NEIHOF: New grading system up for discussion

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The age-old A-B-C system needs review.

By James Neihof

“Grading procedures do not reflect today’s teaching standards,” said Thomas R. Guskey from the University of Kentucky at a recent training session for principals in Shelby County. He could prove his point with a 1917 report card that belonged to his grandmother, which looked pretty much like a report card issued today.

He and Lee Ann Jung, also from UK, shared their expertise in standards-based grading for Shelby County Public Schools because we have completed a study of their book, Grading Exceptional and Struggling Learners.

Changing the way we grade is not solely to refine what is reported for exceptional and struggling learners, though. Changing the way we grade is so all students and their parents get a better picture of what is being mastered. Combined grades that are typically issued now are “meaningless,” according to Guskey.

I love the scenario he gave in person and in an article he wrote about “Effective Grading Practices”: “If someone proposed combining measures of height, weight, diet and exercise into a single number of mark to represent a person’s physical condition, we would consider it laughable....Yet every day, teachers combine aspects of students’ achievement, attitude, responsibility, effort and behavior into a single grade that’s recorded on a report card and no one questions it....The result is a ‘hodgepodge grade’ that is just as confounded and impossible to interpret as a ‘physical condition’ grade....”

I could not agree more!

That is why our principals are putting their heads together with district academic leaders to design a model for such a reporting device – based on report cards that Guskey and Jung have designed after years of study and input from teachers and school districts. The key word in that sentence is “input” – because that is what we will seek once a model is drafted. The other key word is “model” – because this is not a rubber stamp device. It must meet the needs of our students, our studies, our schools.

Some teachers are begging for a new reporting system. Principals are eager to bring those staff members on board with some pilots for next school year. The key word there is “pilot” – those teachers or teams would send home both the current report card along with the newly designed report card that both Guskey and Jung said parents overwhelmingly liked in other districts.

The main reasons are performance is separated:




“Pulling the non-achievement factors out brings honesty to the grading system,” Guskey told us.

His citations for that statement came from a school that gave course credit if a student did not use a hall pass to go to the restroom or one teacher including homework in the report card grade while another teacher in the same teaching level did not.

Jung said the standards-based grading gives “a visual representation of data for parents to consume with language that is parent-friendly and parent-driven.”

The key word there is “parent” – we plan to roll out our ideas this spring for parental feedback. The report card that Guskey and Jung displayed showed Exemplary, Proficient, Progressing and Struggling as indicators how a student performed academically.

Are those words we can understand and adopt? Or do we need other indicators for a clear meaning of how every child is performing in school.

The words to note there are “every child” – the standards-based grading system makes it much easier for parents of children with special needs to understand. Because her child has a learning disability so Jung said she knew “his report card did not reflect what he was learning.”

The new grading system will incorporate plenty of conversations with parents so that enrichment or intervention steps can be decided upon for school – as well strategies for home.

We are just starting the process so nothing is in concrete. We want something that can be easily interpreted and that will be meaningful to students and parents. We want the standards-based reporting to reflect accurately what students have learned and are able to do at a specific point in time.

That time is now, so stay tuned for invitations to attend our forums – the success of our students depends on cooperation from all stakesholders.