Effective Grading Practices for Secondary Teachers
Publication Year: 2015
Enact innovative grading systems that more accurately describe student progress! This book challenges traditional grading practices and provides alternatives that can have direct impact on student success. By making subtle shifts toward standards based grading systems, schools can reduce unnecessary course failures, provide students and their families a more accurate picture of current progress, and increase opportunities for success. The author offers a range of grading reform strategies that are built from practical frameworks that are effective and simple to adapt. Among the many strengths of this book are: • Practical application of existing research and evidence base for effective secondary grading reforms • A framework for schools and districts to apply and adapt failure prevention strategies such as early failure detection, Amnesty Days, and ...
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
Part I: Why Changing Grading at the Secondary Level Is a Tough Sell
- Chapter 1: Grading: Long Perceived as the One Immovable Element in a Constantly Evolving Field
- Chapter 2: Determining Why Grading Changes Are Needed
Part II: Practice Trumps Policy
- Chapter 3: Policy: A Starting Point, Not the Destination Finder
- Chapter 4: Policy Into Practices: The Path to Effective Grading
Part III: Grading Practices to Prevent Failure, Recover Credits, and Increase Grading on Standards
- Chapter 5: Preventing Unnecessary Failure
- Chapter 6: What Do We Do When Failure Does Happen? Effective Credit Recovery
- Chapter 7: Standards-Based Grading
Part IV: Elements for Successful Implementation
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To Kenneth Frank Nagel, my dad, who has taught me that life is only lived when you are standing inside the fire.
In schools, there should be an 11th commandment, “Thou shall not touch my gradebook.” Without a doubt, grading is one of the most private, autonomous acts that takes place in a school. Those who venture into conversations about grading need to be well equipped to tackle these practices. There has never been a more critical topic to address than in school today. Once you open the door to grading conversations, you enter into conversations around instruction, assessment, engagement, motivation, and classroom management, to name a few. Leaders need to be prepared to engage colleagues in these conversations.
Many of the current practices result in grades not truly reflecting student achievement; rather, they reflect a hodgepodge of components such as behavior, homework, and participation. The result? Students don’t have an accurate picture of what they’ve mastered in a course. This impacts students not only today but with their future postsecondary plans. The roadblock? It is that tradition is often what stands in the way of true reform. The time is now for change.
There are numerous resources about grading and reporting. The hard work is not acknowledging the research, it is putting it into action. Nevertheless, what Dave Nagel has accomplished with his book is taking theory, adding the policy, and turning it into practices that work. When schools do adopt new policies and practices, you cannot overlook the fact that, while districts have many policies on the books, few, if any, impact teachers’ daily work. With this seminal work, educators will have the tools in their hands to tackle this 11th Commandment and it will serve as a catalyst for your school to identify your its mission and the purpose of grades. First, Dave tackles the question of why. Most teachers were winners in the traditional grading system and do not see the compelling reason for change. Decisions are based on experience versus evidence. Carefully, Dave helps schools develop their own why for change. In this process of transforming practices, teacher voice is needed, and this book provides key questions to gather that voice.
[Page viii]Throughout this book, Dave provides vivid examples of grading scenarios, causing readers to pause and question their own practices—from the effectiveness of homework based on the latest research from John Hattie (2008, 2012) to Rick Stiggins and Jan Chappuis (2011). The examples make the case for schools to develop a clear set of grading parameters so that grades are truthful, reliable, and impartial. These parameters provide the basis for schools to be confident that grades are accurate and that there is a high level of consistency.
Once you’ve determined your school’s mission for grading, Dave provides a framework for reducing failures by turning the tables and having the consequence for not doing the work be simply doing the work, perhaps with a stipulated second chance. Again, the theory needs to be put into practice, and Dave provides templates and examples on how schools can have more students learning at higher levels.
The timing of this book is opportune as school are currently implementing new standards. Often, schools become stymied in their reform when they attempt to implement a full-blown standards-based report card rather than using standards-based strategies. As articulated by Dave Nagel, the latter lead to higher levels of accuracy while still maintaining traditional letter grades.
Some may argue that now is not the time for a change, or this can wait until we’ve perfected our grading plan, or—a common theme—we need to wait for buy-in. However, each day students under traditional, flawed systems are impacted by antiquated and, at times, harmful practices. In this enlightening text, Dave Nagel paves the path for schools to, at last, take action!
