“Beginning next year, our district is going to be grading using a standards-based method.” This sentence still evokes a vivid picture in my mind of my teammates and I sitting at a meeting with a district-level Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) who was making her way around our large suburban district delivering the message. I can picture one of my teammates nearly falling off of her chair when she heard some of the tenets of the new grading system–not grading homework, not using zeros in calculating grades, and allowing multiple attempts to demonstrate learning. These suggested changes were in total contradiction with the way that she had taught, assessed, and graded for the first 25 years of her career.
There are few things more sacred to a teacher than how they teach, assess, and grade students. The study and implementation of standards-based practices, including teaching, assessing, and grading, evokes spirited conversations as practitioners, administrators, and parents work their way through examining the purpose of a grade. The deep-rooted conversations about why we assess and grade the way we do often brings about passion and emotion to teachers. As these conversations unfold, there is a need to develop consensus among the teaching staff (building, district) about the purpose of a grade and how this purpose is operationalized in the practices that are used in our school.
The conversations centered around the belief systems associated with the implementation of standards-based practices need to be thoughtful and bring up some of the more controversial aspects of the practice when compared to a more traditional grading approach, such as staying away from averaging scores, not giving students zeros, and using formative assessments, such as homework used for daily practice. Through meaningful conversation and outlining a thoughtful vision for implementation that outlines current state and desired state, skills needed by teachers, and a vision for implementation, success can be achieved.
The two sessions that I will be presenting at ATI’s 9th Annual Sound Grading Practices conference deal with building consensus around standards-based grading (Preparing for Standards-Based Teaching and Learning) as well as an overview to Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades (Implementing Sound Grading Practices: An Overview). Both sessions are designed to help participants think about implementing a standards-based grading system in their district/system.