To the Editor:
It was with great interest that I read how Greg Jouriles and his faculty colleagues are addressing their “grading differences” and teachers’ “different conceptions of achievement” through development of standards-aligned rubrics, common performance tasks, and calibration (“We Don’t Need Standardized Tests. Here’s Why,” Commentary, July 9, 2014).
As a former high school teacher, principal, and district administrator, I applaud Mr. Jouriles and his peers for addressing their grades, a discussion that teachers can unfortunately interpret as a challenge to their professional autonomy and judgment. It was not until I became a consultant for schools and districts seeking to improve their grading and assessment that I understood and appreciated this reaction.
First, teachers’ grades don’t just vary because of different conceptions of achievement. In addition to describing academic achievement, grades are usually a hodgepodge of evaluative information that incorporates student behaviors, attendance, participation, and subjective perceptions of student effort, growth, and attitude. But a teacher’s grading system is more than the sum of its parts. I have seen teachers use grades to incentivize or punish students, to distribute power or assert authority, to give students agency or make learning opaque, and to build classroom community or encourage cutthroat competition.
These competing ideas about the role of a teacher and what makes for effective teaching and learning make the conversation about grading even more difficult. And yet teachers have rarely had the preparation or permission to examine grading in all of its complexity; grading is generally not addressed in preservice training or school-embedded professional development. However, I have worked with teachers who, when given supports and opportunities for honest reflection, pursue strategies to make their grading more fair, accurate, supportive of learning, and consistent across classrooms. As challenging and unfamiliar as it may be, it is the discussion that we and our students deserve.
Chief Executive Officer
Crescendo Education Group
A version of this article appeared in the August 27, 2014 edition of Education Week as Students Deserve Discussion Of Teachers’ Grading Practices