Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Report Card Grading and Adaptations: A National Survey of Classroom Practices

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Report Card Grading and Adaptations: A National Survey of Classroom Practices

Article excerpt

Two pervasive trends have deeply affected classroom practices for students with disabilities: an increased emphasis on higher standards and accountability for student performance, and the inclusion of students with disabilities into general education classes. For students in integrated classroom settings, some classroom practices may put students with disabilities either at an advantage or at a disadvantage, compared with students without disabilities. Clearly one such practice is grading. Classroom grades earned by students with disabilities provide a direct measure of the successful performance of the students and an indirect measure of the success of integration efforts in general.



Given the trend toward integration, a literature base on grading practices has begun to develop within the past decade. The initial publications included primarily position papers that focused on grading policies and practices, rather than empirical studies (e.g., Carpenter, 1985).

Recently, however, more empirically based work has emerged. For example, Zigmond and her associates (e.g., Donahue & Zigmond, 1990; Zigmond, Levin, & Laurie, 1985) reported pessimistic findings concerning the grading patterns of students with learning disabilities in general high school classes. Donahue and Zigmond (1990) found that although approximately 60%-75% of these students received passing grades in their mainstream classes, these students consistently received below-average grade point averages (GPAs) (i.e., an overall GPA of .99, or D work). Such patterns indicate a persistent lack of academic success when compared with the grades of students without disabilities (e.g., Wood, Bennett, Wood, & Bennett, 1990). Grading patterns have also been researched as part of the National Longitudinal Transition Study. Valdes, Williamson, and Wagner (1990) reported that 60.2% of secondary students with disabilities had GPAs of 2.24 (i.e., C+) or lower, with 35.4% having a GPA below 1.74 (i.e., C-). In addition, they reported that over one third of the students with disabilities who were enrolled in general education classes had at least one failing grade. These data on grading patterns were complemented by discouraging data on school success reported more recently by McLeskey and Grizzle (1992).

The apparent pattern of poor grade performance among students with learning disabilities has led to greater attention on the part of researchers to grading policies and classroom grading practices. A recent national survey of grading policies was conducted by Polloway, Epstein, Bursuck, Roderique, McConeghy, and Jayanthi (1994b). These researchers found that the majority of local school districts (64.9%) did have a policy governing grading; further, over 60% of the districts with a policy indicated that the policy provided for modifications in grading practices for students with disabilities. The two most common ways that modifications were determined were through the development of individualized education programs (IEPs) or through decisions generated by an existing committee structure (e.g., pupil evaluation team). Polloway et al. (1994b) also examined district policies with regard to types of grades recommended or required and the standards used to arrive at these grades. They found that the types of grades most often stated in policies included letter grades at the elementary level, with an increasing trend towards number grades at the secondary level. Most commonly, these grades were to be based on percentage cutoffs, which, as they noted, may lack flexibility and have negative implications for students with disabilities. Also, only 12% of the respondents indicated that their policies called for shared grading systems between special and general education teachers.



As school districts develop grading policies, many are concerned about grading standards and students with disabilities. For example, should grading standards be the same for everyone, or can grading standards be modified or adapted for students with disabilities? Valdes et al. (1990) reported that 64.2% of secondary students with disabilities in general education were graded on the same standards as their peers without disabilities. On the other hand, 74.3% of students in special education classes were graded on standards deemed different from those used in general education.

Recent studies have shown that general education teachers are concerned about how and whether to make grading adaptations for students with disabilities. For example, Rojewski, Pollard, and Meers (1990), reporting on the grading practices of vocational educators who taught students with disabilities, found that teachers were concerned about how to determine clear, yet appropriate, standards for their students with disabilities. Two recent studies on general classroom intervention strategies for students with disabilities (i.e., Ellett, 1993; Schumm & Vaughn, 1991) have provided additional data about the desirability or reasonability (i.e., feasibility) of specific grading adaptations. Ellett's (1993) research included 35 strategies that were rated by secondary school teachers, with four related to grading practices. Two items had relatively high rankings on a 4-point scale for reasonability: posting or sharing grades on a regular basis (3.33) and talking with parents about efforts to improve grades (3.29). Two others had relatively low reasonability ratings: providing additional ways to improve grades such as through extra-credit work (2.94) and reducing grades on late assignments (2.90). Schumm and Vaughn's (1991) list of 30 possible classroom adaptations included only one with explicit attention to grading (i.e., adapting scoring or grading criteria); teachers rated this adaptation least desirable (i.e., number 30 out of the possible 30). Its unattractiveness to teachers is important in that if a treatment or classroom adaptation is not acceptable to a consumer or teacher, he or she is not likely to implement it (Witt & Elliott, 1985).

