Why I Let My Students Argue for Their Grades

I sensed the anticipation as soon as I entered the classroom. Groups of students were huddled together flipping through notes and documentation. A few were going back and forth about what they were going to say. As I headed to the whiteboard a hush fell over the room and one student asked, “do we get the whole class period Mr. J?”

It was first marking period Appeals Day in my ninth grade English class. And it was the first time my students had ever been told they were allowed to argue for their grades.

The bell rang and I answered, “Yes, you get the whole class period. Remember how this is structured and how you should act. The first ten minutes are for you to organize your appeals.” Students gathered together to make sure they were ready, as I waited for the arguments to begin.

My View on Grades Changed

As a new teacher I was told time and time again not to give in to students who argued about grades. I was told they were complainers and would never be happy. Yet after almost every assessment I had questions from students about their grades. At first I took this personally, acting as if a student asking about a test question was an attack on my professional abilities. I look back embarrassed on how I handled these situations.

The reality is that many teachers still act like this. They treat tests and assessments as sacred documents that should never be questioned. My mindset changed during a grad school class in which our professor conferenced with each student about our grades. He told us to come prepared to defend how we were assessed. I was confused…but also happy to have a discussion about what I understood and where I could have done better throughout the class.

To me, we can treat assessments and grades in two different ways:

  1. Grades are payment for work performed, much like a salary.
  2. Grades are a reflection of how well a student demonstrates their ability/understanding, much like playing time on an athletic team.

If you treat grades like a salary, shouldn’t students be able to argue and fight for a better salary if they can prove they deserve it?

If you treat grades like playing time, shouldn’t students have a chance to show their ability beyond one practice/game?

My solution for our class was an end of the marking period, “Appeals Day”, where students could craft a defense of their grades and propose changes based on real evidence (not just their opinion).

Here’s the handout I gave them in the beginning of the Marking Period about Appeals Day:

 

Appeals Day

 

Overview:

First and foremost, “Appeals Day” is a privilege. Remember this as you can lose a privilege at any time. During “Appeals Day” you have the ability to give reasons or cite evidence in support of an answer with the aim of persuading me to change your grade. There are no guarantees, regardless of how impressive your argument may be. That being said, Appeals Day does present a real opportunity to improve your grade, if you follow the rules and expectations.

Expectations:

– You will be respectful.

– You will come prepared.

– You will be patient.

– You will accept my final decision.

– You will follow the rules.

Rules:

1. The first 10 minutes of class will be a time for you and your classmates to organize your appeals.

2. The rest of class I will hear your appeals.

3. The largest appeals (amount of people appealing) will begin first, and work down till there is only individual appeals remaining.

4. When appealing you must present the following information in a respectful manner: the assignment/paper/assessment, the question/area of concern, your given grade, what the problem is with your given grade, supporting evidence for your claim, what you believe your grade should be changed to.

5. After you present your appeal, I will provide my ruling. You will have one more chance to retort before the final verdict is made. Once the final verdict is made you must accept the decision and make room for the next appeal.

I hope you all enjoy appeals day as much as I do, and we can continue this end-of-the-marking period tradition throughout the school year.

Argue for Their Grades

The End Result

Appeals Day became an end of the marking period staple in my classes, and students loved the ability to argue with evidence for their grades. Many students received points back, and many didn’t get anything except a “good try” from me and their classmates. But the points weren’t the point.

Appeals Day was a success because it shifted how my students viewed grades. Instead of them seeing grades as a fixed, one-time assessment on their learning. It gave students ownership over their grades, and how they accepted assessments on their abilities.

Although many of my fellow teachers thought I was crazy for running Appeals Day each marking period, it also cut down all of the complaining that used to happen before about assessments and grades. Parents called in less about their students grades, and it was an open and transparent process.

The biggest benefit was how hard my students collaborated and worked to prepare for Appeals Day. They enjoyed it. And I never once said they had to collaborate…they did it out of purpose and necessity.