Kristin Anderson, director of professional learning at Corwin, has been influential in my journey as a professional developer and now published author. Her knowledge and passion about increasing the quality of education and the lives of children through working effectively with adults and increasing their learning has had a tremendous impact on me. She is by far one of the reasons why this project has come to fruition.
Dr. BR Jones, superintendent of Tate County School District, in Tate County, Mississippi, has been both a colleague and a close personal friend for the past 5 years. His knowledge and drive to become the best learner he can be each and every day has served as a model for me in my path to authorship. He provided me with many quality insights that shaped my thinking for crafting many of the ideas contained in this book.
Dan Alpert, senior acquisitions editor at Corwin, has been an exceptional mentor and friend during the process of becoming a first-time author. The expertise, knowledge, and time that he devotes and shares so unselfishly are an example for everyone. He desires only to help all his authors see their ideas come to light in order to shape the path for more students to be successful. I cannot thank him enough.
Larry Ainsworth, international author, keynoter, and educational thought leader, has shaped virtually every part of my career as a professional developer and now author by example. I describe him as the best teacher I have ever met. He has always been there to help me in forming my thoughts into a message that can be transferred to others that is practical and useful.
Finally, Kristen Nagel—my rock and my wife. For everything you do to support me and Nicholas (10), Zachary (5), and Jacob (3), without ever having to be acknowledged—simply thank you.[Page x]Publisher’s Acknowledgments
Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:
- David G. Daniels
- Susquehanna Valley Senior High School
- Conklin, NY
- Martin J. Hudacs
- Superintendent of Schools
- Solanco School District
- Quarryville, PA
- Darryl L. Williams
- Associate Superintendent of Middle Schools
- Montgomery County Public Schools
- Rockville, MD
About the Author
Appendixes[Page 255]Appendix A: Monitoring Grade Inflation and Deflation
Data for the past decade have indicated that both grade inflation and deflation are prevalent in our high schools. While Chapter 5 dealt with failure prevention strategies to avoid unnecessary grade deflation, monitoring grade inflation is just as important. ACT (2005) concludes that between 1991 and 2003 high school grades inflated by 12.5%. Many students who leave their high schools with diplomas arrive on campus or in workforce postsecondary settings lacking the skills necessary to succeed. Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise (2008, p. 220) estimates that the United States would realize an additional $3.7 billion in reduced expenditures and increased earnings if more students graduating from high school were prepared for college and did not require remediation.Using Internal and External Assessments as Monitoring Tools
Middle and high schools need to have a system in place for specific times during the year to monitor the accuracy of grade reporting and distribution. This can be accomplished at the district, school, or team/classroom level. Schools and districts must ensure that teacher grades complement and don’t conflict with state or other external assessments (Guskey, 2009, p. 76). Schools can use data from external measures such as state tests, end-of-course assessments, SAT, ACT, PARCC, and Smarter Balanced assessments once they are fully implemented to determine if the grades teachers are reporting are aligned with external measures of students’ mastery of specific academic standards.Flood Light View
Districts can compare grade distribution to external assessment results by individual teachers’ grades, by course, subject, or school to [Page 256]see how grades match. This type of analysis can offer districts and schools flood light views of how grades are aligning with student success on external measures. These are conducted only once or twice per year.
Figure A.1 shows a quick example of some data points that districts, schools, departments, teams, and individual teachers can use to monitor grade distribution and how it compares with internal and external assessments. It also shows the frequency with which they can and should be used to determine if the grades we are administering are what we would expect based on other assessments.Flash Light Analysis
Schools can get a deeper view of how specific PLCs’ or even individual classroom teachers’ grades are aligning with external assessments. Benchmark assessments that measure the specific standards and objectives aligned with the school’s curriculum can become a great quick gauge for monitoring both inflation and deflation across classrooms. NWEA, MAP, and Acuity are just a few of the assessments that are usually administered multiple times per year. These may be more useful than large-scale state or national assessments that occur usually only once a year. PLCs or other collaborative teacher teams can analyze how aligned their grade distribution is with internal measures.Figure A.1 Flood Light Frequency of Grade Distribution Monitoring[Page 257]Figure A.2 Flash Light Frequency of Grade Distribution Monitoring[Page 258]Activity A.1: Individual Teacher Grade Distribution Analysis
Compare accuracy of grades to external measures such as national/state assessments, end-of-course assessments, SAT, and ACT for three teachers.