These few studies have indicated that general education teachers may not have a positive view of grading adaptations. But we should be cautious in drawing any conclusions on grading practices from these studies. As we have stated, most studies of classroom interventions have paid relatively limited attention to grading practices and adaptations. This paucity of data is unfortunate since students with disabilities in general education classrooms, many of whom are trying to meet increasing academic standards despite their below-average skills, may be in dire need of some grading adaptations. Consequently, we need to pay more attention to the grading practices of general education teachers, as well as the type of adaptations in grading that can be made for students with disabilities who are integrated into these classes.

The general objective of the current research study was to gather information about grading practices in general education classrooms nationwide, particularly as these practices relate to students with disabilities. Specifically, the study was designed to answer the following research questions.

1. What types of report card grades are used by general education teachers and how helpful are these grades for mainstreamed students with disabilities and students without disabilities? Do the types of grades and perceived utility of these grades differ for students with and without disabilities? Do they differ according to educational level (i.e., elementary, middle/junior high, and high school)?

2. What grading adaptations are used by general education teachers for mainstreamed students with disabilities? How helpful are these adaptations? Do the types and utility of adaptations differ according to educational level?

3. What grading adaptations are used by general education teachers for their students without disabilities? Does the type of adaptations used vary according to educational level?

4. On what requirements do general education teachers base their grades? Which requirements count more than others?

5. Are general education teachers using portfolios to show student's effort, progress, and achievement in class? Do general education teachers find portfolios helpful for their students with disabilities? Do general education teachers adapt or modify their portfolios for students with disabilities?

6. Who is primarily responsible for determining report card grades for mainstreamed students with disabilities - general education teachers, special education teachers, or both?

7. How often is the performance of mainstreamed students with and without disabilities reported to their parents? Does the frequency of performance reports differ for students with and without disabilities? Does it differ according to educational level?

8. Do general education teachers perceive grading adaptations for students with disabilities as fair? Why or why not?



A full listing of all local school districts providing educational services (N = 15,713) was generated from a U.S. Department of Education index (i.e., Common Core of Data Public School Universe, 1986-87). We then selected a stratified random sample of 650 districts with at least three schools within the district, according to the following demographic criteria:

* Location of the district (i.e., within a center city, within a standard metropolitan statistical area [SMSA], or outside of such an area; such a classification generally allows for consideration of urban, suburban, and rural distinctions, respectively).

* Geographical area within the nine census regions of the country (i.e., Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, East North Central, West North Central, South Atlantic, East South Central, West South Central, Mountain, Pacific).

* Type of school district (e.g., independent or shared superintendent).

* Enrollment of the district.

We selected three schools at random from each of the 650 districts, for a total of 1,950 schools. We wrote to the principals of each of these schools, requesting them to randomly select three general education teachers to subsequently receive a copy of a survey to complete.

Because the survey of grading practices was part of a larger project investigating home-school collaboration also in the areas of testing and homework practices, only one of the three teachers identified from each school actually completed a survey on grading. The other two teachers completed surveys on testing and homework practices. Specific surveys (i.e., homework, testing, grading) were assigned to teachers on a random basis.


The survey on grading practices was developed in the following manner:

1. We conducted an initial survey of general education teachers, special education teachers, and parents. This was an open-ended survey on grading policies and practices and their demands and effects on students with disabilities. Using responses to this survey, we constructed the survey on grading practices, formatting questions to cover key aspects of grading practices and adaptations (Jayanthi, Bursuck, & Epstein, 1992).

2. We conducted a literature review on grading adaptations for students with disabilities and added selected items to the survey.

3. We asked a team of four researchers to review the survey, using the group-mind process (Sudman & Bradburn, 1983). In this process, "co-workers of the questionnaire designer, who have been given a draft of the questionnaire earlier, meet in a group session to tear it apart (p. 283). The group met on three occasions to review and revise the survey.

