Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why my Grades are Weighted 80:20... and Why Yours Should Be Too!

I remember the first time I heard about 80:20 grading.  It was my second year of teaching (first year in my current district) at an institute day.  The presenter we had to go to during a session talked about the benefits of 80:20 grading.  I was baffled at the concept.  Tests/projects worth 80 percent of a student's grade?!  Kids will fail miserably! Kids who used to get A's will now get C's!  What about kids who do poorly on tests but know the material?!  The list of arguments went on.

It wasn't until last year that I realized how much more accurate this grading system could be in assessing a student's grade.  In my old system, as long as you did your homework on time and did ok on tests, you literally could not fail my class.  This made it difficult for me to make recommendations that students repeat a level of French.  "Well if Suzie is getting a C, then obviously she deserves to move on!"

For anyone reading who is still confused as to what 80:20 is, allow me to explain.  Your students' grades have only two categories: summative assessment and formative  assessment.  Anything that fits into the summative assessment category (tests, big quizzes, end of unit projects, etc) are worth 80% of their grade.  The other 20% is formative assessment (day to day work like homework, mid-unit projects, small quizzes, classwork, etc). 

I decided to do a test run of 80:20 during fourth quarter last year and it worked REALLY well.  I also implemented a new test retake policy that really complemented the 80:20 policy well.  Yes students should be learning the material when its taught to them and be prepared for any test.  But, like mentioned above, students can have off days, they may not have gotten the material 100%, the format may have been confusing to them, etc.  I changed my policy to allow retakes, however students needed to prove to me they were truly learning the material.  After all, the whole purpose of 80:20 is to accurately portray what the student knows how to do, right?

My new policy was simple.  They had until the end of the quarter to retake any tests from that quarter, and they had to fill out an intensive retake form (CLICK HERE to check it out and feel free to use it for yourself).  Part of the retake form is doing extra work to practice what they had a hard time with.  I will not allow them to even schedule the retake until this whole form is completed.  With this policy, students really only were able to retake if they could prove to me they learned the material a little bit better.  They often love to kill two birds with one stone and meet with me to go over and correct their errors. 

Once I implemented this system, I've noticed how accurate grades are to what students are able to do.  Students who really didn't get it were getting Ds and Fs. Students who got it were getting As and Bs.  Their grade was a reflection of their knowledge, not of their ability to turn in work on time.  That's what summative assessment does: it measures your knowledge of the topic.  By making a grade worth that much, it truly reflects their knowledge.  The retake option is nice for two reasons.  Firstly, it encourages them to actually take the time to get help or try again if they didn't get it.  Secondly, it keeps parents from freaking out at me that their child is doing poorly in class.  If their grade is in the dumps, I always tell parents that their student has the option to retake tests and improve their grade.  Once again, the ball is in the student's court (which is how I like it).

photo from uhstitans.com


  1. I am a firm believer in this policy! You are fortunate that your district allows you to do this. We are only allowed to make tests/projects worth 50% of the grade, and a student is not allowed to receive a grade lower than a 50% on any assignment.

    1. That is just so disappointing! Even if they completely miss the point and don't get anything right, they just get 50% just for trying? That's so messed up. It's like participation trophies on steroids :(

  2. Did you find that this made more work for you as a teacher?

    1. Honestly, it hasn't. The kids of extra practice they do is activities I had already made (or were in the textbook) or were something they made themselves. The only extra work I have had is making and grading any retakes they take. Once I make a second version of the same test, then it's ready forever anytime someone retakes that test. Any given quarter I have maybe a dozen retakes total out of all my classes, so it's really not too much extra.