Tag Archives: healthy grading

What’s the right way?

As I travel and work with educators across the country to improve grading practices, I have noticed a common theme. Teachers seem to be searching for the one right way to implement standards based grading. They don’t want to do something ‘wrong’ when making the transition.

The truth? There isn’t one right way. From my perspective and experience (and humble opinion), there are several non-negotiables when switching to standards based grading, but implementation is owned by the district, school, administration, and teachers. This is a process, full of baby steps. There will be successes and failures. It is a learning process that requires a paradigm shift – a shift that is easier for some than others. My consistent advice to teachers and schools is to take it slowly, talk about the non-negotiables often, and develop an implementation plan that works for your schools, students, and teachers.

Here are items that would go on my non-negotiable list:

  • Criterion referencing – Kids must be measured against standards, not against each other.
  • Staying away from averages – No penalizing kids for where they start with a standard, only report where they finish.
  • Grading less and giving more feedback – Formative assessment should include feedback only, no grades…clearly puts the focus is on learning.
  • Separating academic achievement from process (behaviors) and growth – Accurate meaningful grading practices are the goal. If these are not separated, the grading waters are muddied.
  • Shortening the scale – Reducing the number of levels of proficiency has positive effects. Inter-rater reliability increases, students are better able to self-assess, and grading becomes less subjective. (But remember…subjectivity in grading can never be completely eliminated).

Once these key components are established, teachers and districts can move on to other decisions. Standards can be developed or chosen for assessment. Teachers can discuss what evidence elicits proficiency levels for each standard. Teachers can collaborate to design formative and summative assessment strategies and tools. Reporting features can be explored to best communicate with students and parents.

What’s the silver bullet of standards based grading? It really comes down to developing practices and a mentality about grading that support learning. Utilize practices that honor the natural learning process and allow kids to demonstrate their learning in a safe environment. Beyond this, the ball is in the court of the stakeholders within the school district. When students own their learning, they engage on an entirely new level, right? Ownership of learning isn’t just for students, it is for all learners. Let’s not search for the holy grail of standards based grading; let’s find what works for us and move forward.

The ‘Oops Card’

Sometimes you search and search for inspiration to write…other times it simply arrives home in your son’s pencil bag.




The Oops Card

Hmmm…this was a hard one for me to swallow. I agree that kids make mistakes, and have ‘oops’ moments. Actually, we all do and perfection is just not possible or desirable for that matter. If we are perfect, what’s left to learn? In my opinion, communication is everywhere and in everything. Let’s take a closer look at what this card says to students.

This card considers a late homework assignment. Homework is obviously graded, yet formative work should not be scored. Why create a high stakes learning environment by grading everything? Why make a judgement about proficiency when this is a check point during the journey? Do we want kids to be concerned with points and perfection or with learning? Learning is risk taking which has the potential for failure. How do we want students to view this process?

According to the card, the late homework must turned in the following day to receive any credit. A zero is stated as the punishment or repercussion if the procedure is not carried out. Tardiness with work is a behavior (although not a preferred one). Including this in the grading process makes students nervous and fearful of making a mistake. Do we care when students learn or that they learn? Afford students the opportunity to make mistakes. Talk with them about how to make a better decision in the future. Help them get there.

Is a student responsible if they don’t use the card? My son did not use his card last quarter even though he missed one assignment. Does this say that he is irresponsible or simply that he is a child who can forget things at times? Let’s face it, middle school students forget sometimes. As long as it is not a consistent problem there is no need to worry or penalize a student. Did I want my son to use the card? No, but the choice was his. I was proud of his decision.

Oh, the monster of extra credit. Awarding students extra credit at the end of a marking period for not using the card has absolutely nothing to do with their academic achievement. Even so, what would 15 points do for a student who has been very compliant with homework throughout the quarter? My guess is not much. Would it help with a student who consistently struggles to turn in work on time? Nope. I adamantly disagree with extra credit for so many reasons that it most likely warrants an additional blog post.

Cards like this do not communicate the importance of learning to students. They switch the focus to compliance, points, scores, and grades. According to the card, it is acceptable to make one mistake per quarter, and it must be resolved in one day. After that, perfection is the expectation. This is not realistic. This is not learning.

What are your thoughts? Leave your comments and continue the discussion.