4. Next, we gave the survey to 20 teachers, who were asked to review the instructions and the specific items and identify any material that required further clarification. Based on this input, we completed a final version of the survey.

The final survey was four pages long and consisted of a series of items about report card grading practices.

The survey included 10 questions related to grading practices. These included the following topics:

* Types of report card grades.

* Types of report card grading adaptations.

* Percentage of students' report card grades determined by specific requirements.

* Responsibility for determining report card grades for students with disabilities.

* The fairness of grading adaptations made only for students with disabilities.

* The use of portfolios.

* Communication procedures with parents.

In terms of formats, three of the questions contained subitems requiring response by Likert-type scales (1-4 points); five questions required respondents to select one answer; one question asked respondents to identify all statements that were applicable; and one question required respondents to estimate percentages across a series of classroom assignments.


The initial mailing to the principals of the 1,950 schools included a cover letter, a request for the names of three teachers, instructions for random selection of the teachers, a draft copy of the survey, and a return envelope. We sent reminder letters (N = 1,678) to principals who did not respond approximately I month later. These combined efforts resulted in responses from 708 principals (36.3%), providing the names of 2,124 teachers (3 teachers each x 708 responses), a third of which were to be invited to participate in the report card grading practices survey. The remaining 1,416 teachers participated in the testing and homework surveys. (A small number of principals [N = 42] inadvertently had a teacher complete a draft copy of the survey at this stage; these data were not included in the final analysis.)

The 708 teachers participating in the current survey were mailed a cover letter describing the purposes of the study, a copy of the survey, and a return envelope. We asked teachers if they had experience with mainstreamed students with disabilities; if not, we asked the teachers to pass the survey along to a colleague who had such experience. We offered incentives for completion (e.g., a copy of the results, participation in a prize drawing). A reminder letter and another copy of the survey were sent to nonrespondents approximately 1 month later. The two mailings produced a total of 368 responses, for an overall response rate of 52.0%.


To analyze the results, we developed a database for the demographic information and respective survey items, using the Number Cruncher Statistical System (Hintze, 1990). We developed response codes for each of the variables, and then a research assistant (i.e., an undergraduate education student) entered the data. A second student assistant reviewed all the data entries and checked for and corrected any keystroke errors. Agreement was reached on greater than 99% of the items scored. Those responses on which agreement had not been reached were reviewed; mutual agreement was reached through consensus and subsequent corrections made as needed.

The initial analysis focused on the type of school district represented by the responses. Of the total responses received in terms of location, 62 (16.8%) were from a center city, 141 (38.3%) were from an SMSA, and 165 (44.8%) were not from an SMSA. The geographical distribution across census regions was as follows: New England (11; 3.0%); Middle Atlantic (46; 12.5%); East North Central (81; 22.0%); West North Central (39; 10.6%); South Atlantic (56; 15.2%); East South Central (28; 7.6%); West South Central (46; 12.5%); Mountain (24; 6.5%); and Pacific (37; 10.1%). Surveys were returned from teachers representing all census regions and geographic locations; however, the responses were not statistically representative of the original sample of school districts selected. The teaching assignment breakdown for the respondents was as follows: elementary - 201 (57%), middle/junior high - 63 (18%), and high school - 72 (21%).

The first few items on the survey asked teachers to provide demographic data and information relative to their training and experience with students with disabilities (see Tables 1 and 2). The demographic data were further examined as the basis for subsequent analyses. The years of experience of teachers were grouped as follows: 0-4, 5-12, 13-20, and more than 21 years. Frequency data are reflected in Table 1.

Demographic Characteristics I

Characteristic         No.    %


Female                 296   80
Male                    67   18
Not identified           5    1


Range                23-68
Mean                  41.6

Educational level

B.A.                173      47
MEd./M.A.           184      50
Ed.S.                 5       1
Other                 6       2

Years experience

0-4                  52      14
5-12                 88      23
13-20               123      33
21 or more          108      29

The second area of importance was training. Of particular note are the two questions on this topic (see Table 2). Further analysis of these data for all individuals responding indicates the following: 110 (30.6%) teachers had both taken classes and received inservice training on mainstreaming, 164 (45.7%) had either taken classes or received training on the topic, and 88 (34.7%) had not participated in either form of professional preparation. In terms of training specific to grading adaptations, of those who had received generic mainstreaming training and responded to this question, 56 (40%) received training on grading in both venues and 32 (22.8%) through one or the other means, while 52 (37.1%) did not have training relative to grading practices.


