Changing Grading and Reporting Practices to Enhance Student Learning

Guest post by Tom Dodd

Three years ago, our teachers began changing the way they assess student progress at Lesher Middle School in Fort Collins, CO. Standard/criterion/competency-based grading and reporting, as it’s commonly known, allows teachers to authentically evaluate student learning progress based on state academic standards, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), or in our case, the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (IBMYP) Aims and Objectives to better communicate levels of academic performance and work habits.

Why Change Grading and Reporting Practices?

Current assessment research challenges the status-quo practice of traditional grading. Most teachers grade the way they were graded, by percentage averaging a sometimes weighted collection of points over time on an A–F/100-point scale. Until schools link standards/criteria/competencies directly with classroom assessment practice, full implementation of what Robert Marzano describes in What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Practice as a “guaranteed” (all students regardless of teacher have access to the same content and skills) and “viable” curriculum (realistic in scope and sequence to narrow the world of knowledge into developmentally appropriate learning targets) will be limited by conflicting grading practices within and across schools and districts.

What’s the Difference Between Traditional and Standard/Criterion/Competency-Based Grading?

Traditional A–F/100-Point Percentage Grading Standard/Criterion/Competency-Based Assessment and Reporting
1)     A norm-referenced system comparing students to each other (i.e., above average, average, below average). 1)     A standard/criterion/competency-based system assessing student progress toward specific published objectives over time.
2)     The “grading period” starts and ends with each nine-week quarter. 2)     The performance period spans the duration of a course (semester or year).
3)     A single, summary grade is issued each quarter based on some collection of participation, practice, assignment, project, assessment, organization, attitude, effort, attendance, behavior, and extra credit points. 3)     Multiple scores demonstrate students’ levels of achievement on published objectives for each course, showing strengths and growth areas in that subject area with an overall course grade.
4)     Undifferentiated. Expects all students to learn at the same pace and be assessed in the same way. 4)     Differentiated. Allows students multiple opportunities to demonstrate performance so students who perform lower on initial assessments or take longer to learn stay motivated.
5)     Calculates grades almost entirely on the MEAN (average), with different weights for participation, practice, assignments, projects, labs, assessments, organization, attitude, effort, attendance, behavior, and extra credit dependent upon individual teachers. 5)     Looks at students’ performance patterns in each objective weighting the most recent and consistent evidence heavier. Emphasizes the MODE (score occurring most frequently).
6)     Incorporates nonacademic factors (i.e., attitude, effort, attendance, behavior) into a grade. 6)     Separates nonacademic factors from an academic grade by assessing them as a separate work-habits grade.
7)     Assigns 59 points to the “F” category versus 10–11 points for D, C, B, and A categories. 7)     Utilizes a four- or eight-point scoring rubric based on performance levels to provide formative and summative feedback.
8)     Punishes students who do not complete homework on time or need more time to master concepts/content/skills with zeros. 8)     Expects students to complete work with true deadlines and allows for variance among students.
9)     May guide instructional decisions. 9)     At the start of a unit, teachers pre-assess and communicate via rubrics the evidence they expect at the end of a unit, and use formative assessment to guide instruction ensuring readiness for summative assessments.
10)  Rarely serves as an accurate indicator of mastery learning, measures what students don’t know or are unable to do, and has a weak correlation to standardized test results. 10)  Indicates mastery, emphasizes what students have learned and are able to do, and has a strong correlation to standardized test results.

 

How Did We Become More Standard/Criterion/Competency-Based?

Rubrics, or proficiency scales, are how we assess and report what a student knows and is able to demonstrate based on a body of evidence aligned to subject area standards/criteria/competencies. They are a framework for teachers to provide feedback for interventions, support, and enrichment in the spirit of a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), and they allow us to separate academic mastery from behavioral frequency (work habits).

Rubrics illustrate the relationship between standards/criteria/competencies, curriculum (content), instruction, and assessment. They communicate performance-level progressions in marked bands using frequency, quality, problem-solving, knowledge transfer, and critical-thinking words in the descriptors.

What Have We Learned in Changing Our Grading and Reporting Practices?

  • Getting our technology to record and report “grades” in the way we want is a significant challenge.
  • Creating learning progressions using task-specific rubrics deepens educators’ understanding of standards/criteria/competencies and the scope and sequence of their content.
  • Collecting and recording student learning based on standards/criteria/competencies versus assignments changes classroom practice and expectations.
  • Teacher workload increases as teachers learn their standards/criteria/competencies and assess students on a deeper level.
  • Students will learn and articulate the standards/criteria/competencies they are assessed on in their classes, and student-led conferences can help this along.
  • It all comes back to the lesson and unit plan.
  • Learning is viewed more as a process and less as a product.
  • We’re focusing more on 21st-century skill acquisition (self-direction, collaboration, information literacy, critical thinking, invention), real-life experiences, and deep understanding over rote memorization.

So, what’s in your grades?

Tom Dodd, PhD, serves as principal of Lesher Middle School, an IB World School in Fort Collins, CO, where he fosters excellence and equity through high expectations with high support. Lesher is a 2014–17 Colorado Association of Middle Level Education/National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform School to Watch, 2016 CHAMP School of Character (CHaracter in Athletics—Make it A Priority), 2014 USDE Green Ribbon School, and 2012 MetLife-NASSP Breakthrough School. Tom is the 2017 National Principal of the Year and 2016 Colorado Middle Level and High School Principal of the Year.

2016 Lesher Middle School staff

2 Comments

  • Michael Thomas says:

    Great post, Tom. I think the hardest part of this change is the increased time and effort it takes teachers to assess student performance.

    Similar to student-led conferences, one practice I encourage is student self-evaluation. I find it is helpful in getting students to take ownership for their learning and brings more productive conversations about work habits and goal setting. Teachers also report that it helps them assess the work habits more quickly.

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