The Foundation for Fair and Meaningful Grading for Struggling Students

Earlier this month, over 1200 educators gathered at SRC Arena to learn more about grading and reporting student learning. Presenters Tom Guskey and Lee Ann Jung

spoke about standards-based policies and practices that are best for ALL students. My greatest leap of learning was in understanding how to grade exceptional students in a fair and meaningful way using standards-based practices. As a former high school science teacher, with students of all abilities in my Regents classes, I always wondered if I was doing justice by my struggling students with the grading policies I was using. Do I change the mastery bar for students with IEPs and 504s? Do I keep the bar the same and provide more scaffolding support to raise them to those levels?

Lee Ann Jung and Tom Guskey’s book, Grading Exceptional and Struggling Learners, highlights a five-step standards-based inclusive model for grading students that teacher can use to determine appropriate expectations for each student based on a deep understanding of the differences between modifications and accommodations. Lee Ann’s presentation helped me understand these differences and that both are adaptations that provide support for struggling students. Accommodations are the adaptations I make that “even the playing field” so that all students can learn; they provide access to the curriculum for all learners based on grade-level standards. In general, extended time for testing, orally presenting information during assessment, providing copies of notes and using alternate modes of response are accommodations as long as the standards for proficiency are based on the grade-level standards. Modifications “change the playing field” and offer more substantial supports in certain areas than accommodations can provide. A modification is a change in grade-level expectations based on DATA not DIAGNOSIS. In both cases, the adaptations may be temporary and adjusted as needed as learners meet IEP goals and make progress towards learning targets.

This whole process is based on a system in which we understand and have prioritized grade-level standards for the subjects we teach, and we report grades based on progress towards these prioritized standards. If we don’t have a deep understanding of our content standards, which also includes literacy standards for all subject areas, then we won’t be able to report grades in a fair and meaningful way. The first step in the Inclusive Grading Model (Guskey and Jung, 2012) is to determine, student-by-student, if adaptations are needed for EACH grade-level standard. All of our students have different needs and most learners will work ON grade level for some skills and BELOW grade level for others. So, for each grade-level standard on which I will be reporting grades, I need to ask myself, “Is this an appropriate expectation for this student without adaptations?”

So, what can teachers do to facilitate meaningful change in grading and reporting? Guskey and Jung (2012) believe that knowing the difference between accommodations and modifications is one of the four actions teachers can take. What actions can you take in your classroom and school?

Keim_Joanne_SMALLJoanne Keim

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