The clean plate club

This week I had the fortunate experience of speaking with the Power of ICU team in Nashville, Tennessee. We were at John Early Museum Magnet Middle School in the heart of the city. Our team of Danny Hill, Jayson Nave, Sherri Nelson, and Cory Crosnoe were fabulous to work with as we talked about building a Brick House culture within a school where students complete quality assignments, have plenty of support throughout the process, and teachers move toward healthier grading practices.

In our opening session, one focus area for Danny was the idea of clearing our plates. This was a moment of great reflection for me. There are so many things we put on our plates that we have no control over. However, the only item that should remain is student learning. It is a decision that is very difficult to make when so many other things loom over us, especially at the beginning of the school year. Our time is so valuable and pulled in so many directions, we have to be careful what we spend it on. But we must keep one vital thing in mind – student learning is the most important feature in our lives as educators. Our concentration must center on forming those key relationships with kids and bringing our passion to school every day.

Because here’s the thing…the kids are coming!

The kids need us to clear our plates for them. The kids are coming regardless of whether the school is ready. The kids are coming no matter what initiatives we are handed or what curriculum we were given to write at the last minute. The kids are coming even though we have not had enough time to plan or get our classrooms ready. The kids are coming…

As I reflect on past school years, this was a constant battle. Things outside my control kept working their way onto my plate and I had to fight to remove them. I didn’t control that I had 32 kids in my room with extremely varied readiness and 45 minutes to work with them. I couldn’t control all the federal and state mandates that attempted to weigh me down. I couldn’t control the fact that it was 95 degrees and humid outside and for many years I didn’t have air conditioning. The list could go on and on. But what I realized as I thought back was when I walked into my classroom, I cleared my plate. I set the stage for learning and left everything else by the wayside. This was what I had control over, and I wasn’t going to sacrifice anything for my kids. In a sense, I felt very protective of our environment and couldn’t allow anything to deter us from learning.

So let go of it all. Don’t let outside factors get in the way of forming essential relationships with our kids and bringing passion to our classrooms. Decide what you do have control over and own it. Remember…

…the kids are coming!

A special thank you goes out to Danny Hill for inspiring this post.



And the blog turns one!

Today is my blog’s first birthday. It has been such a tremendous way for me to reflect and share my ideas about education. It took a lot of convincing for me to start writing, and as funny as it sounds, I couldn’t imagine being without it now. I was never what you would consider a ‘strong writer’ in school. To be honest, English was not my favorite subject and I took the absolute minimum number of writing classes possible to graduate high school and with my undergraduate degree. So, when I was approached about beginning a blog by colleagues and even my husband, I shrugged the idea off. After quite a bit of nudging and some testimonials from educators I respected on the value of blogging, I reluctantly agreed to get started. I thought that I would use my little blog as a reflective tool, and who knows, maybe I could improve my writing skills a bit at the same time. I had no clue what I was getting into…

I had developed a closed mindset about writing – this is exactly the opposite of what I promote in my classroom. I love innovating, taking some risks for the sake of learning, and pushing myself forward in that manner. Blogging felt like the biggest risk I had taken in a long time. I was going to not only write, but also put it out in a public forum where people could comment, critique, and disagree with me. It was scary. Then I remembered all the frightening things we ask out students to do each day. Fear needed to be overcome, I had to courageously model the behavior I wished to see from my students.

After publishing my first few posts, I calmed down a bit. The writing had been well received and there were a few people who let me know they enjoyed my writing, or that what I said made an impact. Then the steamroller effect started. I actually enjoyed writing, so I wrote more. I got positive comments and others that made me think and reflect. I got a great deal of support from my Professional Learning Network who regularly read and respond to what I write. Inspiration for new posts seemed to pop up everywhere. I have written consistently for a year now, and I am a better educator for it. Blogging has strengthened my writing skills to a point that I have confidence in an area that I previously thought was a weakness. Success breeds success, and the more I write the better I become.

So as my blog heads into its second year, I hope to keep improving my skills and reaching a broader audience. I will continue to promote my passions of healthy grading practices, standards based learning, differentiated instruction, student ownership in the classroom, amongst other things. As I said earlier, I undoubtedly cannot imagine life without writing at this point. It guides me to sharpen and hone my craft of teaching while providing a wonderful space for reflection. Writing forces me to analyze my beliefs and defend them in an articulate manner. With every post I am reminded of the importance of a growth mindset and what a considerable impact just a few words can have on others.