The first two content questions on the survey focused on the helpfulness of specific types of report card grades for students with and without disabilities. Paired t-tests were run for each of the six types of grades. Letter grades, t = 14.03, p = .000, and number/percentage grades, t = 14.92, p = .000, were rated more useful for students without disabilities; pass-fail grades, t = 5.78, p = .000, were rated more useful for students with disabilities. Table 3 summarizes the six types of report card grades and the responses given by teachers for students with and without disabilities.

Difference scores (i.e., the difference between ratings for types of grades used with students with and without disabilities) were then computed from the ratings for each of the six types of report card grades. For example, the overall difference between ratings for letter grades is 3.11 - 2.40 or.71. These difference scores were then used to compare the responses of teachers across the three levels of schooling (i.e., elementary, middle, high school). None of these analyses across the six types of grades yielded significant differences.

The next questions focused on the helpfulness of report card grading adaptations for students with and without disabilities. Respondents were asked to evaluate the helpfulness of 10 specific adaptations involving modifications in grading standards or procedures for students with disabilities. These data are summarized in Table 4.

As Table 4 shows, there was a significant difference across level of schooling in only one area: elementary teachers are more likely than both junior high/middle and high school teachers to pass students no matter what. No significant item differences were found across the four categories of years of experience. Two items yielded significant differences for training. Specifically, teachers with some training on grading adaptations were more likely to find that separate grades for process and product were helpful than were teachers who had not received general training on mainstreaming or training on grading, X2 = 9.05, p = .01. On the other hand, teachers who had received such training on adaptations were less likely to rate as helpful that students be passed if they make an effort, X2 = 11.4, p = .01. The level of significance was set at p < .01 to minimize the possibility of a finding being significant because of the number of comparisons being made, (i.e., a type 1 error).


Another question asked teachers which of these adaptations they used for students without disabilities. Table 5 shows responses to this question across the three school levels. Approximately 50% of all teachers report using certain specific grading adaptations for their students without disabilities, including basing grades on improvement, giving multiple grades (e.g., grades for tests and effort), and making individual adjustments to grading weights (e.g., counting projects more than tests for some students). In addition, approximately 25%-40% of the teachers are making other grading adaptations, such as adjusting grades according to students' ability, basing grades on meeting the requirements of academic or behavioral contracts, modifying grading scales, and passing students if they make the effort to pass.

The data for students without disabilities were also analyzed for differences among the three school levels, using a chi-square analysis (see Table 5). Significant differences for level were found for several items. Elementary school teachers were more likely than either middle or high school teachers to base grades on less content than the rest of the class, and to adjust grades according to student ability, X2 = 17. 1 0, p = 000; X2 = 18.83, p = .000, respectively. Junior/middle school teachers were more likely than high school teachers to adjust grades according to student ability, X2 = 18.83, p = .000. No differences were found based on the amount of teaching experience. In terms of the training background of teachers, the only item yielding a significant difference was the use of separate process/product grades; teachers trained in the use of adaptations were more likely to indicate the use of such an adaptation, X2 = 9.47, p = .002.


The fifth question focused on the percentage of students' report card grades that is determined by specific requirements. A total of 10 items were listed, and respondents were asked to assign a percentage value (or "does not count") to each of the 10 items, initially for students with disabilities and subsequently for students without disabilities. Responses essentially represented teacher estimates of the relative value of these potential bases for grades. (The summary of the responses to both parts of this question is in Table 6.) The results indicate that regardless of level of schooling, tests/quizzes and in-class work/homework account for a majority of students' grades. In addition, these percentages do not appear to differ substantially for students with and without disabilities. Averages were also computed for years of experience and training. For these two variables, the pattern of responses was similar to the data in Table 6. First, there was a consistent finding that in-class work/homework and tests/quizzes were the two primary bases for report card grades in all instances. Second, there were no differences of any magnitude between ratings for students with and without disabilities.


