purpose, audience, and personal beliefs the group to see where there is agree-
important reasons educators should be
ment (all checks); disagreement (all Xs); interested in standards-based grading?
Note that the term grades in this list
of statements means grades for school
subjects (such as mathematics) and/or
standards (for example, mathematics
numbers and operations) and does not
and mixed opinions (some of each).
Begin the discussion with the areas
of agreement. Ask whether the disagreement could be reframed as “I’m
not there yet.” Require all statements
n How did you talk with students
about changing your grading practices?
What responses did you receive?
n Have you talked with any parents
about changing your grading practices?
refer to every symbol on a report card.
Additional symbols on report cards
can communicate information about
students’ learning skills, citizenship,
attendance, and growth or progress.
of opinion to be supported (“Why do
you believe that?”). Strive to understand
what your colleagues are saying, even
when you don’t agree.
What responses have you received?
n Did your school have a standards-based grading committee? If so, how did
it form, how often did it meet, and what
did committee members talk about?
Teacher-written comments can com-
municate a wide variety of observations, Randomly assign teachers the pro
evidence, questions, and conclusions
or con position for the first discus-
Give a small group of teachers the
about students. For now, we are just
sion point, four or five on each side.
discussion points on p. 14 and ask them
talking about academic grades.
Whether they agree with their assigned to share their thoughts about these
In most schools, beliefs about these
position or not, have them prepare
statements. (Give them advance notice
so they can prepare and be satisfied that
they are sharing what they really feel.)
Standards-based grading is based on the principle
Have the rest of the group observe until
that grades are not about what students
these colleagues are finished discussing
the statements among themselves. Then,
earn; they are about what students learn.
have individuals in the larger group
share what they have learned.
(By the way, any of the methods
statements will vary. Not everyone
believes that grades should reflect only
for a debate in which they assert that
position and support it with logic and
above can be fishbowled: Colleagues
chosen to be observers remain silent
achievement. I know plenty of teachers evidence, including evidence that they
during the first discussion or debate and
who firmly believe that grades should
find in resource material. The team’s
are given time to comment later.)
reflect what students “earn” in the class- presentation should include anticipating
room by doing their work, following
the arguments of the opposing side and Moving the Conversation Along
directions, and behaving.
preparing a defense for these, also using When schools or school districts begin
The first task in grading reform is
logic and evidence.
discussing grading practices, they
to reach consensus (or at least, “I can
After the formal debate, the whole
usually have an agenda. A team of
live with that” status) on purpose and
faculty can reflect on what was learned. administrators may have decided that
foundational issues. Here are some ways
district grading practices and poli-
to begin that conversation. One of these Local Expert Panel
cies should move from conventional
might work in your school or dis-
If a few teachers in your school or
to standards-based, learning-focused
trict—or you could combine elements
district (or a neighboring one) have
practices. Or the push for grading
of several of them. Remember that the
experimented with standards-based,
reform may come from teachers who see
purpose is to talk about the issues, get-
learning-focused grading practices,
a disconnect between standards-based
ting people’s real feelings on the table.
invite them to participate in a panel dis- instruction and conventional grading
cussion. Each can briefly describe his or practices (Brookhart, 2011).
Vote, Compare, Discuss
her strategies and the results. Listeners
Whatever the source, the agenda
In small groups at a faculty meeting,
can ask their own questions or some of should be no secret. However, that
have each colleague indicate his or
the following questions:
doesn’t mean that the conversation
her own agreement (a check) or dis-
n How did you learn about standards- should be about how to make people
agreement (an X) with each of the four
discussion points on p. 14. Then poll
n What do you think are the most
agree to go along with the agenda. All
opinions need to be heard, and people’s