Grading & Assessment: 2014 Version

Grading & Assessments

I’m passionate about the transformative effects that more powerful grading practices can & will have on Ss achievement.  I’ve been an educator for 5 years now and I’ve never had any building-level or district-level professional development on effective grading practices.  That doesn’t mean those sessions and conversations don’t exist, as they very well may.  I have just never had the opportunity to be a part of them, aside from a small group of teachers who met last year to investigate the topic (thank you Robin Stout @rsstout).  From what I have gathered and experienced, the reason the topic of grading and assessment is often neglected is because many building level administrators fear mutiny if they were to make any effort to ignite a conversation on effective grading practices, or worse, ineffective grading practices.  Perhaps many in leadership feel it’s a topic best left alone as the chore of admitting fault in traditional and long practiced grading procedures is just too monumental to overcome.  Also, it’s certainly possible that some administrators don’t feel qualified enough to stimulate conversations on grading practice.

If it weren’t for #sblchat on Twitter, I would still be exercising terrible grading practices and allowing my grades to communicate very little about student learning.  My wife would say I take on problems that I have no business carrying.  It’s quite possible I’m doing that with this post.  To be brutally honest, this is my way of engaging in conversation (with myself) and reflecting on my own grading practices.  I genuinely feel that the topic of effective grading and assessment needs to be an ongoing and constant conversation among staffs.  At the risk of looking like an accuser with gavel in hand, I cannot say that poor grading practices are in use everywhere or even that poor grading practices are rampant in our public schools.  I also can’t say that most educators are using grades to communicate learning as it is aligned to content standards.  The lack of quality conversations on grading and assessment in public education leads one to believe that grading practices are a teacher’s own business not to be shared with everyone else.  Yet, we’re all using the same A-F system to communicate learning progress to students, parents, and other teachers.  In addition to that thought, have you ever asked students or parents what an A means?  If you ask 10 students or parents, you’ll likely get 10 different answers.

The journey to improving grading practices and removing items in your practice that don’t reflect learning is not an easy one.  This is why I feel it’s imperative that effective grading practices be a constant and ongoing discussion, especially in secondary education where a teacher is responsible for measuring the learning outcomes of over 100 students in many cases.  The goal of this post was to ignite some conversation and I’m going to borrow many of these talking points from but they are points that are discussed weekly at #sblchat Wednesday 9pm EST.

  • Are behavior and attendance issues separate from student grades in my class?

  • Am I familiar with the standards covered by my course and have I unpacked those standards?  What will I tolerate as mastery of each standard?  All teachers of the same grade level or course should have a unified level of tolerance for mastery.  In many cases, what one teacher identifies as mastery is far different from what another teacher accepts as mastery.  How often have you heard another teacher say “well I taught that for 3 weeks, they learned it before they left my class”?

  • How often do I communicate learning targets for my students?  Do they know where to aim?

  • Can I connect each mark in the gradebook to a specific learning target?

  • Do I avoid grading practice worksheets and other formative assessments?

  • Do you give zeroes?  Are they punitive or do they indicate a measure of learning?
  • Do I avoid grading work on which students can copy or cheat?

  • Can I assign grades that reflect learning rather than completion?

  • Do I allow retakes and redos?

  • Do I allow students multiple chances and ways to demonstrate learning?

  • Do I provide descriptive feedback to every student after every assessment?  How do I communicate where they are, where they need to be, and how they can get there?


If you can confidently answer yes to any of these questions, congratulations for employing a measure of effective grading practices already.  If you can admit that you answer no to any of those questions, congratulations for being a reflective educator open minded enough to admit errors in your own practice.

Again, I owe my personal growth in the area of grading and assessment to #sblchat on Twitter.  Educators like @garnet_hillman, @WHSRowe, @drjolly, and many others who willingly share their advice, experiences, and most importantly, support.  I can also thank experts like Rick Wormeli @rickwormeli2 and Ken O’Connor @kenoc7 for being available to provide support and answer questions from novices like myself.


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