District Administration December2017 - 42
No More ZEROS
SUCCESS INDICATORS-Students in the Issaquah School District near Seattle get separate grades for academic
performance and for "success indicators" such as work habits, citizenship and collaboration. Administrators say this
approach gives parents better information.
and we're not changing what we teach
kids," says Guskey, the Kentucky professor. "We're basically just changing
the way we communicate about their
But modest evidence suggests that
improved communication, especially
around student performance on clearly
delineated proficiency standards, can
help parents and teachers better target
interventions, Guskey says.
Feldman, of Crescendo Education
Group, cites data showing a decline
in D's and F's, and a closer correlation
between grades and standardized-test
scores, in schools where he's helped
reform grading policies. Educators
report anecdotal evidence of higher
teacher and student satisfaction.
What are grades for?
Adopting new grading practices can
be challenging, however. Reforms take
42 December 2017
hold only if teachers embrace them, and
achieving buy-in requires a bottom-up
process of study, reflection and gradual
phase-in that can take years, say some
educators who have launched grading
Districts may have to hire outside
consultants. Schools may have to find
blocks of professional development time
and tweak computerized gradebooks
programmed for traditional methods.
"The process can be messy at times,"
says Anderson, of the Jordan School District. "Getting people to come around to
new ideas and new notions is difficult."
Slip-ups can bring political backlash.
In 2009, the Texas legislature passed a
so-called "truth-in-grading" law barring
school districts from replacing zero-outof-100 grades with higher minimum
marks, after some teachers complained
that new mandates compromised academic freedom. "Parents and teachers,
but particularly parents, will say, 'What?
The kid gets 50 points for doing nothing? What kind of standards do you have
here at this school?'" says Westerberg,
the school-improvement coach.
Ultimately, such disputes go to the
heart of the fundamental question
underlying grading reform: What are
grades for? Are they meant to communicate learning progress or to rank students for employers and colleges?
"Fundamentally, we don't believe
that our purpose is to sort students," says
Emilie Hard, assistant superintendent
of teaching and learning services in the
20,000-student Issaquah School District, southeast of Seattle. "Our whole
purpose in public education is to get
every student to the finish line." DA
Deborah Yaffe is a freelance writer in New