Based on the three sets of students pulled from these teachers’ classrooms and comparing final semester grades and state assessment scores, what inferences, hypotheses, and conclusions can you make?
*Credit recovery would indicate an “F” Grade.
[Page 259]Teacher 1
What questions do you have about the grading practices in all three of these classrooms?
______________________________________________________________________[Page 260]Appendix B: Summary of Practical Grading Examples/Strategies for Decreasing Failure[Page 265]Appendix C: Successful Credit Recovery: Many Paths, One Destination
As schools continue to experiment with and adjust existing credit recovery programs in an attempt to minimize dropouts and increase graduation rates, several factors and considerations can contribute to their success. Whether schools choose a traditional route, one based online or otherwise on technology, or a hybrid that combines the two, effective teaching will lead to effective student learning. Figure C.1 highlights some benefits and drawbacks of online versus traditional credit recovery settings.Figure C.1 Traditional Versus Online Credit Recovery
[Page 266]If schools determine they are going to use an online setting for credit recovery, they must decide whether to purchase their courses or create them internally. Here are a couple of questions schools may need to consider when determining if they should purchase or create courses:
- Is it more important to get started than to get it perfect?
- What courses are most important to have right now? Do we want core areas (e.g., language arts, math) in place ASAP? If so, we might choose to purchase those instead of build them.
Figure C.2 highlights benefits and drawbacks of both.Considerations for Success Online
Technology-based options for credit recovery have been expanding for the past decade and will continue to do so for some time. One of the overarching critiques of online learning for credit recovery is that there is the risk of shuffling students out the door without the full value of a high school education. Schools and districts should not concern themselves with perceptions that lack facts. Schools should not ask themselves, “Is our online environment for credit recovery the same experience as a classroom?” but rather, “Does our online environment allow our students to demonstrate mastery of standards?” All students have unique learning needs and strengths. In many formal online learning situations, students have performed academically equally well as or better than students in more traditional instructional settings (Lemke, Coughlin, & Reifsneider, 2009, p. 32).Figure C.2 Created Versus Purchased Online Courses[Page 267]Teacher-Student Connection Critical
The most important influence on student learning in a school is that of the classroom teacher (Hattie, 2008). This does not change in an online setting. In their June 2008 report with the North American Council for Online Learning, Watson and Gemin mention that an effective predictor of student success in online settings is a high level of teacher involvement (p. 15). When schools simply purchase a slew of computers and courses because they are inexpensive in bulk, this most often leads to very low levels of teacher interaction. In these cases, schools are most likely to pass students because they are completing course requirements that are not always standards-based assignments. These settings can lead students to walk out having recovered their credit and learned little or nothing at all.
Effective classroom instruction and formative assessment are the cornerstones of student learning. Online environments are just that—learning environments. Notwithstanding any extraordinary circumstances, one would not and should not assume that effective teaching for effective learning would not still need to be part of the recipe. Credit recovery environments are filled with learners who are there because of some degree of lack of success. These learners need intervention as soon as an issue arises. Online learning settings are less geared for teachers to intervene quickly compared to traditional classrooms. Schools must plan to create online environments that have high levels of teacher interaction and intervention if they hope for successful online credit recovery implementation. This may mean a balance whereby students can complete some of the coursework at home, but there is an on-site requirement as well. The following are examples of successful online credit recovery settings that have tackled some of the key roadblocks to success.[Page 268]Immediate Intervention
Pine Ridge High School, in Volusia County, Florida, has an Apex lab where any of the school’s 2,200 students can work on courses needed to graduate (first time or recovery). Mrs. Feltner, who runs the program, gets an immediate email whenever students fail an online quiz, which allows her to intervene quickly. She feels that students who are struggling or are in a recovery situation are better served in an online lab where someone can step up and assist them right away. Students who are home with no one to help guide them will not receive the same level of support in developing or redeveloping critical skills (Trotter, 2008).Effective Alignment and Personalization
Ector County, Texas, with a population of 26,000 students, uses a balance of paper-and-pencil and online models for credit recovery. Even the online courses that have been purchased are personalized. Ms. Rose Valderaz, the district’s director of the Virtual High School, shares that part of the mission in the credit recovery program is to make sure students have learned enough of the skills and concepts they missed so they can succeed in the subsequent course.Alignment and Losing Stigma
