Suggesting grading reform can be risky business.
Here’s how to keep the discussion productive and on track.
Douglas B. Reeves
start not just a fight, but a national campaign. Freiss (2008)
reported on one school system’s proposal to use intervals of 10
Grading policy is among the most emotional topics in education today. Indeed, Guskey and Bailey (2001) documented nearly a century of research on grading practices. We know, for example, that the average is the wrong mea- points between letter grades (for example, F = 50–59, and so grading reforms. Why not start the conversation on grading with a discus-
on). The response was a firestorm of protest, eventually under-
mining that district’s attempt to implement even the most basic
surement of student proficiency (O’Connor, 2007); that the
sion of the principles on which all stakeholders can agree? For
zero on a 100-point scale is a math error (Reeves, 2004); and
example, even those who disagree vehemently about specific
that the implementation of effective grading practices can have grading policies should find common ground in the proposition
a positive effect on student achievement, discipline, and atten-
that grading should be accurate and fair. That is, students who
dance (Reeves, 2008).
do the same quality of work should receive the same grades.
But knowing these things is not enough. Unless education
Any grading system in which the same quality of work receives
leaders can engage teachers, parents, communities, and policy- grades ranging from A to F, depending on the idiosyncratic
makers in a rational discussion about grading, progress will
grading policy of the teacher, is clearly inaccurate. The principle
be as elusive now as it was a century ago. Here are some good of fairness suggests that differences in grades should be associ-
ways to start the conversation.
Discuss Principles Before Policy
Start a conversation about grading policy with the announce-
ment, “I think we should eliminate the zero,” and you’ll
ated with differences in student performance rather than with
differences in gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.
If we agree that grading is a form of feedback, then we
should also be able to agree on principles of effective feedback,
such as specificity and timeliness, so that students can apply