Sunday, October 11, 2015

Grading: Making the Mundane Less...

When I was a small child, I used to like to play school. My favorite parts of the pretend school day were writing on the chalkboard and grading papers. While chalkboards have been replaced with whiteboards, the seemingly endless grading has not disappeared. In what ways can teachers make the mundane and endless task of grading less so?

I've discovered (maybe new to you, likely not...but I thought I'd share anyway) a few tricks to the trade that might make your grading tasks easier, or, if nothing else, might save an awful lot of paper and keep your desk a bit tidier.

Classmarker - this is a website in which you can house exams for your students, you can push out tests on the day of an exam electronically. It is quite slick, because the questions can be randomized as well as the options randomized, so it gets rid of many cheating possibilities. Students get instant feedback and the exams scores can be easily transferred to the grade book. I really like the paperless options and there's never any lost test sheets. A free Classmarker account give you 100 tests a month, with other pricing options starting at $20. With a switch in many's teaching philosophy to a "Growth Mindset" - this also makes retakes a breeze. No more looking for the copy of the test they want to retake from under the piles and piles on your desk.
The drawbacks: well, cost, for one. If you have many sections, 100 tests a month likely isn't gonna cut it. So you'd have to take the paid options. Another drawback I found was that many of my kids had a difficult time remembering passwords and keeping that straight. Despite directions to change it to their school password or to write it down, there were always a handful that couldn't recall their password and thus class time was spent working on that. Other drawbacks include the worry by some AP teachers that "AP tests aren't taken online so I don't think this works for me." I see both sides to that argument, but in the wise words of my colleague Brad, "Kids nowadays don't know how to fill in a bubble sheet on a standardized test?" Students may not like the option of an online test - it doesn't give them opportunities to cross off options like a paper-pencil test, which some kids like. Also, it doesn't allow for kids to skip questions and come back to them as easily as a paper-pencil version. A final drawback I found was that typing in all the exam questions (as I don't think it allows me to upload from the test bank I use for many questions) was time-consuming.

Socrative - I enjoy Socrative very much for short quizzes or formatives in my class. I love the spreadsheet of scores that gets sent to you right away. I love that you can put the explanation in to the questions so kids know what the right answer is right away if they get it wrong. I like that they can go through a quiz several times for repeated practice (if they so chose) and I like that it is paperless and easy to find on the site if they miss a quiz and they need to come in and make one up. (Again, not going into the files on a computer, printing it off, running to get the printed copy, and then having to hand grade it.) The drawbacks to Socrative are that they do have to have a device that hooks up to wifi or that you have to be 1:1, the fact that some kids like the paper-pencil option to cross off distractors. Socrative is FREE and in my honest opinion, glorious!

Zipgrade - (full disclosure, ZipGrade recently generously donated free subscriptions to the EPIC conference held at UWGB). Can I just say that I love this app? I have it downloaded right to my phone and it has completely gotten rid of the fact that I ever have to run upstairs to use the archaic scantron machine EVER again. Zipgrade is an app on my smart phone that allows me to scan student multiple choice papers and give them an instant score and instant feedback. The key is stored right in my phone so any time a kids needs to make up a test all I have to do is pull the key right up and there it is! (No more looking for the scantron key). It is also super helpful that I (or my kids) can scan their paper right when they finish a test and then start working on test corrections right away if they so choose. I have also seen a dramatic increase in kids staying after on the test day to ask questions on what they got wrong while everything is fresh in their head. Zipgrade saves the student's score right in the app on my phone for an easy transfer to my Infinite Campus grade book. It isn't totally paperless, as you have to print off the "bubble sheets" for students to mark their answers on. There are diagnostics that are great for analyzing your questions. Another benefit is that if a student looses their "bubble sheet" you have a scanned copy saved right in the app. A small drawback I have noticed is that when students use pencil sometimes the glare from the pencil lead's shineyness will cause my iPhone camera to "miss" the mark and mark it wrong, so I have to be careful to check kid's papers twice to make sure there aren't any lighting issues. Overall, I'm super happy with Zipgrade and its inclusion in my classroom. Another drawback is that it isn't free. The small price of $6.99 for a year is totally worth it, IMHO. 

Akindi - our school district has moved to using this site. Since I'd bought a year subscription to Zipgrade, I don't know too much about Akindi. I believe Akindi is very similar to ZipGrade. Akindi has free trials with benefits to its use including analytics, customizable scan sheets, and other benefits I am interested in hearing about from my colleagues. (They just started using this - so I'll check in with them soon.) Akindi is not free, and I had a difficult time finding out on their website just how much it is, exactly, a year. 

GradeCam (full disclosure, Gradecam donated free year memberships to the EPIC conference held at UWGB, as well.) I don't personally use this product, but after investigating the website it seems like many benefits to it, for sure! This product is a purchased product, but for a few dollars a month, it seems like they give you a lot of great tools to assess students. I really like that you can put standards in, and that there's an option to transfer to the gradebook and also export options. Gradecam offers free trials for teachers, so it certainly seems worth taking a look at their site and seeing if it is right for you and your classroom. Gradecam states on their website the following, additional, benefits: immediate personal feedback, sharing assessments with other teachers in real time, use of any web or smart phone camera, and easy links to state and common core standards. 

What other options are out there? What do you like to use for quick, painless assessments or for longer ones? What are the benefits and drawbacks to what you're using? Are any of you stuck with Scantrons? Email me if you want to share your experiences with any online or app grading systems at

Here's to hoping you're spending your Sunday watching football with a crisp Oktoberfest (or warm apple cider for me), and NOT grading papers. 

- Posted by Amy Ramponi