Effective Grading Practices

PRIMEd Principal
March 2016


A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, Second Edition by Ken O’Connor



Grading student work is something we have to do as teachers, however, we typically use a grading system that was either used with us as students, or we use the one our master teacher used during our student teaching days, or we develop one that makes sense for us. A grade should communicate, to students and parents, what a student has learned in that subject area. But, many times, the grading policy reflects so much more. Grade reports sometimes include behaviors such as, not turning homework in, or not turning it in on time, not participating in class, and perhaps, sometimes, other behaviors. I am not saying that those skills are not important for students to learn, but an English grade should reflect what the student has learned in English class, and the “softer skills” can be reported out separately. Historically, grades have been used as a motivator for students to do well and turn assignments in on time. Students learn quickly that they will receive good grades for turning in work on time. On the other hand, they will likely earn a zero if the assignment is left undone. If a student receives a “0” on an assignment, this reflects that they didn’t “do” something, not that they didn’t “learn” anything. Those are two very different things, however, some teachers hold tight to the fact that the “0” motivates students to work harder and do not realize yet how very detrimental that score is to their overall grade. It is very difficult for a student to work their way out of a situation once they have received a “0” on an assignment. This was our first step into the grading conversation with our staff, so we decided to engage them in learning and conversations about more effective grading practices that can report student learning of the content. In this blog, I want to share how we worked with our staff to address inequities in grading and how we began our work on grading practices school wide.



In February of 2014, we took our staff off campus and presented them with a question: “what should grades reflect?” simple, yet thought-provoking. We had our teachers sit in groups to chart their responses. The first question that came up was “what should they reflect or what do they reflect”. To me, this was very telling. By merely asking that question it indicated that our grades did not reflect learning alone. From this activity our staff realized that everyone was doing something different, there was very little consistency in our practices within the building, even within departments. We did some reading about grading practices and we shared a grade book from one of our teachers (anonymous, of course, and with permission). We asked our staff to analyze the gradebook and determine what the student’s final grade should have been, and then revealed what the final grade actually was. This time with our staff was probably the most robust discussion they had had up to that point. They were asking great questions and truly reflecting on their current grading system. We left that meeting challenging our staff to eliminate the use of the “0” in the grade book. Some didn’t, some did, and some tried other strategies.

At the beginning of the following year, we continued our discussions around grading, as well as having staff share out on our Staff Learning Days what they were trying, what worked and what didn’t. They also shared how they were communicating with parents and students around some of their changes. We continued to collect data on the number of failing grades at the end of each semester to share with staff, and created a grading task force of teachers who really wanted to learn more about effective practices. Every Staff Learning Day (SLD) we provided an opportunity for our teachers to share.

This school year, we were intentional about providing time on each of our SLD’s to allow our grading task force to share what they learned. We also sent a team of eight to a local conference about Sound Grading Practices. We are at a point now where we have momentum around this from our teachers, and our administrative team continues to keep it a focus for our building. It has spilled over into our other high schools, and our community. We are very excited to see how reflective our teachers are in their grading practices and how our students are benefitting from this.



Our outcome for this year is to get to a place in our grading practices that accomplish the following:

  • Shows student growth
  • Doesn’t “bury” a student
  • Consistent within the building

Although this may seem like a lofty goal, and may not happen for another year or two, the progress we are making in our system is quite wonderful. Our teachers are thoughtful and reflective of their grading practices and continue to have lively discussions around this topic. Our work continues, and I believe our progress will too. It is what’s best for our students and we are committed to that.


NCSM Guest Blogger

Jeanette Grisham – Assistant Principal, Bellingham High School, Bellingham, WA

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