Next, respondents were asked to indicate who was primarily responsible for determining report card grades for students with disabilities. Forty-nine percent of the teachers said that general educators assumed primary responsibility for assigning report card grades; 42% of the teachers responded that responsibility for grading was shared by the special and general education teachers. 8.9% of the teachers indicated that the special education teacher had primary responsibility for grading.

Respondents were then asked if, in their opinion, it was fair if grading adaptations were made only for students with disabilities. A total of 90 (26.6%) of the 338 respondents to this question indicated that such a practice would be fair, while 248 (73.4%) indicated that such adaptations in grading would not be fair. A closer examination of these responses by level of schooling indicated that a total of 50 of the elementary teachers (25.5%), 16 of the middle school teachers (29.6%), and 18 of the secondary teachers (25.7%) felt that adaptations made only for students with disabilities would be fair.

Some interesting responses were received in response to an open-ended question that asked for the rationale for the teacher's choice of fair versus not fair. A total of 74 of the 90 teachers (82.2%) who thought such practices were fair provided a rationale. These reasons were categorized as follows (examples from each category are in parentheses, as well as sample responses):

1. Effort (n = 9) ("Students with disabilities are fighting uphill battles. Effort should be rewarded. Effort is also rewarded for `other' students also - effort should always be rewarded"). 2. Problem is inherent in the child or directly related to his or her disability (n = 24) (e.g., "If the regular students can do the work, they should be expected to. The disabled students should not be punished for a handicapping condition"). 3. Needed adaptations/modifications (n = 22) ("Children with disabilities need adaptations so they can learn just like children without disabilities"). 4. Other (n = 20) ("My problem is that the general education teacher is not told who the students with IEPs are").

A total of 219 of the 248 (88.3%) respondents who thought such responses were unfair provided a written rationale. These reasons were categorized as follows:

1. Do not meet the requirements for special education (n = 55) ("Some students may not qualify for the categories that determine that they have a disability. These students should have adaptations also"). 2. Extenuating circumstances (n = 31) ("There could be other extenuating circumstances [e.g., death in the family, extensive moves, abuse] that could be handicapping for students and should be taken into consideration"). 3. Everyone is unique (n = 74) ("Each student is different, and individual differences must be considered when grading"). 4. Mainstreamed status (requires standards) (n = 14) ("If they are mainstreamed, then they need to be graded according to the mainstream"). 5. Other (n = 45) ("Other kids are resentful").

The survey also attempted to ascertain the degree of usage of the portfolio system in evaluating students' efforts and achievement in class. A total of 138 teachers (39.4%) indicated that portfolios were used to some extent in their classroom. Those who indicated that they used portfolios were then asked to rate their helpfulness (1-4 scale). The overall rating was 3.36. Further, those who used portfolios were asked if they had adapted or modified portfolios for students with disabilities. A total of 39 (29.3%) of the 133 respondents answering this question indicated that they had made such adaptations or modifications in their use of portfolios.

The next two questions focused on the frequency with which information on the performance of students both with and without disabilities was reported to parents. Table 7 summarizes these two sets of data. A chi-square analysis revealed that elementary school teachers communicate more frequently with parents than do middle/junior and high school teachers (for students with disabilities, [X.sup.2] = 23.26; df= 8; p = .003; for students without disabilities, [X.sup.2] = 26.06; df= 8; p = .001). Middle/junior and high school teachers tend to communicate with parents primarily on a monthly or quarterly basis. There is some indication, however, that teachers make exceptions, especially for students with disabilities. At the middle/junior high school level, 20% of the teachers communicated with parents of students with disabilities either every week or every 2 weeks, as opposed to 9% of teachers doing the same for students without disabilities. Similarly, 17.7% of high school teachers said they communicated more frequently (i.e., weekly or biweekly) with parents of students with disabilities about grades; in contrast, only 6.2% did the same for students without disabilities. Analyses of responses by years of experience and by training yielded no significant differences, respectively.



