Image credit: http://deltascape.blogspot.com/2011/05/what-does-grade-say.html
When I initially broke the news to my staff about the journey we were about to take to change the grading culture it was met with a great deal of skepticism, questions, and resentment. Like I said earlier, change in this area is extremely difficult. During the initial conversations I presented the work of Douglas Reeves, Rick Wormelli, and others to serve as a foundation for this systematic change. The conversation focused on some difficult questions such as what does a letter grade actually mean and how do you measure student learning. After some initial focus on where we currently were as a school and where we really needed to begin moving towards I asked for volunteers to sit on a committee to help establish new grading guidelines and support structures that focused on student learning. It should be noted, however, that some components of this new philosophy were non-negotiable because if everything was then the change we were looking to implement and desperately needed would never occur. This was probably the most difficult part of the change process in terms of staff embracement.
The purpose of this post is not get get into the nitty gritty about grading reform as this has been well chronicled by practitioners that I greatly admire such as Joe Bower. My purpose here is to illustrate how my staff and I addressed a broken component of our school culture and improved it. Is our current philosophy and associated grading practices perfect? Of course not, but the change that was initiated is much more aligned with the learning needs of our students. The new philosophy is now an expectation for all. Below is the grading philosophy that was created and adopted at the end of last year. I encourage and look forward to any comments or reflective feedback that you might have.
No zeros: Students should not be assigned a grade of zero (0). This not only reflects grading as punishment, but also creates a hole that students cannot dig out of (Gusskey, 2000, Reeves, 2004, Reeves, 2008, O’Conner and Wormeli, 2011). This includes HW, quizzes, tests, projects, etc. An exception to this would be cases that involved cheating, plagiarism, or a midterm/final exams no show.
Multiple forms of formal assessment: Marking period grades have to be comprised of multiple forms of assessment. We need to avoid the “marking period killer” assignment, which is one project, test, or other assignment that will make or break a student’s grade (Reeves, 2008).
Failure floor: As per HS grading practices detailed in the current student handbook, a 64 or below is failing. As a result, all failing grades should be entered between the ranges of 50 – 64 in PowerSchool. Any grade 64 or below is a variation of an “F”, which indicates that the student has not met basic standards for learning (O’Conner & Wormeli, 2011). A failure floor of 50 has been established (lowest score inputted into PowerSchool for quarter, midterm, and final exam grades). This allows students to recover from a poor quarter and/or midterm exam grade and gives him/her the appropriate motivation to complete the course successfully. If a student fails your class you will be asked to provide the following:
Evidence that is appropriately documented on the progress report.
Documented contact (email, phone) with the parent/guardian no later than midway through the marking period. If contact cannot be made (disconnected phone, no answer/response) notify main office so we can update information in PowerSchool.
Extra help (sign-in sheet) attendance logs. This should contain dates, printed student names, and actual student signatures.
Evidence of a face-to-face meeting with the parents/guardians and guidance counselor. The teacher and guidance counselor must schedule this.
Evidence of an improvement plan (re-takes, alternate assignments, other indicators that measure learning).
Determination of whether or not the student(s) is in crisis and using this information to work with him/her in a different way. If this is the case submit a referral to the I&RS team.
Documented use of the Change in Progress form if a student begins to struggle academically after progress reports.
Retests: Student success in that they have mastered the concepts and are able to apply what they have learned is of utmost importance. Giving students a second chance on a test provides them with yet another opportunity to demonstrate learning. It is up to the teacher to determine if a student warrants a retest.