Reflecting on Grading Practices


Since my last post, I’ve been talking to people, including coworkers and administration, about traditional grading practices and the pros and cons of such a system. I’ve been reading up on alternatives, as well, because based on my experience, traditional grading is ineffective and possibly detrimental to student learning.

Standards based grading is a hot topic right now, as teachers and even some schools and districts are approaching a more progressive approach to assessing student learning. Note, I didn’t say “approach to grading.” I think grading implies something that has come to be associated with a negative and punitive practice. We have lost the assessment piece of grading. Students chase grades not learning.

I want students to move away from seeing the grade as the end game and begin to see mastery of standards as the point of school. One way to do that is to reform the way we communicate their learning back to them. Our feedback must be meaningful so that students can understand what they have learned and where they are with that learning.

My children attend a Montessori school and this where I first learned about this type of grading. Their report cards do not have grades, but are scaled from one to three and skills are listed instead of assignments. One means a concept hasn’t been introduced. Two means they are working on it. Three means it is mastered. We may need something more advanced for middle and high school students, but the concept is the same.

Some of the justification I have compiled for this adjusted way include:

Seven Reasons for Standards Based Grading

The system must not allow students to mask their level of understanding with their attendance, their level of effort, or other peripheral issues.”

What’s Up With Standards Based Grading

The current factory model of schooling – with its time-based, bell-curved grading system – will undermine all of our efforts to personalize education. No matter what standards we use, no matter the innovation, a conveyor belt model limits student achievement in two fundamental ways:

  1. It holds back students who could be excelling. advanced placement, dual enrollment, and early college have created opportunities for students to progress beyond the limits of the K-12 system, but this only happens in the final years of high school. Students are held back to the predefined pace of their age-based cohorts throughout their elementary and middle school years. We’ve handcuffed our children and ourselves.
  2. It moves on students who aren’t ready. Students who don’t get what they need are moved along, grade to grade, with bigger gaps in their learning each year until they no longer see a future in school for themselves or graduate with a meaningless diploma. Many who are retained still don’t get what they need. Credits driven by seat time put over-aged, under-credited students at risk of aging out of the system.

These are the most salient points I’ve heard for why we need to move away from the traditional grading systems. How do I do this? How do I transition to a more meaningful grading system? I’m researching it but I don’t have answers yet. How does it fit in the current grading structure mandated by the county?

If you have any advice or resources, let me know in the comments…


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