Letter Grades Versus Pass-Fail Grades

The results of this national survey of teacher report card grading practices have implications for students both with and without disabilities. With respect to the utility of various types of grades, teachers at all levels found letter and number grades to be more helpful for students without disabilities, and pass-fail and checklist-type grades more helpful for students with disabilities. This finding is disturbing in view of recent research by Polloway et al. (1994b) indicating that over 80% of school district grading policies mandated letter grades. Unfortunately, although teachers may believe that letter grades are not helpful for students with disabilities, they are not likely to be in a position where they can ignore district policy. The logical outcome of this dichotomy is the high percentage of low grades reportedly given to students with disabilities (Donohue & Zigmond, 1990; Valdes et al., 1990; Zigmond et al., 1985).

Willingness to Adapt Grades Versus Practice in

Adapting Grades

The results of this survey, however, indicate that many teachers are willing to modify the criteria on which grades for students with disabilities are made. This willingness to modify grades is consistent with Polloway et al.'s (1994b) study, which indicated that 60% of school districts having a grading policy included stipulations for adaptations for students with disabilities within their policies. Unfortunately, it is unclear in this case whether grading policy influenced grading practices or vice versa. For example,. Polloway et al.'s (1994b) study did find several adaptations to be helpful:

* Basing grades on improvement or IEP objectives. * Giving separate grades for effort. * Adjusting grades and grading weights according to ability.

In fact, approximately one half of the teachers responded that they found these same adaptations useful for students without disabilities, as well. This finding is in contrast to Sullivan and Bryan (1995), who reported that teachers in general education were more likely to believe that work (albeit homework in that study) should be graded the same for all students.

Interestingly, while general education teachers, particularly at the junior high and high school levels, are reluctant to pass students no matter what, they do seem somewhat more receptive to passing students who make an effort. This finding is consistent with several other studies in the literature (Calhoun, 1986; Rojewski, Pollard, & Meers, 1992) and worthy of comment. While the intentions of giving students, particularly students with disabilities, credit to keep them motivated appears appropriate, the effects of such practices have yet to be verified. For example, grading for effort could prevent students from receiving much-needed assistance by creating the illusion that they are making adequate progress. Ultimately, grading for effort could have negative implications if students are so deficient in skills and content that they may be unable to graduate or obtain gainful employment after graduation. It remains quite speculative as to whether this intended effect of grading for effort may have been the reason why teachers who had received training in adaptations were less likely to find this option helpful.

As Vasa (1981) and Carpenter, Grantham, and Hardister (1983) have said, perhaps the heart of the problem lies in expecting one grade to communicate multiple messages (e.g., progress, peer comparison, effort) to multiple audiences (e.g., parents, teachers, administrators, employers). It may be preferable for schools to consider using multiple grades or multiple coding systems (Carpenter et al., 1983; Friend & Bursuck, 1996) to communicate student performance in school more clearly. The precise effects of these and other grading practices on variables such as student learning and motivation will also need to be systematically investigated.

How Grades Are Determined

With regard to which class requirements figured heavily into determining grades, the results indicated that at all levels, and across levels of experience and training, homework, tests, and quizzes accounted for most of students' grades. This finding has the following implications for teachers:

1. Students will need independent learning strategies for taking tests and organizing their assignments if they are to have a chance to improve their grades. As several researchers have indicated (Bos & Vaughn, 1994; Bursuck & Jayanthi, 1993; Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1988), students with disabilities are likely to have serious difficulties in both of these areas. 2. Homework and tests will sometimes have to be adapted. Several recent studies (e.g., Jayanthi, Epstein, Polloway, & Bursuck, in press; Polloway, Epstein, Bursuck, Jayanthi, & Cumblad, 1994a) including this one, have shown that teachers are willing to adapt, and find adaptations helpful - but many teachers have not had the training needed to make specific adaptations on their own. 3. General education teachers will need to be trained to develop valid classroom tests (Wood, Miederhoff, & Ulschmid, 1989) and use homework more effectively (Cooper & Nye, 1994) to prevent many problems from occurring in the first place.