Two challenges schools face in implementing online credit recovery are having alignment between traditional classes and the online versions and the stigma that students taking these courses are earning substandard credits. Aldine Independent School District, serving 60,000 students outside of Houston, addressed both when it hired some of its master teachers to collaborate on creating curriculum for online credit recovery courses. When teachers from the district created the courses for online credit recovery, they provided immediate creditability for students earning credits in the online format. They then mandated that all students earning an online recovery credit pass an established and rigorous final exam. This would be beyond what some students who earned their credit as first-time learners had to do (Watson & Gemin, 2008, p. 8).Pre-Assessments for Online Credit Recovery
Most students in credit recovery settings do not need to repeat the entire course they recently failed. Schools need to know which skills [Page 269]the students have mastered and which they are still missing—their on- and off-ramps, so to speak. In the Kentucky Virtual High School, students take an abridged version of the course they recently failed. Prior to starting a credit recovery class, students complete an informal diagnostic. Based on the evidence from these assessments, students are placed in either full or abridged courses. The school has also established cutoffs for recovery versus repeat. Students who score below 50% are not eligible for the credit recovery program. They need to take the entire course over and are not eligible for the abridged version (Blackboard, 2009, p. 6).Appendix D: Using Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards as Feedback and Grading Targets for Student Collaboration and Participation
Many secondary schools are also starting to address collaboration as a method for grading more effectively. Collaboration is a key 21st century skill that all teachers and administrators can likely improve upon, and it is one students need to be college and career ready. CCSSI (English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects) states:
To become college and career ready, students must have ample opportunities to take part in a variety of rich, structured conversations—as part of a whole class, in small groups, and with a partner—built around important content in various domains. Whatever their intended major or profession, high school graduates will depend heavily on their ability to listen attentively to others so that they are able to build on others’ meritorious ideas while expressing their own clearly and persuasively. (p. 48)
The Common Core speaking and listening standards provide teachers with concrete targets to assess students and give feedback on essential collaboration skills. These are essential for students to develop to become college and career ready. The Common Core spiraling provides clear learning progressions for teachers to use for feedback, for student self-assessment and growth, and for potential criterion-based grading targets.[Page 270]Figure D.1 Specific Speaking and Listening Standards Used in Creating the Student Assessment Below[Page 271][Page 272]Figure D.2 Flash Light Frequency of Grade Distribution MonitoringAppendix E: Example of PLC/Grade-Level 100-Day Action Plan
To create an effective short-term (3- to 4-month or 100- to 120-day) action plan, in which your actions show dramatic improvements in achievement in one element of your school’s grading practice adjustments or changes, the focus has to be on a few specific actions the teachers or PLC commit to and monitor.[Page 273]Some Important Points to Consider
Example: High-impact actions that are to be employed in the plan to accomplish this goal:
- Determine what actions will have the greatest impact on student achievement. For example, if you have taken the time to have teachers really ensure that they have identified the most essential critical standards for targeted instruction and assessment, then you would already have the basis for creating a rigorous, accurate, and fair selection syllabus to offer students as a clear guide for earning specific and understood grades.
- Decide on the essential high-impact actions your team will implement as well as committed deadlines for accomplishing tasks.
- Determine future dates for monitoring grading change actions and their impact.
- Update your project weekly or by some predetermined interval.
[Page 274][Page 275]Figure E.1 Partially Completed Short-Term PLC Action Plan for Implementing a Selection SyllabusAppendix F[Page 276][Page 277][Page 278]
- Establish clear critical standards for 10th-grade language arts that are aligned with priorities for 11th and 12th grades.
- Unwrap the essential and supporting standards to identify key concepts and skills as well as rigor levels.
- Use text complexity as a gauge for helping students demonstrate mastery of concepts and skills, get through more difficult texts skills, maintain stamina, and see how they are acquiring points for the grade they are earning.
- Create a specific structure for bimonthly meetings for the specific purpose of sharing success in student work as well as monitoring the behaviors of barometer students.
- Create a specific structure, schedule, and protocol for collaborative scoring of student work.
- Ensure that there are at least three rigorous common assessments to be administered across all four English 10 classrooms to monitor accuracy and fairness.
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