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As a high school physical educator and strength instructor, grading my students is an important part of my job. How to do so effectively is always up for debate. Coming into the strength training profession with a physical education background, I was schooled in some basic ways of evaluating my students using skills tests, formative assessments, and participation/readiness grades.
While participation and readiness for class comprise the bulk of a student’s grade in my class, I realized very quickly that performance has to play a factor in a grade in physical education or strength training classes. Performance on assessments is something that we have in mathematics, language arts, and science classes, but for some reason, even the best of the physical education and strength world avoid grading on performance as if it were taboo. I do not. People who are athletes and great at physical skills should not have to apologize for being good at physical activity nor should we lower the bar completely for students by basing our assessments in a physical activity based class purely on participation and the ability to pull on gym shorts, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes every day.
My mentor at Plainville High School, Brad Fredrickson, introduced me first to his sliding scale of strength index grading in 2001 and it is one that I have used and adapted for my use over the years. I am unsure where the original performance standard numbers originated, but over my 19 years of teaching, they have held to be pretty indicative of the level of strength that I find to be fair in terms of grading. While the numbers I present today as performance standards may change as I constantly re-evaluate my students’ abilities and performance, I think the general idea of grading using some performance standards will come through in a manner that you can adapt and use in your own classroom environment.
First, let’s explain the framework of grading in my class. Each student receives 4 points daily. For years, I was a proponent of a 10 point daily grading system, but I was convinced to move to a 4 point scale as it is a more fair grading philosophy. My four criteria for the 4 points are as follows:
1 point = Readiness
1 point = Effort
1 point = Attitude
1 point = Load
I reinforce this by the acronym R.E.A.L. We want you to be a R.E.A.L. Rocket at Rose Hill High School which I think has a nice ring to it. These are all points students can and do earn within that day. My special caveat that I have is that I subtract 2 points if a student does not dress appropriately for class. It is a deterrent for those kids that want to wear slides, Crocs, or jeans to class.
One other special circumstance that I must mention is that when a student misses my class for any reason, excused, unexcused, sick, school event, or any reason, then they receive a 0 in my class for that day. My grading philosophy is to have all of my students’ grades be a live look at what their grade would be if the semester ended that day. Even when my students are gone for any reason, they are expected to make up the workout using a make-up sheet that we have standard in our physical education department. Essentially we allow students to make up a PE absence with 60 minutes of their choice of physical activity as supervised and verified by their parents or another responsible adult. It is just like you would have to makeup the homework in Math class. They will receive full credit for that day the moment they turn that make-up sheet in. In the past, I would not put a grade in for that day, and ended up with kids not making up the days and they would get zeroes at the end of the semester which ranked their grade and they were caught off guard. Having adopted this philosophy, I have found all of my makeup workout sheets get completed in a timely manner.
Some of my physical education colleagues have also utilized the Hellison Model of Social Responsibility to grade participation in a class. Again it is a 4 point scale.
0 = Irresponsible
1 = Self Control
2 = Involvement
3 = Responsible
4 = Caring
I think that does have some merit, but it is not the methodology that I use. However, I wanted to present another option for you as the reader.
PERFORMANCE BASED GRADING
As I write this blog, I am realizing that if I were really on the ball then part of my performance grade would include formative assessments where I use a rubric to grade the technique of my students as they lift. This is would be a skills testing method. Frankly, I do not. I do use progressions and regressions and my thought is that all of my kids need to have proper technique and an appropriate skill level to participate in the class so their grade for the formative assessment comes in their daily grades. Although self-admittedly, I do not subtract points from a student’s grade for poor form. I think that would be bad practice. My job is to teach and correct to get them ready to perform and keep them healthy. I would liken this to a safety test in a wood shop class. In wood shop, you can’t use the table saw until you pass the safety test. In our strength class, you can’t back squat until you complete all of our progressions.
