Explaining the formative/summative grading shift

It’s no secret that Cary-Grove has been introduced to many changes this year, and it has taken a few weeks for everyone to get adjusted. Among the changes that may take some getting used to is the new summative and formative assessment grading scale.

The new scale and philosophy separates in-class work and homework (formative), and tests (summative) into two different parts of a student’s grade, and the summative portion has a higher influence on the overall percentage earned in a class. While the percentages vary from each division, the overall message is the same; that tests are more important than ever.

For Sejal Dhindsa, a sophomore, this change was completely unexpected, and she said that she doesn’t understand why the new policy makes it feel like an entire quarter of hard work “boils down to just four or five days of testing […] making it feel like working hard in class and turning in homework is unimportant.”

And Sejal isn’t alone. Many students don’t even know what the grading scale and philosophy means, let alone what it’s for or why the district decided to make the change, seemingly out of nowhere.

Although this recent push in grading may seem like a spur-of-the-moment adjustment, it’s not. Instead, this new philosophy is based on research from several studies that the district feels will be beneficial to students.

Mr. Sargeant said that he believes that the new policy will help the school reach their mission of “inspiring students’ love for learning” by encouraging students to confidently walk out of their classrooms “with what they need to know and be able to do,” instead of just worrying about whether or not they did their homework on time or if they turned in “a box of Kleenex for extra credit.”

Mr. Sargeant also stated that the new grading scale will help reach this goal by instilling “the idea that […] as a student […] their grade is based on exactly how they perform in that respective classroom, on the things that are important for them to know and be able to do based on the curriculum.”

So exactly how is a change in percentages going to help instill this idea? Well, it’s important to note that the percent change is just one side of the coin. The other side that hasn’t yet been discussed is the philosophy behind the change.

The philosophy of formative and summative assessment is to focus on in-class work, and have teachers give constructive feedback to their students explaining what they need to know and how they can improve. The change also focuses on helping the student learn, instead of just doing what it takes to get a certain grade.

Through this active learning environment, the student’s success with the formative work can help both the student and teacher identify the areas of mastery and deficiencies in the student’s performance. Once these levels of achievement are assessed, both parties would work together to improve the student’s overall understanding of the course and its material.

The overall purpose of this focus on in-class work is to help the student know exactly what they need to know for their test, the summative portion of their grade. Mr. Sargeant said that the “growing pains” involved with getting a retake may provide motivation “to put the effort in on the first time around”.

Katie Altpeter, a senior, said that the pressure of doing badly on a test might actually force students into a situation that makes them less excited to go to class, and even make them “lose inspiration to try hard,” consequently making their overall grade go down instead of up.

In response to this fear, Mr. Sargeant said that he’s “curious to see” whether or not this change will actually adversely affect students’ grades. Mr. Sargeant also said that while educators are concerned about students’ grades, “what we really want is for people to walk out of there with the knowledge of what they should have, not necessarily the grade.”

While every student at Cary-Grove has a different opinion on this topic, there seems to be an overarching theme between all of them: Almost no students knew that this change was coming, and most of them still don’t know why it’s here in the first place.

When the change was presented in classrooms on the first day, the only thing that students were handed was a sheet identifying the new grading system, and gave no explanation or reason. The only way a student could have learned why the change was taking place and what it meant for them was if they actively searched through the district website and went through the research behind it.

But most kids don’t think of searching for those details, and because of the lack of exposure to the research and motive behind the change, some students at Cary-Grove still think that this new grading policy is nothing more than a percentage change, when in reality it is intended to create an environment where students are more aware of what is expected of them to learn, and where teachers are more able to help students achieve those academic goals.