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School Leader's Guide to Grading, The

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Ensure your school’s grading procedures are supportive of learning, accurate, meaningful, and consistent. Discover how the “seven essential Ps” can improve your effectiveness in supporting assessment and communicating student achievement. You will also learn how to avoid inaccurate grades caused by penalties for lateness or academic dishonesty; extra credit; group rather than individual work; and marking down for attendance.

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1 Grading That Supports Learning

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From a very early age, students get the message that school is about grades and all that matters is that they get good grades. This chapter turns that model on its head and focuses instead on how grading can support learning.

Students and parents who believe school is just about grades focus inevitably on the accumulation of points. This orientation is revealed very clearly by the question that students and parents always ask teachers—What can I do to improve my grade?—when the question they should be asking is, What can I do to improve my learning?

Of course, one way that principals can get their teachers and students focused on learning, not grades, is to eliminate grades altogether. Although a tiny minority of schools has already done that, in most schools grades are inescapable because of state or district policy and community and parental expectations.

If grades in some form are inevitable, what can principals do to keep the focus on learning? First, they can ensure that all concerned understand that learning is the core purpose of their school. Second, they can ensure that the learning process is honored in the school’s assessment and grading procedures. There must also be a clear understanding that grades are determined primarily from summative assessments and that when learning is cumulative and developmental only the more recent evidence is used to determine grades.

 

2 Grading That’s Accurate

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The second critical attribute of grades is accuracy. Principals must ensure that the grades students receive are accurate because very important decisions are made about and by students on the basis of those grades. If the decisions are based on inaccurate grades, then obviously they will not be good decisions. To be accurate, grades must measure student achievement as precisely as possible. This means that skills of independence and cooperation must be tracked and reported separately from achievement. This is done by utilizing what I call “expanded-format reporting”—report cards that have a separate section for reporting student behaviors.

The story that follows provides an example of common practice that results in inaccurate grades and clearly illustrates the need for expanded-format reporting:

When Vicki Madden of New York City saw her son Sam’s fifth-grade report card, she was dismayed—and more than a little confused. Last year Sam had received 3’s and 4’s (on a scale of 1 to 4) in social studies, which was one of his favorite classes. But this time, despite getting 3’s in the subcategories for knowledge and analytic skills, Sam’s overall grade was a 1. “I asked myself how he could master the material and still fail,” says Vicki, 51, a social studies teacher at a school for 6th- to 12th-graders. “It didn’t make sense.”

 

3 Grading That’s Meaningful

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To ensure that grading and reporting are effective forms of communication, grades and report cards must provide a third essential characteristic—meaningful information. Typically, grades have been for subjects, and traditional report cards have provided only one letter grade for each subject, as shown in figure 3.1.

Pleasantdale School
Report Card

Teacher: Mrs. Langer

Year: 2012

Student: Joseph Marathi

Grade: 6

Subject

Grade

English

A

Mathematics

B

Social Studies

B

Science

B

French

B

Physical Education

A

Art

D

Music

B

Figure 3.1: A traditional report card.

While this kind of report provides information that has some value in giving a general impression of student achievement, it does not provide meaningful information that can be used to help students improve. To provide meaningful information, it is essential that grading and reporting be standards based and give a profile of student achievement in each subject. Instead of reporting a B for mathematics, we need to grade and report on achievement with regard to specific mathematics standards.

 

4 Grading That’s Consistent

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The last but certainly not the least important characteristic of grades is that they need to be consistent. When students and parents complain about grades to principals, it is often consistency—or the lack of it—that is at the root of the complaint: students talk to other students and parents talk to other parents, and through their talk they identify glaring inconsistencies in teachers’ grading practices and in the application of district and school policies and procedures. Principals need to understand that the two essential elements that have the greatest impact on consistency in grading are the type and clarity of the performance standards that are in place and the policies and procedures that their teachers are required to implement.

