When I began teaching long ago in the olden days, I was a stickler for points. Everything was graded. Everything had a point value. There was even extra credit back in the early 1990's Traughber JHS Band. Over time I began to shift my thinking when I realized that some of these grades were measuring nothing except behavior... and grading really didn't even improve that behavior!
I also embraced the idea that it is a parent's job to raise their children and my job is to give them the best possible environment to learn about music. After this "a-ha" moment my stress and frustration were greatly reduced.
Do not misunderstand. We work on character development a great deal in my classes. It is truly the ultimate end game. We emphasize grit, perseverance, quality, empathy...I'll go on in more detail in a different post. When students embrace these experiences through the band and come away better for it then we have succeeded. But, one teacher cannot carry the responsibility of character and behavior development for every child they work with. It is overwhelming.
So what did I grade?
Things I stopped grading included: attendance, practice minutes, homework, returning documents on time, bringing in items to help the class or activities, bringing instrument and supplies to class, taking private lessons (extra credit), classroom behavior and attitude. (Behavior issues are now handled through the school-wide behavior plan.)
Things I continued to grade or began grading included: playing tests, performance mastery, written tests, note identification games, performance contribution, performance reflections. Most of these have a rubric so students and parents understand how grades are determined.
Grading and homework are, of course, deeply connected. Homework is supposed to be the practice toward mastery. So why was I grading students on practice minutes? Should a child who takes less time to master a technique or concept be penalized if they need fewer practice minutes? Should a child be rewarded who takes twice as long to practice an etude because they have weaker technique and need more minutes? I realized I was grading compliance when I graded practice minutes. Plus, they were mostly fake anyway.
I shifted gears and developed this policy for homework:
The amount of practice necessary for student success is for students and parents to determine and will be reflected in the student's ability to perform quizzes, tests and concert music. The number of sessions recorded will be visible in Smartmusic for parent review. We recommend 3-5 times per week. It is important for students to establish a practice routine and to have specific goals each time they practice.
Students will also have Smartmusic practice homework which will be completed on a computer.
I also determined that if something is important and I want students to demonstrate knowledge or skill then it is important enough to test. We have playing tests every single week with every single student. The more grades I have, the more accurate the final grade will be in reflecting knowledge and skill mastery. With 20+ grades, a few weak tests won't sink a student and a few musical miracles won't save anyone. I also want students to be in the habit of testing. It is just part of the band culture in our building. They tend to take the testing seriously and become better test performers as they grow accustomed to the process. We try to do one recorded test on Smartmusic and one live in-class test each week. The live tests do use some class time but we make them very short and move quickly down the line. You can learn much about a student from hearing them perform one carefully chosen measure.
Students will frequently perform individual playing assessments in class. In addition, students will have weekly Smartmusic playing assessments which will be completed on a computer. Students will take these assessments in class, use a practice room during their own time or may subscribe to Smartmusic and submit work from home, depending upon the assessment.
Students may always do re-takes on their playing tests until they reach a level of mastery.
One of the most important parts of grading is the policy of No Zeros & No Failing Tests Allowed. It is too easy for a child to blow off an assignment for a zero or slop through it for an F. I will initiate the need for work completion and retests as needed. There is no escape and no excuse we accept. Despite some student's best effort to bomb, they will have a solid grade and they will improve! This means we pull them in during their beloved lunchtime, homeroom, before school, and after school. We will test in class if we must, but it will get done. I tell students that they are each far too important to allow a zero or failure.
The teacher will have discretion with regards to encouraging, requiring or denying retest opportunities depending upon the context of the test and the class calendar.
This post is not a "one size fits all" solution. It is a few ideas that have developed over many years. We should each know why we assign work, if it is effective and if the grades reflect the student's actual knowledge and skill mastery.