Grading Systems and Reporting to Parents


"The two essential questions that all educators should ask about their grades are, 'How confident am I that the grades students get in my classroom/school/district are accurate, meaningful, and consistent, and that they support learning?' and 'How confident am I that the grades I assign students accurately reflect my school's/district's published content standards and desired learning outcomes?'" The author believes grades are "broken" and that teachers and schools/districts need a "repair kit". 

O'Connor's book lays a great groundwork for those who are looking for a better way to communicate student performance to parents and to the students themselves. His style is straight forward and engaging and challenging the reader to mentally chew on ideas for taming the often ferocious grading dragon. Examples show clear-cut ways to take the ideas and implement them.

This book details the specific benefits of formative assessment and explains how to design and interpret three different types of formative assessments, how to track student progress, and how to assign meaningful grades. 

Differentiated instruction is a nice idea, but what happens when it comes to assessing and grading students? What's both fair and leads to real student learning? Fair Isn't Always Equal answers that question and much more. 

Create and sustain a learning environment where students thrive and stakeholders are accurately informed of student progress. Clarify the purpose of grades, craft a vision statement aligned with this purpose, and discover research-based strategies to implement effective grading and reporting practices. Identify policies and practices that render grading inaccurate, and understand the role grades play in students’ future success and opportunities.


This paper is focused on the transformation of the time-based K-12 system where the focus is on inputs (seat-time, hours in the day, minutes in each class) to a system where the focus is on learning. The five-part working definition of competency education describes the elements that need to be put into place to re-engineer the education system to reliably produce student learning. 

The purpose of this paper is to explore how districts and schools can redesign grading systems to best help students to excel in academics and to gain the skills that are needed to be successful in college, the community, and the workplace. Competency education is an approach to ensure that all children are successful in developing the knowledge and skills they need for life. Competency education has a laser focus on learning that challenges century-old assumptions about schools and schooling. 

The first task in successful grading reform is to reach consensus on the purpose of grades. The main issue is not what scale to use, how often to report, how many grades to combine, or how to combine them. These secondary issues can be decided only after you answer the main questions: What meaning do we want our grades to convey? and Who is (are) the primary intended audience(s) for this message? 

There is often confusion over the difference between grades and learning assessment, with some believing that they are totally unrelated and others thinking they are one and the same. The truth is, it depends. To accurately assess learning outcomes, each type of assessment would need to be analyzed in terms of different skills it addresses. By continually monitoring learning outcomes, the educator could track the impact of instruction or curriculum on specific learning outcomes.

When it comes to using classroom assessment to enhance student achievement, having students track their progress using rubrics is a hidden gem. This strategy involves multiple types of assessments, increases interactions between teachers and students, and provides students with clear guidance on how to enhance their learning. 

Successfully implementing standards-based grading and reporting demands a close working relationship among teachers, parents, and school and district leaders. Only when all groups understand what grades mean and how they are used to improve student learning will we realize the true value of a standards-based approach to education.

An important element of a successful standards-based reform initiative includes grading and reporting that refers to specific  learning criteria rather than normative criteria. Four grading policies that impose barriers to reform are described, and specific strategies to correct these policies are offered.

Help districts define a purpose for using a SBRC, guide them in aligning standards to student learning and assist in recording students’ progress and achievement based on standards.



"What will you tolerate as evidence?" Grades are not about affirmation, validation, or compensation, grades are about communication. They are more useful, valuable, and reliable when used this way. Student work needs to be evidence-bound.

This is a video that bridges between the traditional grade book and an outcomes based grading system. Rick discusses the use of standards to grade individual student projects. You can't put all the standards in your grade book, so the suggestion he makes is to consider the ten non-negotiable power standards. Rick discusses looking across the gradebook for consistent evidence not averaging for the grade.

Rick Wormeli discusses the accuracy, truth, and usefulness of letter grades. What does that F mean? What are we relaying to students with that grade? What will the community tolerate? Mr. Wormeli talks about central tendency versus mean when determining grades and criterion referenced grading. He also talks about the effects of zero and considering this as the range of "not there yet" or "no evidence of learning."

Some thought provoking opinions on grading and assessment

This is a great discussion starter video for exploring the the problems with time-based education and the merits of a standards-based system. (2 minutes)