Grading System Working For Your District? Answer 5 Questions to Find Out

July 14, 2022

Feedback and grading that accurately reflect student progress and achievement is an integral component of education. How learning is assessed should be clear so that students and families know what to expect and how to support student learning. A grading system is also an important way that a district demonstrates its philosophy toward learning and student achievement. When schools claim a certain philosophy but grade a different way, it can hurt collaboration between families and schools. 

Does your district’s grading system match your learning philosophy and unique needs? Based on our experience helping districts select grading systems, we’ve identified 5 questions to help you decide if your current system is working for you – and what to do if it isn’t.

1. Is your learning philosophy defined?

The first step in ensuring your district’s grading system matches its learning philosophy is to articulate what your learning philosophy is. It may seem simple at first, but there are multiple ways to assess learning of the same concept or skill.  

For example, consider the many ways you could assess running a mile in a physical education class. You could assess how quickly a student runs a mile, how much the student improves between each attempt to run a mile, or simply assess if by the end of the grading period the student has run for an entire mile. 

None of the options is inherently right or wrong, but each one reveals a different learning philosophy. A learning philosophy guides how even the smallest grading decision is made, so it’s important to know it’s clearly defined for your educators.

2. Does your district have a common grading system?

At first, it may seem like a silly question to ask. If your school sends out report cards with a score on them, you must have a grading system. But issuing grades isn’t the same as having a common grading system. 

It’s important to assess whether or not grading varies based on school, department, grade level, or even teacher by teacher. For parents trying to support their student’s learning, having a different grading system in each school or classroom can create confusion and get in the way of collaboration.

It can even leave success up to chance – whether or not their student is with a teacher who happens to grade in a way that matches their strength. For example, if one teacher measures running a mile by speed and another by simply completing it, a slower runner could be penalized based on which teacher they happen to have. Can parents be assured their student will be assessed the same way no matter what teacher they are assigned?

3. What is being assessed in your classes?

Now that you’ve identified your learning philosophy and whether or not you have a common grading system, it’s time to ask whether or not the two are matched! Although there may be multiple skills that could be assessed within the same concept, and none of them are inherently wrong, there is an issue when the grading system doesn’t match the grading philosophy. 

For example, if the district’s learning philosophy is that all students should be assessed based on mastery of a concept and not on their pace of learning, but only offers one attempt at running a mile, there is a mismatch between learning philosophy and grading system. 

4. Who is and isn’t succeeding based on your grading system?

Data doesn’t lie. Take a look at your top performers and ask why they are successful. For example, do their class grades match what you expect to see in standardized test scores? If students are getting poor grades but high test scores, it could be that effort in classes is weighing more in performance assessment than knowledge. 

Another important data point to analyze is consistency of performance. Is there a wide discrepancy in how some students perform vs. others – are all the top performers affluent? Is the same student able to achieve well in some areas but very poorly in others? 

None of this objectively means your district grading system doesn’t match your learning philosophy. In fact, the data may confirm it does. But checking to make sure the data matches is a crucial step in determining if your grading system is working for you. 

5. Can stakeholders articulate how your grading system reflects your philosophy? 

This means more than asking in a yes or no format if they know the philosophy. Asking teachers, families, and students to articulate what they perceive the philosophy to be can be an insightful process. 

A survey during teacher professional development or a question added to Online Registration can be a simple way of evaluating what you believe your grading philosophy is versus what key stakeholders believe it to be. 

If you’ve answered the preceding questions and found your grading system is not working for your district, know that you have other options. From standards-based report cards to end-of-term course grades to feedback without a summative grade, jmc has six innovative solutions for calculating and reporting student progress using competency-based grading. Contact our sales team today!