Performance standards are the other—and often forgotten—part of standards. Chapter 3 was basically about the “what” of learning—the content standards. Performance standards are about “how well” we expect the content standard to be performed. For there to be any possibility that grades will be consistent, every school district must have clear, well-written, public performance standards that are understood by teachers, students, and parents. The reason some teachers are considered “hard” and others “soft” is mostly because of the lack of—or the lack of clarity about—performance standards.

 

Appendix A: Des Moines, Iowa, Public School District Policies

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Regular evaluation of the total curriculum is necessary to ensure that the written and delivered curriculum is having the desired effect for students.

Curriculum evaluation refers to an ongoing process of collecting, analyzing, synthesizing, and interpreting information to aid in understanding what students know and can do. It refers to the full range of information gathered in the School District to evaluate (make judgments about) student learning and program effectiveness in each content area.

Curriculum evaluation must be based on information gathered from a comprehensive assessment system that is designed for accountability and committed to the concept that all students will achieve at high levels, is standards-based, and informs decisions that impact significant and sustainable improvements in teaching and student learning.

The superintendent shall be responsible for curriculum evaluation and for determining the most effective way of ensuring that assessment activities are integrated into instructional practices as part of school improvement with a particular focus on improving teaching and learning. A curriculum framework shall describe the procedures that will be followed to establish an evaluation process that can efficiently and effectively evaluate the total curriculum. This framework will, at a minimum, describe the procedures for the following curriculum evaluation activities:

 

Appendix B: Hubbell Elementary School (a Des Moines Public School) Assessment Policy

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This assessment policy was written collaboratively by the Hubbell Assessment Committee. It will be shared with all stakeholders and reviewed annually.

At Hubbell Elementary School, we believe assessment is an integral part of the instructional cycle and is essential for learners constructing meaning. It allows for the collection and analysis of information and gives insight into the teaching and learning happening in the school. Students will have the opportunity to illustrate their knowledge of content and skills through demonstrations of their understanding of concepts and their ability to transfer that learning to real-world situations using authentic assessments. A variety of models should be used to reach the various learning styles of all students. The Hubbell community believes that assessment drives the improvement of the PYP [Primary Years Program]. It is crucial to assess not only the product of the inquiry, but also the process.

Pre-assessments are used at the beginning of each unit of inquiry to inform instruction and plan for differentiation based on prior knowledge and/or learning styles. These assessment tools give valuable information into what to teach, how to teach, and how to connect it to students’ interests and talents, as well as uncover any misconceptions.

 

Appendix C: Lawrence Public Schools, Kansas, Grade 3 Report Card

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Student:

2011–2012

Third-Grade Homeroom:                                       Principal:

Class: READING, THIRD GRADE

Teacher:

Vocabulary

Uses a variety of strategies to decode words

 

Determines meaning of unknown words through the use of text clues, word structure, use of dictionary

 

Fluency

Demonstrates appropriate pace, phrasing, and rhythm (fluency) to orally read all text types

 

Comprehension

Distinguishes between narrative, expository, persuasive, and technical texts and the purpose for reading

 

Understands the purpose of text features (title, table of contents, etc.)

 

Identifies topic, main idea, and supporting details

 

Identifies text structures (sequence, compare/contrast, cause/effect, problem/solution, description/definition)

 

Identifies story elements in narrative (setting, characters, plot, etc.)

 

Appendix D: Lawrence Public Schools, Kansas, Grade 6 Report Card

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Student:

2011–2012

Sixth Grade

Class: Advisory 6

Teacher:

Advisory: Comments

 

 

Class: Art 6

Teacher:

Art Standards/Indicators

Value—Demonstrates the ability to apply value to create the illusion of 3D on a 2D surface

 

Color—Manipulates color to create intermediate colors, tints, and shades

 

3D—Creates a 3D work of art that shows competency and craftsmanship

 

Draw—Demonstrates ability to draw from observation

 

Perspective—Applies the rules of linear perspective in a work of art

 

Communicate—Analyzes and communicates about works of art

 

Successful Learner Behaviors

Responds appropriately to others, ideas, and feedback

 

Uses cooperation and communication skills

 

Exercises self-control

 

Uses materials purposefully and respectfully

 

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