Frequently Asked Questions about Grading for Learning

What is the purpose of grading?
Effective grading practices should provide accurate, meaningful and consistent communication to a student and parent about what a student knows and is able to do as a result of their school experiences.

What is a Grading for Learning model?
Grading for Learning is a model reflective of standards-based grading, which aligns grades to established benchmarks.  In this model, students and teachers are held accountable for the essential learning defined in benchmarks regardless of what school or classroom a student might be in or what teacher a student might have.  Grading for Learning is associated with the work of international education researcher, Ken O’Connor.

Why are we working to improve our grading practices?
The intent of the Grading for Learning initiative is to provide accurate, meaningful and consistent communication to students and parents about student learning.  Additionally, our intention is to engage in best practices, which are supported by years of educational research.  

What is different as a result of the implementation the Grading for Learning model?

  1. Grades are not based on the percent of material a student has mastered but rather on demonstrated mastery of the established benchmarks.
  2. Homework is viewed as an opportunity for students to practice their learning .
  3. Grades are an accurate reflection of benchmark mastery as they do not include extra credit, which may have nothing to do with student learning.  Additionally, they do not include academic behaviors such as effort, responsibility, and respect.
  4. Zeros are not an acceptable grade to motivate students to learn.  Instead students are encouraged to complete their required work because it is essential to mastery of the benchmarks.
  5. Students have multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning prior to being graded.

What is it that students have to master?
Students need to master local grade-level or course benchmarks (or standards) that have been collaboratively determined by Wauwatosa School District teachers.  State and national standard documents are used as resources to inform our local benchmarks.  Mastery implies that students will have multiple opportunities throughout the school year to demonstrate that they are learning the skills and knowledge expressed in the benchmarks.  Therefore it is not expected that a student is able to master all of the benchmarks early in a learning period; rather a student is given the necessary time and support to develop mastery of the benchmarks before being assessed.

How will this change in grading philosophy impact my child’s experience in the classroom?
Students will understand what they are expected to learn, and they will receive regular feedback on the progress of their learning in regard to the established benchmarks.  Typically, in the past teachers taught material, gave a test and then assigned a grade.  In the Grading for Learning model the teacher determines what needs to be taught in regard to the benchmarks, teaches, assesses informally, reteaches and re-assesses informally until there is evidence that the student is prepared to be formally assessed (graded).

How does allowing students to retake tests and redo work prepare them for the rigors of college?
Research studies report that nationwide 25-35% of freshman drop out the first semester of college.  Using a model that requires students to demonstrate mastery of the essential benchmarks ensures that students have the knowledge, understanding, and skills needed to succeed in college. In addition, redos and retakes hold students accountable for learning rather than excuse them from learning.  When students do not achieve mastery and we do not allow them opportunities to relearn that material we are setting them up for failure.  It should also be noted that not all relearning requires a formal redo or a retake; some courses may revisit benchmarks in a later unit of study and at that point allow students a new opportunity to demonstrate mastery.

Where is the best place to go to learn more about the grading initiative?
Classroom teachers, building administrators, and district administrators are resources for learning about grading reform.

How will this grading model influence student’s GPAs (Grade Point Averages)?
The use of an equal interval scale instead of percentages will not influence reporting of semester grades and therefore will not impact GPAs.  Numerical scores (4-0) reflect what a student knows and is able to do based on grade level or course benchmarks.  The 4-0 numbers are then correlated to a letter grade.  These letter grades and then used to calculate a GPA as in the past.  For additional explanation see the Benchmark Mastery Level Descriptors.

What other districts are implementing a grading for learning model?
Standards-based grading is prevalent throughout southeastern Wisconsin.  Some neighboring school districts that are involved in grading reform are Waukesha, Pewaukee, Kettle Moraine, Hartford Union, Menomonee Falls, Milwaukee Public Schools, Franklin, Swallow, and Sun Prairie to name just a few.  Many of these school districts have websites that the public may access to learn more about their implementation.  We have worked collaboratively with many of these districts to learn collegially about how to best implement grading reform.  Grading reform and standards-based grading models are also prevalent throughout the state and at the national level.

How will the new grading initiative impact college acceptance?
Because the new grading reform will have no impact on GPAs and high school transcripts there will be no impact on college acceptance.  It could be argued that since grades will be representative of what a student has mastered, students will be better prepared for the rigor of college entrance exams and coursework.  It should also be noted that colleges have always had their own criteria for admission that is rarely a mirror reflection of how any one high school determines or reports grades.  The typical college admission criteria for Wisconsin universities include the rigor of coursework, GPA, and ACT or SAT performance.  Because colleges and universities recalculate GPAs based on their own criteria and preferences, it is always advisable for parents and students to know the specific criteria for colleges and universities that they are considering.  Middle and high school counselors are a valuable resource in understanding post-secondary school admission requirements.

The following quotation was taken from the website of the Quakertown Public School District. They began implementing grading reform in 1999.

Other than the fact that the grades on the transcripts are derived from standards-based grading and assessment, there is little change in the appearance of the transcript.  Standards-based grading is not a deterrent to college acceptance.  In fact, evidence of proficiency of [Pennsylvania Department of Instruction] standards should be a strong indicator of college/career success.  We had a research company conduct a study of 30 institutions across the state and country.  They found no indication of any adverse implications of standards-based grading for college admissions.  According to the report, “Generally, admissions offices treat all grades as welcome indicators of high school performance while implicitly acknowledging that every school has a unique perspective, student body, and system.”