Leading Change in Grading Practices

by Cassandra Erkens

Given the plethora of research and ‘how to’ books on the market today, there’s little doubt remaining that we must begin to change grading practices and outcomes in our schools.  But change is hard.  Too many schools have failed – and publicly – on this front.  Some of the traditional pathways should be avoided.

Don’t wait for someone else to take responsibility.  Students in every system deserve educators who are willing to do the right work on their behalf.

Don’t change policy before beliefs and practices.  In essence, it only makes sense to build shared knowledge and develop skills and competencies around quality grading practices long before changing policies.

Don’t change practices without aligning systems.  When even one system is out of alignment – e.g. identifying ‘valedictorians’ from the traditional system instead of bands of students (cum laude, suma cum laude, and magna cum laude) in a standards based system) – the entire change effort is jeopardized.

Don’t require everyone to do exactly the same thing.  Instead, generate clear criteria rather than rigid rules and forms to guide thoughtful and accurate decision-making on behalf of teachers.  Clear criteria and expectations allow for tight/loose leadership.

Leading change is challenging work, especially when working in a system that is steeped in traditional practices, fraught with conventional belief systems, and mired in politics. In every change initiative, the relationship between culture and structure is interdependent.  Each impacts the other in significant ways and most school improvement initiatives fail to address one or the other at the same time.  Leading change in grading practices requires educators to approach the task thoughtfully.  It involves addressing both culture and structure.  It involves inviting all stakeholders to the table and engaging in rigorous conversations about what’s best for our learners in their learning journey.

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