The school district I work for recently approved a series of grading guidelines which will be adopted by all teachers over the next two years.  (I plan to write more about the change process we went through at a later date.I am really excited to be a part of a district-wide standards-based grading movement.  With this excitement comes a bit of nervousness though.  Early adopters, and we have a solid core of them in my district, have already been using these grading guidelines in one way or another for a unit, a semester, a year, or in some cases love it so much they blog about it already.  

The challenge ahead of me and the early adopters is helping all of our staff understand the approved grading guidelines, what they mean, what they don't mean and how to put them into practice.  

  1. Entries in the grade book that count towards the final grade will be limited to course or grade level standards.**  
  2. Extra credit will not be given at any time.
  3. Students will be allowed multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of classroom standards in various ways.  Retakes and revisions will be allowed.  
  4. Teachers will determine grade book entries by considering multiple points of data emphasizing the most recent data and provide evidence to support their determination.
  5. Students will be provided multiple opportunities to practice standards independently through homework or other class work.  Practice assignments and activities will be consistent with classroom standards for the purpose  of providing feedback.  Practice assignments, including homework, will not be included as part of the final grade.  
**Exceptions will be made for midterm and/or final summative assessments.  These assessments, limited to no more than one per nine-week period may be reported as a whole in the grade book.  

As a teacher, I used these guidelines myself and although I still regularly lead professional development and present at conferences on assessment and grading reform, I am a bit rusty when it comes to the nuts and bolts of putting these ideas into practice in a variety of disciplines.  Talking with and observing teachers, reading every single #sbar tweet and standards-based grading blog post I can find keeps me grounded in practice, but I still admit I don't have all of the answers in this grading shift.

Here is where I am hoping my readership (YOU!) might help.  I am in the midst of creating a discipline-neutral "how to" document for each grading guideline.  I'd like to crowdsource these documents throughout the summer before using them with teachers this fall.  The purpose of these documents is to expedite teachers' understanding and implementation of the grading guidelines while avoiding common pitfalls we've all tried and failed at in our own classrooms.

You may be thinking, "Hold on, what's in this for me?!"  I am committed to posting the "final" versions of these grading guideline documents here in August for anyone to use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial -ShareAlike 3.0 license and, if time allows, these ideas will form the basis for a self-published book. Thanks in advance for your contributions to this project.

Without further ado, here is a draft of the "how-to" document for grading guideline #1.  Your feedback, particularly in the "summary" and "putting it into practice" areas are greatly appreciated - leave your critiques in the comments!


Grading Guideline:  
“Entries in the grade book that count towards the final grade will be limited to course or grade level standards.”

What it means....
  • When creating a new entry in the grade book that counts towards the final grade, it must be a standard such as “Find the area of a regular polygon by applying trigonometric ratios” or “Understands how evolution occurs (natural selection, mutation, migration, and genetic drift).”
  • Assignments or other activities that do not count towards the final grade may still be recorded in the grade book as long as they do not count towards the final grade.

What it doesn’t mean...
  • Course or grade level standards must be word-for-word from the Iowa/Common Core essentials concepts and skills list.  
  • Entering “Mitosis Project” or “Unit 5 Test” in the grade book.
  • No longer recording student practice.

Briefs from the literature:
“When grades are not deliberately connected to learning, they provide little valuable feedback regarding students’ academic strengths and weaknesses, and can even be counterproductive.”  (Winger, 2005, p. 62)

“Teachers should use learning goals as the basis for determining grades...They provide a profile of a student’s knowledge and direct evidence of his or her strengths and weaknesses.  This type of assessment allows teachers to appropriately plan instruction, and allows students to focus their learning” (O’Connor, 2007, p. 231)

Putting it into practice:
What works?
What are the common pitfalls to avoid?

  • Re-writing Iowa/Common Core essential concepts and skills in language that students and parents can understand.
  • Recording practice/homework assignments in the gradebook through using the “collected” tracking feature.
  • Communicating the standards to students in written form at the beginning of the semester, chapter and/or unit.  

  • Writing standards in the gradebook that parents and students do not understand.
  • Not communicating completion of practice activities with parents and students on a regular basis.
  • Failing to communicate the shift from assessments to standards in the grade book with students and parents.