Grades are the most formalized way teachers report students’ academic progress, and they are the indicator that school districts rely on to ensure every student is on track to be college and work ready, regardless of background, culture or need.
Each district recognized that to equitably implement course standards, they needed to re-imagine how to assess students and report achievement.
Jeff Tooker, deputy superintendent of educational services in Placer, put his district’s challenge this way: “Students become intrinsically motivated and develop a growth mindset to achieve higher standards when their grades are equitable and accurately measure where they are in the learning process.” Both Placer with its 4,000 students and San Leandro with 9,000 students had the goal of improving the grading of student work, but each took a slightly distinct path.
In some classrooms, tests are worth 40 percent of the grade, while in others 90 percent.
Many teachers include criteria such as effort, participation, extra credit, group work or homework in a student’s grade, while others exclude some or all of these categories.
The districts began the work by ensuring that leaders at all levels understood the urgent need and benefits of equitable grading.
In San Leandro, district leaders hosted a workshop/strategy session for middle and high school administrators to build interest and commitment to this initiative.
Therefore, district leaders chose to leverage teachers’ professional expertise, creativity and commitment to students.
Implementation in both districts began with a pilot cohort of teachers — some of whom were teacher-leaders, such as department chairs, or who were simply excited to try something new.
Equally problematic, educators typically lack the language, resources, knowledge and courage to address the problem.
Avoiding the topic seems, at best, a concession that variable and unfair grading is a necessary byproduct of academic freedom and, at worst, a reluctant tolerance of the damaging impact of current grading on our students, particularly those who are most vulnerable.