Home-School Communication

Another important issue involves the extent of home-school communication about report card grading. Our survey indicated that elementary school teachers communicate much more frequently with parents about grades than do either junior high/middle or high school teachers, though these frequencies vary for students with disabilities; junior high/middle and high school teachers tended to communicate somewhat more frequently with parents of students with disabilities. This finding of fewer home-school contacts in the upper grades parallels similar research on home-school communication in the areas of homework (Polloway et al., 1994a) and testing Uayanthi et al., 1992). Recent studies in the area of home-school communication related to homework have shown that parents and teachers have serious concerns about home-school contacts; interestingly, each believed the other did not initiate communication, communicate frequently enough, communicate early enough before problems got worse, and respond often enough (Jayanthi, Nelson, Sawyer, Bursuck, & Epstein, 1995). Jayanthi et al. (1995) also reported that several factors contributed to these home-school communication problems:

* Parents and teachers lack sufficient time and opportunity to communicate. * Parents and teachers lack the knowledge, understanding, or awareness necessary for communication. * Parent, teacher, and student attitudes, abilities, and behaviors may hinder communication.

Clearly, future research should examine further issues of home-school communication on students' grades, particularly at the junior/middle and high school levels.

Responsibility for Report Card Grading

The results concerning the responsibility for report card grading indicated that general educators assumed complete responsibility for grading about half of the time; and special and general educators worked collaboratively on grades about 40% of the time. This finding could be viewed as being either positive or negative.

On the negative side, half of all general education teachers, many of whom have little or no special training, are solely responsible for grading students with disabilities. This lack of training may account for the tendencies previously mentioned of passing students if they try, and not using multiple grades to communicate student performance more clearly.

On the positive side, fully 40% of the general education teachers shared the responsibility for grading with special education teachers. While related research on homework Uayanthi et al., 1995) has indicated that there are communication problems between special and general educators, shared grading would appear to be at least a step in the right direction. Future studies should examine the process by which general and special education teachers arrive at grades.


Findings regarding the use of portfolios to measure student performance are encouraging: Approximately 40% of all teachers surveyed used portfolios and felt that portfolios were helpful for their students with disabilities. This finding is consistent with Poteet, Choate, and Stewart's (1993) contention that because portfolios allow a number of alternative options for demonstrating knowledge, stress functional outcomes, and de-emphasize traditional classroom tests, they can be of great potential benefit to students with disabilities who are likely to be poor test takers (Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1988). Portfolios also encourage self-evaluation, another area in which many students with disabilities need direct assistance (Bursuck & Jayanthi, 1993; Ellis, Lenz, & Sabornie, 1987). Still, as Poteet et al. (1993) have pointed out, there are potential practical, legal, and technical adequacy problems involved in using portfolio assessments with students with special needs. Much future research remains before precise recommendations on how to use performance assessment with students with disabilities can be made (Coutinho & Malouf, 1993).


Responses to the fairness question were quite revealing. Fairness is an issue frequently raised at teacher inservice sessions yet infrequently written about in the research literature. In this survey, teachers were asked whether it was fair if grading adaptations were made only for students with disabilities. Only about a quarter of the teachers felt this was fair, thus giving rise to the question of the treatment acceptability of such a recommended classroom adaptation. Most teachers, however, indicated the reason that the adaptations would be unfair was that adaptations were made available only to students with disabilities, not necessarily because they represented a lowering of standards or a lack of consistency. Teachers wanted adaptations to be considered for all students, regardless of whether they had a diagnosed disability. As we enter a period in public education in which diversity will be the rule, rather than the exception (Franklin, 1992; Lewis & Doorlag, 1991), this general sensitivity to individual needs is encouraging. However, as discussed previously, multiple grades or supplemental comments may need to be used to ensure clear communication across all consumers of grades (Carpenter et al., 1983; Friend & Bursuck, 1996).

Limitations of This Study

While instructive, this study is not without limitations. First, because the data are essentially self-report in nature, their accuracy may be viewed as questionable. Certainly these findings will need to be validated further using direct observation or teacher logs and journals. Second, the respondents were not representative statistically of the original sample of school districts because of an underrepresentation of certain geographical areas in the responses from principals. Still, given that each of the nine geographical census regions was represented, and that there was a relatively high return rate, the issue of sample representativeness may not be an important limitation. Finally, the sample is restricted to those general education teachers who volunteered to complete and return the survey; thus, the results do not inform us of the 48% who did not respond to the survey.


The results of this study leave some room for optimism. Though the respondents did not view grades as necessarily beneficial for students with disabilities, many teachers indicated that they were willing to adapt classroom grades for students with and without disabilities by changing the criteria on which grades are based. Significant numbers of teachers were also using supplements to more traditional grading systems, such as portfolios. Nonetheless, the impact that the various types of grades and grading systems have on students with disabilities is largely unknown. The topic of grading effects is a difficult area in which to do experimental research; but studies of these effects have a great potential for making school a more positive experience for all students.


