Grading and Reporting  

December 31, 2011

Within the last two decades school reform has been focused on student learning standards, effective assessment of those standards, and how standards and assessment are linked to accountability.  Even with this emphasis on measurement of student learning, there is still one element schools have not aligned - grading and reporting.  In the November 2011 issue of Educational Leadership, Thomas Guskey, expert in educational research, assessment, and evaluation, asserts there are five obstacles that are ingrained in the traditions of American education that keep schools from reforming their grading and reporting systems.

Obstacle 1:  The idea that grades should provide the basis for differentiating students.  This misnomer brings forth the question:  Is it the educator's purpose to select talent or develop it?
Obstacle 2:  Grade distribution should resemble a normal bell-shaped curve.  A bell-shaped curve would only describe random instruction with no teacher intervention in student learning.
Obstacle 3:  Grades should be based on students' standing among classmates.  All students may have performed poorly.  Are you interested in your student performing well or just less poorly than his/her classmates?
Obstacle 4:  Poor grades prompt students to try harder.  In fact, research says that low grades cause students to withdraw from learning.
Obstacle 5:  Students should receive one grade for each subject or course.  Every day, teachers combine student achievement, effort, attitude, behavior, and responsibility to assign one grade.

There is more research being done in the area of standards-based grading which deals more with measuring what students have learned while leaving effort and behavior to be reported separately. This is a controversial issue, but I believe that standards-based grading is what schools need to evolve to as best practice.  Grading and reporting in this manner would be more "informing" in nature, helping the teacher make better decisions in adapting instruction to address need areas.  It would also give parents a better picture of actual achievement levels. The challenge with adopting this new method of grading and reporting lies in creating a paradigm shift in thinking.  Shouldn't a student's grade reflect what he/she has learned, not "earned"?

- By Kelly Clapp, Professional Devlopment Coordinator