Instead of formative assessments, I use a summative assessment. Our school requires that we have a summative assessment or final at the end of each term. We summatively test our students every 9 weeks. We train on an 8-week cycle and test in the 9th week. We do not test over any academic components of strength and conditioning. We don’t have a written test or written component to my classes. I know plenty of people who do have that and I say power to them. My class is an activity based class and I am trying to get the most physical activity I can from our students every day. That doesn’t mean that we don’t discuss and learn about principles, strategies, and theories of strength and conditioning or discuss anatomy. It just means we don’t have a written exam or homework over those topics. My kids experience plenty of written academic written work and exams every day in their “sit and get” classes.
Our summative assessment or final is what most people would commonly call “maxing out.” We have a battery of tests that we perform because I have identified these as measures that we think best evaluates our program and our athletes. Our tests are as follows:
So, our final test has 10 components. Each of those components is worth 10 points so the test itself is worth 100 points total. Completion of all measurements allows you to be eligible to receive full credit. Now, we come to the performance portion of our grading. The test is worth 100 points. In our first nine weeks, 90% of that is based on just completing all of the measures. If you complete them all, then you are guaranteed an A on our 100-90-80-70-60 A-B-C-D-F grading scale at Rose Hill High School. 10% of the grade is based on performance on your strength index which is explained below:
ROSE HILL S&C: MAX OUT GRADING POLICY
BENCH 1-RM + SQUAT 1-RM + POWER CLEAN 1-RM = TOTAL MAXES
TOTAL MAXES / BODYWEIGHT = STRENGTH INDEX
MALE STRENGTH INDEX GRADE
FEMALE STRENGTH INDEX GRADE
Any decrease in Strength Index will be applied proportionally to your grade without valid reason for decrease (i.e. injury, illness, extended excused absence.)
So for example, if I complete all of my maxes in the first 9 weeks and have a strength index of 3.50 as a male then my final grade will be an A at 98%. Note that in the 1st 9 weeks, it would be impossible to get anything other than an A on maxing out so a poor performance or perhaps not being physically gifted would have no real punitive effect on your grade. An A is an A at Rose Hill High School. However, it does let our students know that their performance is being graded and evaluated which we think is important. Even in the 4th 9 weeks, the lowest grade a student could get is an 80% if they complete all their maxes and honestly, this is a strength and conditioning class. Some students will be average or below average in performance standards just like you would in a math class so if you get a B on a max out grade then I think that is okay.
So let’s answer the question as to why I don’t grade on some sort of scale for the remainder of the tests I have? At this point, I don’t have the data that I feel comfortable with to correctly assess what an “A” level vertical leap is for my student population. I don’t have standardized numbers that I feel comfortable with. I do feel comfortable with the strength index numbers that we have. Over 19 years, it has proven true time and time again that our hardest workers and strongest kids have strength indexes that match up well to this. The only fallacy might be with larger athletes. I would like to set up a scale for my larger athletes to standardize their strength index numbers to allow for a larger body size, but I have not had enough data yet. I am currently gathering research from other coaches to create a mass correlated formula to change my strength index performance standards as they relate to grading.
We do have some exceptions to our max out policies. I shut down students with poor form all the time and do not allow them to continue maxing out so that we leave our weight room healthy. My first guiding principle is to “do no harm” with our training or testing. In that case, we may use a projected max based on previous current training cycles or a weight hit during our workouts. We will use a projected max at times if we feel like that is safer for our athletes. If a student is injured then we excuse them from maxing out and their grade then is based purely on their daily grades.
I think we have to remove the stigma or idea that less than an A in PE or a strength class is embarrassing. It should not be an easy A. It should be something I have to work for daily and I have to be able to perform. We reward outstanding mental capacity in the normal classroom, but then set some sort of floor for physical capacity in physical education? It seems like a double standard. I firmly believe you should test on performance in your strength and conditioning class. It doesn’t have to be overall determining factor in a student earning a grade in your class, but I believe it should be a component.
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