District Administration December2017 - 40
No More ZEROS
purpose of assessment, encompass a variety of new approaches-everything from
awarding separate grades for academic
achievement and classroom behavior to
permitting students to redo failed work.
Changing grading methods that
teachers and parents remember from
their own school days can be slow, messy
But advocates say the work is essential. Grading "is this hidden reservoir of
opportunities for people to fundamentally change and improve what happens
in classrooms," says Joe Feldman, CEO
of California-based Crescendo Education
Group, which works with schools and
districts on grading practices.
"If we don't address the inequities and
inaccuracies of our grades, then all of the
work that we do with our curriculum
becomes for naught."
At the root of new approaches to grading
lies dissatisfaction with the unreliability
and imprecision of traditional methods.
Even within the same building, grading practices may vary widely. One English teacher docks points for late work; her
colleague awards extra credit for contributions to the canned-food drive. A grade
supposedly describing a student's algebra
proficiency also incorporates a reward for
effort or a punishment for tardiness.
"Is the grade that you're receiving
really measuring your skill level or is it
measuring compliance?" says Catherine
E. Vannatter, curriculum and instructional coach at 1,450-student Bryan Sta-
GETTING IT RIGHT-The Forest City Community School District in rural
Iowa allows high school students to retake tests they've failed. Students get
additional instruction in a study hall and are then re-tested on only the topics
with which they struggled.
tion High School, part of Fayette County
Public Schools in Lexington, Kentucky.
New grading practices-including giving
separate grades for behavior and achievement, replacing zero with 50 on the 100point scale, and developing rubrics-are
among the reforms the school is implementing to address a history of low
achievement. "We had kids who were
passing their classes, but when you look
at data on a nationwide vetted reading
assessment, they're not on grade level,"
she says. "There's a disconnect there."
"Giving a kid a zero takes the kid off the hook.
The consequence for getting a zero
should be doing the work."
-Darwin Lehmann, superintendent, Forest City Community School District
40 December 2017
That disconnect ultimately shortchanges students, says school improvement coach and former principal Tim
Westerberg, the author of Charting
a Course to Standards-Based Grading
(ASCD, 2016). "Too many kids come to
college with respectable grades, thinking
they're prepared to do well, only to find
out they have to take remedial courses,"
Awarding zero-out-of-100 grades for
missing or subpar work poses special
problems. When a passing mark is 60 or
65, setting failure at zero means "you've
got a scale two-thirds of which is levels of
failure"-a mathematical and pedagogical irrationality, says Guskey.
Furthermore, a zero explains little
about a students' knowledge. Did students skip the homework because they
understood nothing or because they
knew the material cold? Or were they just
too busy rehearsing the school play?
Whatever the reason, an average-killDistrict Administration