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Making The Grade: How Does a Grade Become A Grade? Part 2

In a previous blog post I shared how grades are not equal from one classroom to the next. I mentioned extras that go into grades such as attendance, reading books outside the curriculum, extra credit, weighted classes, homework, behavior and participation play roles in getting a letter grade. In this post I am going to break down attendance, behavior, and participation. Before you read further, I want you to understand, I am not saying anything is better or worse, right or wrong. My intention is to shed light on all that really goes into a student's grade.

First and foremost, students need to be physically present, whether in person or virtual, in order to hear the lesson the teacher has prepared. However, for a large majority of students, physical presence is not enough. The student has to be able to access and attend to the lesson being taught. Access in a remote environment can truly mean being able to get to what and where the lesson is. I have heard from families all across the country who have said their child wasn’t able to access a lesson, a homework assignment, a handout, etc when it was required of them. Sometimes this was due to poor or no Internet access, but other times it was due to multiple teachers using different formats from one another and the student not being able to keep track of who was using what. It also has to do with different teachers requiring different websites and many of those having logins. That means the student has to remember all the login information for every single website that every single teacher uses throughout the classes all quarter, semester, or year. If a website is used frequently versus rarely, this makes a big difference in being able to recall that information. Not only does the student have to remember this information but also recall it quickly in order to have access at the same time as the rest of the class. In some instances, the class is moving on in the lesson while others are still waiting for their connection or getting logged in. It’s difficult to attend when you literally aren’t on the same page.

If students were able to log in and keep pace with their classmates, there was the distraction of where each student was located while they were virtual. Some students were able to ignore others’ and their own backgrounds, while others could not. During virtual or remote learning, students in some classrooms were allowed to be more relaxed in how they sat, whether they had their camera on, and what they wore, while others still had to wear uniform tops, have their camera on at all times, and sit in certain ways. During remote/virtual learning some students had/have others in the household to help them, while many did/do not.

Once the students are logged into their device and/or websites, they have heard the lesson, and were able to access the assignment there was still the matter of getting it back to the teacher. In some classrooms Google Classroom is used. This program allows the teacher to make quizzes, tests, assignments and have Google grade it automatically. Many teachers still use this system and were using it before the pandemic. It is a great tool but it has its limitations. The program can only score exactly what the teacher typed in as the correct answer. So, if a student spelled an answer incorrectly, typed a number word instead of a number, or didn’t answer with the exact words the teacher used, then the system marks the answer wrong. Thousands of students across the country were and are getting lower scores than what they truly deserve. The majority of students just take whatever score they are given without paying attention to what they missed and therefore, many right answers continue to be marked wrong.

Many teachers, but not all, tell the students the grade they receive from Google Classroom isn’t final until the teacher looks over the graded work. Some teachers will give points back, but others do not. In my book, Those Who “Can’t... “ Teach, a college student turned in work through the system his professor was using but it did not recognize that it had been turned in because of a communication error. Even though the student was able to prove, eventually, to the professor that everything had been turned in on time, the professor still penalized the student because the work was late. I’ve been told similar stories for middle school and high school as well.

Access to in person lessons means having the materials and/or being able to get the materials necessary. Some teachers have extra supplies of things like paper, writing utensils, art supplies, etc., while others do not. In classrooms across the country, some teachers penalize a student for not coming to class prepared with all materials; even if the materials are in a locker or backpack just outside the classroom. I’ve witnessed some teachers counting an assignment as late and deducting points from the grade even though the student had the assignment in their locker, while other teachers allowed the student to retrieve the material with no penalty. This happens in all grades, not just middle and high school. Not only does this apply to during the day, but to getting forgotten material after school is out or closed. Some students can get access to the building after hours because of activities going on at the school, but others cannot because they don’t have a way back to school or don’t know there are things happening at school. I’ve witnessed teachers coming back to school in the evenings or on weekends, opening the school for their own child or a friend’s child to get necessary materials. This doesn’t happen everywhere and it doesn’t happen for all students. Sadly, I noticed the same teachers who gave access after school to some students penalize others for not having the materials or not having their work completed.

In person attendance also has its distractions. Other students, noises from lights, air conditioner and heating units, people in the hallways, assemblies, etc., are the most common distractions. Most students have the ability to tune out the unnecessary noise and can give full attention, but there are those who struggle with this. Currently there is also the mask issue. Some classrooms are very strict about the students wearing their the point of students being disciplined if they aren’t wearing the mask properly, while in other classrooms masks are not required at all.

