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  • Gabe Hamilton & Andrew Jones

Grading and Reporting Systems as a Barrier to Implementing Standards-Based Grading

Implementing standards-based grading (SBG) and reporting at the high school level is no easy task, as anyone who’s doing this work knows. Discussions around grading practices and philosophies, changes to state and national standards and laws, and discourse about what’s considered best practices for teaching and learning are at this transition’s heart. However, while these conversations are crucial, we can’t overlook the importance of reporting systems, as they become the face of teaching and assessment. In a SBG approach, these reporting systems are what communicate to students and families where a student is on the learning continuum for specific learning targets and standards.

Electronic gradebooks are critical for recording and reporting student achievement, but many don’t mesh well with proficiency-based assessment practices. Traditional gradebooks often constrain how teachers can enter grades and contrive the grading process. Teachers enter grades by assignment and not by learning target/standard, which undermines the entire philosophy of SBG. More often than not, there are no options for separating out behavior from academics. In addition, the layout of some programs does not allow teachers or students to see progress towards proficiency, and more often than not there is a limited number of reporting options for teachers. Gradebooks built around traditional grading practices make it very difficult for teachers adopting standards-based grading to record student progress in meaningful and accurate ways.

Is it fair that teachers overhaul their classroom practices, only to have all their hard work marred by a grading program that muddles proficiency? Using a SBG approach with a traditional gradebook is like putting a square peg in a round hole. To fully leverage SBG, teachers need an appropriately matched reporting tool.

For the past two years we’ve been using the JumpRope grade book in our classrooms, and this year, we’re piloting it across the 9th grade. It has provided us with valuable data related to student learning and specific learning targets and standards, data that we’d never been able to access before with other programs. These data are invaluable in guiding our teaching practices and informing our conversations around student learning and those that we have with colleagues around teaching practices and the implementation of standards-based teaching and learning. Teachers not involved in the pilot, those still using our more traditional grading program, look enviously at the data and reports that we can generate; they’ve voiced frustration with the difficulty of truly tracking student progress and creating meaningful ways of reporting that progress.

As you can surmise, we now realize the critical importance of a well-matched tool with standards-based grading.

(Note: Andrew and Gabe are teachers at Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School in Bristol, VT, are spearheading the school’s standards-based grading work, are 2015 Rowland Fellows, and will be presenting at the standards-based symposium on November 20 in Colchester, VT. Join us that day and meet these two gents!)

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