7 Reasons Why It’s Okay that I’m Not Evaluating My Students Anymore

At the spring semester of 2013, I stopped evaluating my students’ work. Their final grades now reflect the growth students have achieved toward goals they set for themselves rather than mastery toward the standards that guide my curriculum. 

I know this is better for students. I see it every day in their engagement, in the risks they take, in the choices they make so the work is meaningful and authentic. I see it in their lowered levels of stress, in their openness to trying something new, and in their willingness to challenge themselves with things they may have avoided in the past when there might be a grade penalty if things didn’t go very well. 

Back in 2013, I chose growth over mastery as the focus of grades in my classroom because my students asked me to. It was unchartered territory for all of us. And off we went. But I worried because everything I had learned about grading told me that I must make sure my grades reflect student achievement and nothing else. Not effort. Not completion. Not attendance. Just clear, objective, achievement toward well-defined standards. 

That’s not what my students wanted.

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Summer 2021 Goals Report

As I write this, I have to report back to work for school year 21-22 in 19 days.

I have fewer than three weeks of summer left. That feels like hardly anything.

I turn to my summer goals page in my writer’s notebook and am dismayed.

Of the nine teaching-related books I wanted to read this summer, I’ve read almost two. 

Of the nine specific writing-related goals I crafted for myself, I’ve met only three.

Of my ongoing goal to get to bed each night at a decent time (before 11:30), I’ve only accomplished that about a quarter of the nights this summer. 

Of the curriculum planning I wanted to do to feel like I won’t be buried in work in that (meeting-filled) week I’ll have between reporting to work and welcoming students into my classroom, I’ve done nothing. 


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The Paper Graders

Office 831

Back in August of 2009, Jay Stott and I started a blog, The Paper Graders. It was an outgrowth of the conversation we were having constantly in the tiny, cluttered office we shared at school. That office exists no more as a result of a building remodel a few years ago, but we still teach together. And on occasion we still present about teaching together.

But we’ve both been using The Paper Graders less as we’ve taken on more projects. The Paper Graders was a critical place for me, especially, to figure out what to write about. This blog series in particular is the writing I did that eventually got me to Point-Less

I’m not sure how exactly the blog got Jay onto his current projects, but you should support his work as a singer/songwriter!


Coronavirus, a collage in words

This post was also published on The Paper Graders.

What have I even been doing every day?

Today makes a week since we were told to stop going to school. I can remember the week ramping up to the announcement; we were anxious, worried, disinfecting our classrooms every morning, hoping to get the call so we could focus on the social distancing that experts were calling for.

But ever since, I’ve felt unmoored.

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Why I’m Not Answering My Students’ Questions about Faulkner

This post was also published on The Paper Graders.

My AP Lit students and I are wrapping up our adventure together with William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. (You can read more about how this text fits into the year’s curriculum here if you’re interested.)

This is the most challenging text they’ve read so far this year. Beloved is still coming in April… so I’m hoping they will be able to approach Morrison’s novel with a bit of confidence after surviving Faulkner.

If this is my goal, why then did I tell them on our first day with this tough text that I was not going to answer their questions about it? Why wouldn’t I guide them through it to make sure they understood all of it?

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Research Tidbit for Busy Teachers: Inoue’s Anti-Racist Writing Assessment Ecologies

This post was also published on The Paper Graders.

Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future by Asao B. Inoue, 2015, Parlor Press

I was so glad to come across this book when I was finishing up my manuscript over the summer. (Look for Point-Less: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading from Heinemann, available March 31!)

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Looking back at #NCTE19 (from Tuesday in Colorado in 23 inches of snow)

This post was also published on The Paper Graders.

“Process all you heard today and set your intentions from here on out.”

–Sara Ahmed

I intended to write this post on the plane on the way home, but the internet wasn’t working. I reviewed my notes in my writer’s notebook instead to figure out what I would write about.

I intended to write this post yesterday, but all I could muster after four packed NCTE/travel days was yoga class, and making pizza dough, and Scrabble with my family.

I hope to get this post done today, but the sun is already setting and my body is buzzing from the snow shoveling that sucked up a good portion of the afternoon (we got 23 inches of snow in the last 24 hours). And I’m getting hungry–almost time to make some dinner.

So in no particular order, here are my takeaways from NCTE in Baltimore:

1shea martin’s selfie pedagogy. They defined this as “culturally responsive pedagogy that is not student centered. It’s often filtered by educator’s experience, interests, and trauma.” This is when we have the best of intentions to respond to who our students are and what they need, but we’re standing in the way ourselves, making it impossible to see our students clearly. More nuggets from shea: “The Road to liberation is paved by good intentions.” And “Be okay with letting students drive sometimes.” And “In order to be truly liberatory, we have to make our culturally responsive pedagogy unfiltered and student-centered.”

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Attempting to #DisruptTexts in AP Lit

This post was also published at The Paper Graders.

As I’ve articulated already in this blog, our most important conversation about education right now focuses on equity.

I’ve embarked on a bit of a listening tour recently for this topic. I’ve submitted no conference presentation proposals this year, but I’m going to those conferences to focus on listening instead. I’m listening to conversations among educators in Twitter (and retweeting to amplify other voices, too). I’m also reading what I can to learn more–books about teaching, about race in America, books written from marginalized voices.

In my listening tour, I’m grateful for the educators who have launched #DisruptTexts (Tricia Ebarvia, Lorena Germán, Dr. Kimberly N. Parker, and Julia E. Torres–read about them here). I was lucky to get to hear them present at NCTE in Houston, and I’ve definitely lurked at some of their chats on Twitter. They are driving important conversation that has definitely inspired me to think carefully about the texts I put in front of my students.

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Weekends without school work? Is it actually possible?

This post was also published on The Paper Graders.

Yes! It IS possible to have weekends without school work.

We’re several weeks into second semester, and somehow I’ve succeeded in not having to do any school work on the weekends.

(Except for reading the books I teach. That I have still been doing on the weekends as needed. But I really don’t consider that work so much…)

This is revolutionary for me. I can’t remember a time where I didn’t have the shadow of papers to read invading every single school-year weekend.

Yes, my students are still writing and I’m still reading their writing and responding. No, things aren’t piling up. I’m keeping up with the work.

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Our Most Important Conversation: Equity

This post was also published in The Paper Graders.

This post has been percolating for a while now, ever since I left NCTE in Houston.

Until now, all I’ve been able to cobble together so far are a few disconnected notes in my writer’s notebook:

  • I need to sit with my discomfort.
  • I’m a teacher with privilege OF privileged
  • What can I do?
  • What does it mean to be a good ally?
  • I can’t be so terrified that I’ll mess something up that I don’t even start.
  • When I don’t actively disrupt, I perpetuate.
  • I thought I got it, that I understood the issues. But I have so much to learn.

That last one is the one that’s been nagging at me most.

See, I’m writing a book right now. I’ve been working on it–with the care of a very patient, supportive, and insightful editor–for about 3 and a half years. It’s about grading practices that support readers and writers better than the typical percentage/points-based approach.

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