Grading Secondary Vocational Education Students with Disabilities: A National Perspective

Article excerpt

Student evaluation and grading are integral components of our educational system. They are equally important for secondary vocational educators (Carpenter, 1985; Hess, Miller, Reese, & Robinson, 1987; Kiraly & Bedell, 1984; Lindsey, Burns, & Guthrie, 1984). Yet, despite the importance attached to evaluation and grading practices, these issues have not received a great deal of attention in the research literature or from teacher education programs (Carpenter, Grantham, & Hardister, 1983; Cohen, 1983; Donahoe & Zigmond, 1990).

There has been a significant increase in the enrollment of students with disabilities into vocational education over the past several years. This increase has partly resulted from federal initiatives that support preparation of students with disabilities for transition from high school to work. Given this increasing enrollment in secondary vocational education, it is timely to examine current practices used for grading students with disabilities and develop strategies that will effectively and fairly evaluate this segment of the student population.

There is considerable disagreement and debate among education professionals concerning the most appropriate and effective method(s) of grading students with disabilities (Chandler, 1983; Hull, 1980; Terwilliger, 1977). And, while the issues are extremely complex, a number of factors can be identified as influencing the grades issued to these students (Cohen, 1983; Hess et al., 1987; Squire, 1985). Terwilliger (1977) reported that value judgments made by teachers, grade levels taught, length of teaching experience, and subject matter were all prominent factors used for student evaluation. Carpenter (1985) noted that labeling, student gender, and a student's past performance can also influence grading practices. Even class attendance has been found to be related to grades earned by students with disabilities (Donahoe & Zigmond, 1990; Zigmond, Levin, & Laurie, 1985).

Research on practices and attitudes of secondary vocational education teachers toward grading special populations is limited in scope, but there is a small body of literature that describes grading practices in mainstream academic environments. For example, Foster, Ysseldyke, and Reese (1975) examined the influence of teacher expectation on evaluation of students with emotional disturbance. Using a sample of 38 undergraduate and graduate students, they found that subjects consistently rated an emotionally disturbed child more negatively than a nondisabled child. Foster et al. concluded that labeling a child as emotionally disturbed calls forth preconceived and negative stereotypical expectancies (biases), and that these biases are so strong that people hold them even when faced with contradictory information.

In a similar study, Fogel and Nelson (1983) examined three types of evaluations used by teachers: checklist scores, considered global measures of performance; behavioral observations; and grades of academic work. Their results indicated that special education labels (e.g., learning disabled, mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed) biased teachers' checklist scores. Behavioral observations and grades given on academic work, however, did not appear to be influenced by teacher biases caused by special education labels.

Warger (1983) examined how secondary teachers assign grades to students with disabilities in mainstream classrooms and found that teachers made relatively few modifications in the curriculum format (i.e., how the class was taught) for students with disabilities. However, modifications were typically made in grading formats used to evaluate these students. Traditional grading systems (e.g., percentage or letter grades) were not used in the same way for students with and without disabilities. In fact, the primary grading format reported (59%) for mainstreamed students with disabilities was "completion of the same work as others but graded individually (work is not compared). …