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September 1, 2020
Vol. 78
No. 1

Reader's Guide / A School Year to Make a Difference

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      A few months ago, I talked with Rebecca Mieliwocki, a district professional development coordinator and former National Teacher of the Year, about how the changing instructional climate brought on by the COVID-19 crisis was affecting educators. She highlighted the many challenges involved in the switch to remote learning during a period of great uncertainty and suffering in school communities, but she also noted that the situation presented an opening for educators to evolve their practices and perspectives. "This is really an opportunity to let go of clinging to old systems," she said.
      That's a sentiment worth reflecting on as we head into this new school year. The pandemic, along with recent incidents of racial injustice, has exposed deep-rooted inequalities in our society and school systems and created tremendous hardships for many students and families. It has also forced us to adapt to new and ever-changing formats and structures for teaching and learning. It's important for all of us to ask ourselves whether we might need to break free of some inherited practices and preconceptions to make a difference in these new conditions.
      Fittingly, this issue of Educational Leadership focuses on grading, typically one of the most convention-bound and impactful areas in K–12 education. And indeed, the need for intentional change is a central thread. While the articles differ in their contexts and recommendations, nearly all of them suggest that, to better reflect and support student learning, conventional grading systems and practices need an overhaul. Especially at a time like the present, this is an area where school leaders and educators can make schools more responsive and meaningful to students.
      In the lead article, for example, Joe Feldman urges educators to "critically examine" some common, traditional grading practices—such as using a 0–100 percentage scale, grading participation or behaviors, and factoring in homework—that have a tendency to misrepresent what's important in learning, reinforce biases, and create undue stress on students. Addressing such misalignments is particularly important this year, when many students may be behind academically and have "a shallower reservoir of resilience."
      Outlining a more far-reaching approach, Thomas R. Guskey makes the provocative case that schools should consider giving multiple grades in each subject to better delineate students' standing in different areas—including academic achievement (vis-à-vis learning goals), progress or growth, and noncognitive "process" skills. As opposed to a composite or "hodgepodge" grade, broken-out grades can provide "more meaningful information" and more "direction in ways to improve students' performance." Again, these are especially pertinent goals this year.
      Indeed, transforming grading systems to provide better communication and feedback—as opposed to static, reward-or-punishment markers—is an idea that runs throughout this issue. To reduce gaming-for-grades cultures, for example, Lee Ann Jung floats a plan for putting far more emphasis within grading periods on formative evaluation. ("Assessment and grading should be something we do with, not to, students," she writes.) Similarly, Myron Dueck outlines strategies to give students more of a vested role in and understanding of grading practices, including how they can change negative self-concepts around grades.
      Changes in grading can also affect educators' own self-concepts. In her article, teacher Michelle Vanhala writes about how, after years of frustration with her grading method, she adopted her own version of a standards-based grading system—relying heavily on specified learning objectives, detailed feedback, and opportunities for student practice and retakes. The transition took a lot of work, but Vanhala soon saw that learning in her science class "became less about the grade and more about the learning goals." More than that, she found satisfaction in having "a grading policy that finally aligned with my educational philosophy."
      In a year of student need, that's a lesson in professional growth we can all learn from.

      Educational Leadership September 2020 Reflect & Discuss Questions

      "Taking the Stress Out of Grading" by Joe Feldman

      ➛ How have you seen grades negatively impact your students' mental health?

      ➛ Which of these four "outdated" grading practices could you commit to ending? What's the first step to do so?

      ➛ How could you make retakes a consistent part of your school or classroom's grading culture?

      "Does This Count?" by Lee Ann Jung

      ➛ What is the balance of formative and summative assessments in your (or your school's) grading practice?

      ➛ How can you improve the feedback you give students to ensure they know exactly what they need to do to meet their goals?

      ➛ Do you agree that formative activities should play a greater role in informing grading? Why or why not?

      "Breaking Up the Grade" by Thomas R. Guskey

      ➛ What evidence do teachers in your school usually combine to yield a letter grade at the end of the marking period? Does evidence unrelated to academic proficiency (like attitude, attendance, etc.) factor in? Should it?

      ➛ Guskey claims true grading reform can't happen unless report cards show several grades for every student in every course. Do you agree? Do you think report cards in your school or district should be changed? In what ways?

      ➛ Did this article make you think differently about grading reform initiatives? Why or why not?

      ➛ Has your school or district done a sufficient job in considering trade-offs that come with grading (or other) changes?

      ➛ In light of possible unintended consequences, how should grading-reform advocates proceed?

      ➛ How can you include more student voice and choice in your grading and assessment?

      ➛ How do your students associate their identities with their grades?

      ➛ Have you seen flaws in your own grading system after switching to remote learning? In what ways can you adjust to fix those?

      End Notes

      1 June 2020. How education leaders are working during the pandemic. Educational Leadership, online.

      Anthony Rebora is the chief content officer for ISTE+ASCD, overseeing publications and content development across all platforms.

      Previously, he was the editor in chief of Educational Leadership, ASCD's flagship magazine, and led content development for the association's fast-evolving digital outlets.

      Under his leadership, Educational Leadership won numerous awards for editorial excellence, increased the breadth of its coverage and contributors, and greatly expanded its online reach.

      He was formerly a managing editor at Education Week, where he oversaw coverage of teachers and teaching policy, and played a key role in online editorial strategy. He has written and developed impactful content on a wide range of key K-12 education topics, including professional learning, school leadership and equity.

      As a content developer, his foremost goals are to empower diverse educator voices and raise awareness of critical issues and solutions in education.

      Learn More

      ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

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