One other part of in person attendance is actually being there on time and for the same amount of time as everyone else. Currently across the country there is a bus driver shortage. Some school districts are having to use the same driver for multiple routes, which can mean some students getting picked up and delivered to school an hour or more before school even starts. It has also meant some students leaving before the day is officially over. This creates several problems. Those who are being picked up much earlier can be tired and finding themselves getting into trouble with all the extra time. At the end of the day to accommodate those that have to leave earlier, the teachers aren’t teaching, but giving the remaining students a study hall of sorts. They have the opportunity then to get extra help from teachers and other classmates that the others don’t have access to. Even without the driver shortage there has always been the issue of kids arriving late and having to leave early for various reasons. When this happens it also has the potential to affect one’s grade because of notes missed, not being present for parts of discussions, missing parts of lessons, etc.

Another large part of attending and participating has to do with home life. If a child is hungry, hasn’t gotten enough sleep, is worried about something regarding a family member, doesn’t have a way to get to school, is embarrassed about their home life, is sick, doesn’t have proper clothing for the weather, is dirty, had an argument with someone at home, etc., it will be more difficult for the student to focus on lessons and school life. As adults, many of us have a tough time leaving home stuff at home, and for our children it can be even more difficult. Their brains haven’t developed the ability to cope with these things or they haven’t learned strategies to help. The way the human brain works completely is still a mystery, however science does show that emotions play a major role in our learning.

Some unwanted behaviors occur because of these differences and those can result in disciplinary action. Some teachers and school districts have a set amount of missed or late assignments allowed and when that number is met, the student faces anything from a detention to an in-school suspension. Many schools have tardy policies that again only allow for a certain number before a detention occurs. Usually detentions happen at a time when the student doesn’t miss instruction, however a suspension takes the student completely out of instruction for a period of time. It is difficult for many students to learn new material if they aren’t taught by the teacher. .

The best environment to learn is one in which the student feels safe, happy, welcome, and for the most part, is relaxed. Outside of that environment our brain sets up roadblocks on the road from hearing to learning to acquiring new skills. During the virtual or remote learning that occurred during the COVID 19 pandemic many students who had struggled in school before, actually did better. The reason some of those students did better is because they didn’t have the added pressures of being bullied by other students or some of the adults. For some students learning is difficult and just being in a classroom causes anxiety and stress. How anxiety and stress looks is different for every person. Some tap, some fidget, some talk, some appear not to be listening, some ask a lot of questions, some need directions or lessons repeated, some argue and talk back, etc, and all of these behaviors are received differently by different people. Some teachers and students are not bothered by these behaviors, while others are. Some teachers inadvertently grade harsher the students who exhibit the behaviors than those who show wanted behaviors all the time. Some teachers make the students feel unwelcome or as if they are a burden in class, which in turn affects the students ability to learn.

Just for a moment, think about your life as an adult. If you went to work every day for 7 hours a day for 175-180 days a year, in a place where you didn’t understand much of what you were supposed to do, didn’t feel welcomed, maybe were being picked on by your coworkers, and had bosses that you believed didn’t like you, how well would you perform? Add to that you take the work home with you and spend several hours a night giving all the effort you have, only to be yelled at the next day for not completing the assignment or not doing it correctly. Now, think about the idea that you don’t have the opportunity to switch jobs for at least several more years and you are being forced to go to this place. Oh, and you don’t get paid with anything other than a piece of paper that promotes you to another year and eventually frees you from this job. This is exactly what many children face every day.

For some students they have faced this every day for so long, felt like a failure for so long, and worked so hard to achieve very little for so long that they have reached a point of not caring, not trying anymore, and giving up. Those feelings for some happen as early as middle school while for others it doesn't manifest until high school.

There are students across the country that deal with adult type situations such as; being a parent, having to behave like the parent when they aren’t, taking care of a sick parent/guardian, needing to work to help pay the bills, working on the family farm or in a family business, being responsible for younger siblings, etc that often take time away from being able to do homework, study for tests, show up on time, or even be present at school. Then there are those students who don’t have to do any of those things and have no worries outside of school.

When trauma occurs, our brain chemistry changes and can affect the way we behave, learn, and focus. Many students were affected in a traumatic way before the pandemic but now due to the coronavirus pandemic even more have experienced trauma. Trauma informed teaching is becoming more and more necessary around the country, however, many teachers aren’t able to get the training. We aren’t sure yet of all the effects the trauma from the pandemic is having or will have but yet again, some are affected more than others and in different ways.

In the next and final installment of this series I will break down weighted or accelerated classes, extra credit, reading books outside the curriculum and homework.

Shelley Kenow is a 25 year veteran special educator, author, speaker, Education Consultant, Master IEP Coach®, host of #nolimits and co host of Friday with Fran.

Shelley can be found on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Shelley can be reached by email:

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