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Aligned Grading Practices

STRATEGY: Evaluate current grading practices and their alignment with the school’s vision for teaching and learning.

Successful school leaders evaluate current grading practices and their alignment with the school’s vision for teaching and learning to advance accurate reflections of student achievement. They also assign priority to evaluating grading and assessment practices to measure performance at the school, grade, subject, and student levels. Effective school leaders promote and sustain the improvement of teaching and learning by attending to grading and assessment practices. They also leverage the evaluation of current grading and assessment practices to facilitate teacher reflection on instruction and its effectiveness, as well as identify strengths and gaps in the campus curricular, instructional, and assessment practices and programs. School leaders who assign priority to aligning grading practices with the school vision for teaching and learning understand the importance of grading and assessment as a form of motivation for learning. They also understand the critical nature of communicating the achievement status of learners to parents as a way of garnering support for optimizing students’ potential.


The purpose of grading and assessment is to support learning and to communicate students’ progress toward meeting learning standards. As a part of the grading and assessment process, a variety of evidence is gathered to identify a student’s attainment of specified learning goals. The evidence enables students to understand their strengths and improve on their learning. Effective grading and assessment practices provide students with specific and timely feedback about their progress and incorporate methods for tracking and reporting their level of mastery.

Grading and assessment practices also provide an indication about students’ preparation for the next level of content or complexity. As such, for grading and assessment practices to be effective, they must accommodate normal variation in learners’ styles and pace, and provide a comprehensive look at the learning needs and strengths of each student. Grading and assessment practices must also be premised on the assurance that all students have access to a shared, guaranteed, and viable curriculum.

First Steps to Consider

School leaders must rethink practices that impact grades beyond students’ demonstration of proficiency. Additionally, they must determine what proficiency looks like and develop a culture of collaboration to increase commonality practices, a culture that invites open and frequent conversations about grading and assessment practices.

Quick wins

    • Align campus grading and assessment practices with district policy, and, if applicable, seek clarification regarding any policies (or expectations) that may be in conflict with research- or evidence-based practices being proposed for implementation at the school level.
    • Provide parents and students with a document of the overarching grading practices to promote shared understanding of how grades are generated, represented, and interpreted across grade levels and subjects and how these practices align with the school’s vision for teaching and learning.
    • Determine the school-wide method for documenting students’ achievement over time with the aim of promoting individual strengths and establishing areas of growth.
    • Provide teachers with exemplars of student work that reflect current grading practices in alignment with the school vision for teaching and learning and allocate time for teachers to routinely compare student work with exemplars.

First steps

    • Establish systems and safeguards to ensure grading objectivity, meaningfulness, consistency, and assessment equity so that grading and assessment practices are valid and reliable.
    • Establish expectations for the implementation of a variety of formative assessments that allow students and parents to receive ongoing feedback about specific knowledge and skills prior to summative assessments.
    • Establish expectations for the implementation of a variety of common, high-quality summative assessments to allow students to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways, allowing for choice wherever appropriate.
    • Determine the method for reporting student progress toward the attainment of specified learning goals to parents, including a strategy for reporting student learning both formatively (for learning) and summatively (of learning).
    • Determine how work habits such as effort, participation, etc., will be measured and reported separately from achievement data.
    • Encourage teachers to allow students to assess their own and others’ work against performance standards, expectations, or levels within a framework of affirmation and opportunity.
    • Adopt multiple assessment strategies for implementation that work to inform, strengthen, and improve on each student’s learning experience.
    • Ensure that the grading and assessment system allows for the timely identification of students for available educational opportunities (i.e., courses and programs).

Complexities & Pitfalls

As school leaders evaluate grading practices and their alignment with the school’s vision for teaching and learning, there are common pitfalls to avoid. The outcomes expected from the school’s vision for teaching and learning are contingent upon clarity around grading and assessment practices.

Common pitfalls

  • Failing to measure achievement against clear assessment criteria linked to established standards and learning targets.
  • Including more than achievement data (i.e., effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc.) in determining grades.
  • Failing to inform students and parents about the nature, content, and timing of assessments.
  • Measuring achievement against the performance of other students and/or assigning group grades regularly.
  • Implementing grading and assessment practices from the point of view of what the teacher needs to cover versus which standards the students need to master.

Guiding Questions

  • What range of assessment strategies, including formative and summative assessments, are currently being implemented in the school, and how are the results used to inform and differentiate instruction?
  • How do the grading and assessment practices support the evaluation of program and instruction effectiveness?
  • To what degree do teachers base grading on the degree to which students are proficient in the standards, collaborate on consistent methods to arrive at grades, refrain from using grades as punishment, and involve students in assessing their own progress?
  • What opportunities do students have to demonstrate their learning, receive corrective feedback, and use this feedback in meaningful ways to support their learning?
  • What systems exist specific to grading and assessment to provide students with information they can use for self-reflection and self-evaluation?
  • What systems specific to grading and assessment exist to select, identify, or group students for different educational opportunities and programs? Do these systems ensure consistent and equitable learning opportunities across grades or courses?
  • What expectations exist for teachers to provide specific and measurable criteria for success to learners prior to assessments?
  • How do grading and assessment practices promote and motivate student learning? How do the grading and assessment practices incentivize learning? Are the incentives associated with grading and assessment appropriate?
  • What opportunities exist for students to present their learning to authentic audiences, such as other students, families, community members, and professionals?
  • How is the school communicating about grading practices and their alignment to the school vision about teaching and learning?