If you try Appeals Day in your class, or do something similar, please let us know!

Picture via http://hsdboardmember.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/arguing.png

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Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Jacquie says:

    This sounds like a fabulous way to get kids involved in the grading process. I would, however, like to hear a bit more about the “collective bargaining” process which I presume means a group of students present their evidence as one body. I don’t quite understand the logistics of this part.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      The way it works is students get together to discuss specific areas where they think they deserve points. If question #2 had 50% of the students getting it wrong, then that appeal would be towards the top of the list because it effects all the students who answered it wrong, not just the one person who is appealing it.

      So they have to come prepared, and the more they collaborate on what areas they all struggled, the more points they can earn back with valid arguments and evidence.

  • Brent Logan says:

    Maybe I don’t understand the process very well, but it sounds like it benefits the extroverted students and not the introverts. After all, not all students enjoy arguing in public about their grades.

    Yes, it cuts down on the complaining, but the introverts probably weren’t complaining to start with.

    How can we improve grading so it properly evaluates students’ learning instead of their abilities to argue their points — unless this was for debate class, than the idea is brilliant! 😉

    • AJ Juliani says:

      My introverted students love this day the most! While the extroverted students will always speak up for their grades…the introverted students are included in the collective bargaining (arguing) process. A typical situation would have just one student receiving points back for coming to me after class and talking about his/her grades. That normally would not be the “introverted” student. On appeals day the introverts are able to talk behind the scenes helping their other extroverted classmates craft appeals and find evidence to support their claims. It’s a win-win.

      Arguing is usually seen as “complaining” to most teachers. However, when it is structured more like a court room, the arguing turns into evidence backed claims that are supported and well-crafted. That’s what the aim is…

      • Brent Logan says:

        Nice! Seeing this response (and your others) helps me better understand your process. Seems like it’s working for everyone. As a side benefit, students get to see that teachers learn, too.

  • Sally says:

    Hi
    I am really interested to know what age group you do this with. Also interested in hearing the answer to the previous comment.
    Most of all, I can see the value in driving students’ awareness of the criteria by which they will be evaluated.

  • Danna says:

    I don’t understand why teachers hold on to the idea of what I feel is punishment for students who don’t “get it”. Along with this, I noticed, when reviewing grades with students recently, that a teacher had given a zero to those who didn’t return a letter sent home at the beginning of the year. That immediately handicaps any student who is struggling. This is very frustrating!

  • Valerie says:

    Hi
    I love this idea but I am not sure how this might work in a classroom with a portfolio assessment process. If I understand your process correctly, it allows students to appeal particular assignments and grades on tests. Or did I misunderstand? I use portfolio assessment where students can already re-do or seek assistance to improve throughout the term. They seldom see numbers or grades but a lot of feedback instead (orally, written, rubrics). At the end of the term they select the pieces that show growth (where they started and ended) for particular skills, complete reflections and self-assessment and conference with me (ideally depending on deadlines). I am wondering where in my process the “appeals” could happen? Suggestions please?

    Would be great if your students would let you record some of their “appeals day prep, process and presentations” to share – I think the world would love to see their finely crafted arguments and collaborative process. I know I would!

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Well, portfolios are a great way to assess…and I did allow my students to appeal portfolio assessments as well. In this case, it would be more of a personal appeal than a whole group appeal. I’d schedule individual meetings/conferences to allow for that opportunity!

  • Right away I am going to do my breakfast, later than having
    my breakfast coming yet again to read other news.

  • […] My favorite day of the marking period as a teacher, was the last day. Not because it was over, or grades were in, or we had a final assessment. It was the day I let my students argue and debate with me the entire class period. We created an Appeals Day where everything graded and assessed was up for discussion and debate. My students spent hours perfecting their arguments, teaming up with each other, collaborating, and building out their cases. It wasn’t so much the fact that they could get points back (they could if their argument was strong) but instead it was the opportunity to debate. You can read more about it here: Why I Let My Students Argue for Their Grades. […]

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