as long as they could justify it, I gave it to them,” said Martin, who made a presentation about his teaching methods just over a week ago at the Greater Edmonton Teachers Conference.
“It was really interesting because people didn’t take advantage of this ... My class average, when I did that, was lower than what it usually is.”
Math education has been a lightning rod for debate in Alberta and across the country recently, sparking protests and a back-to-basics campaign that prompted former education minister Jeff Johnson to make adjustments to Alberta’s K-9 math curriculum.
Grading and student assessment have also come under scrutiny.
Former physics teacher Lynden Dorval made national headlines in the spring of 2012 when he refused to follow a new policy at Ross Sheppard High School that required teachers to stop grading with zeros and use behaviour codes.
And a year ago, the Battle River School Division in Camrose decided high school students would again be graded with percentage marks after parents and students fought a controversial system that marked students with one of four achievement levels.
It’s not until the end of Martin’s math courses that he assigns each student a percentage grade, which is required by Alberta Education. To calculate that grade, Martin looks at the curriculum outcomes for the course and figures out what percentage of those outcomes each student has learned.
“So if a kid gets a 60 per cent (of the outcomes), then I can actually say, here is the 40 per cent he or she doesn’t understand, as opposed to getting 60 on every test,” Martin said. “Think about the kid who gets 70 per cent all year. You know what that means? He never actually mastered anything.”
Martin said he wants students to learn the course material by the end of the year, so he has stopped punishing students with reduced marks when they learn the material more slowly. That means a student who makes mistakes on assignments but finally grasps a concept at the end of the course can score the same mark as a student who aces it from the beginning, said Martin.
“I’ve been doing this for about five years now,” said Martin.
“Why do English teachers get rough drafts but math teachers never allow students to have rough drafts? So that’s kind of what I do. I allow kids to demonstrate their learning multiple times ... I don’t believe every kid can learn calculus by, say, Friday, but I do believe every kid can learn calculus.”
Martin started off teaching math the way he was taught math but the vast majority of his students hated it, he said. About 44 per cent of his calculus students failed or dropped out. The rate was similar when he compared it with other schools. Last semester, his dropout and failure rate was zero.
Students are more inclined to take on higher-level math, even math outside the curriculum, if they know they’re not going to be punished for making a mistake, he said.
It’s a far less stressful way to learn math, but the work isn’t easy, said Grade 12 calculus student Hector Jordan.
“You’ve got to understand it fully,” Jordan said. “You end up liking math ... Actually, all his classes are packed.”
Math teacher Patricia Shoemaker decided to try Martin’s methods with some of her Grade 10 students a year ago. Now that she grades with comments, attendance has skyrocketed at her mini-lesson study sessions. Shoemaker said her students did as well or better on a common final math test than other Grade 10 classes at the school.
“I’m not grading them on if their assignments are late anymore. I’m not grading them on if they’re missing an assignment. What I’m grading them on is what they actually understand and what the outcomes are.”
I wanted to share two comments from my own students....these were written on their own without any request from myself.