WILLIAM BURSUCK (CEC #336), Professor, Faculty of Special Education, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb. EDWARD A. POLLOWAY (CEC #178), Dean of the School of Education and Human Development, Lynchburg College, Lynchburg, Virginia. LISA PLANTE, Teacher, Bedford Hills Elementary School, Lynchburg City Schools, Lynchburg, Virginia. MICHAEL H. LEPSTEIN (CEC #466), Professor, Faculty of Special Education, Northern Illinois UNiversity, DeKalb. MADHAVI JAYANTHI (CEC #466) Research Scientist, West Chicago, Illinois. JAN MCCONEGHY, Associate Director of Public Opinion Lab, DeKalb, Illinois.


Bos, C. S., & Vaughn, S. (1994). Strategies for teaching students with learning and behavior problems. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Bursuck, W D., & Jayanthi, M. (1993). Strategy instruction: Programming for independent study skill usage. In S. Vogel & P. Adelman (Eds.), Success for college students with learning disabilities (pp. 177-205). New York: Springer-Verlag. Calhoun, M. L. (1986). Interpreting report card grades in secondary schools: Perceptions of handicapped and nonhandicapped students. Diagnostique, 11, 117-124. Carpenter, D. (1985). Grading handicapped pupils: Review and position statement. Remedial and Special Education, 6(4), 54-59. Carpenter, D., Grantham, L. B., & Hardister, M. (1983). Grading mainstreamed handicapped pupils: What are the issues? The Journal of Special Education, 17(2), 183-188. Cooper, H., & Nye, B. (1994). Homework for students with learning disabilities: The implications of research for policy and practice. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 27(8), 470-480. Coutinho, M., & Malouf, D. (1993). Performance assessment and children with disabilities: Issues and possibilities. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 25(4), 62-67. Donahue, K., & Zigmond, N. (1990). Academic grades of ninth-grade urban learning disabled students and low-achieving peers. Exceptionality, 1, 17-27. Ellett, L. (1993). Instructional practices in mainstreamed secondary classrooms. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 26, 57-64. Ellis, E. S., Lenz, B. K., & Sabornie, E. J. (1987). Generalization and adaptation of learning strategies to natural environments: Part 2: Research into practice. Remedial and special education, 8(2), 6-23. Franklin, M. E. (1992). Culturally sensitive instructional practices for African-American learners with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 59, 115-122. Friend, M., & Bursuck, W D. (1996). Including students with special needs: A practical guide for teachers. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Hintze, J. L. (1990). Number cruncher statistical system. Kaysville, UT: Author. Jayanthi, M., Bursuck, W D., & Epstein, M. H. (1992). A survey of parents and teachers regarding classroom grading practices and their impact on students with disabilities. [Unpublished data set]. Jayanthi, M., Epstein, M. H., Polloway, E. A., & Bursuck, W D. (in press). Testing adaptations: A national survey of the testing practice of general education teachers. Submitted for publication. Jayanthi, M., Nelson, J. S., Sawyer, V, Bursuck, W D., & Epstein, M. H. (1995). Homework-Communication problems among parents, general education, and special education teachers: An exploratory study. Remedial and Special Education, 16(2), 102-116. Lewis, R. B., & Doorlag, D. (1991). Teaching special students in the mainstream. Columbus, OH: Merrill. McLeskey, J., & Grizzle, K. L. (1992). Grade retention rates among students with learning disabilities. Exceptional Children, 58, 548-554. Polloway, E. A., Epstein, M. H., Bursuck, W D., Jayanthi, M., & Cumblad, C. (1994a). Homework practices of general education teachers. Journal of Learning disabilities, 27(8), 500-509. Polloway, E. A., Epstein, M. H., Bursuck, W D., Roderique, T W, McConeghy, J., & Jayanthi, M. (1994b). Classroom grading: A national survey of policies. Remedial and Special Education, 15, 162-170. Poteet, J. A., Choate, J. S., & Stewart, S. C. (1993). Performance assessment and special education: Practices and prospects. Focus on Exceptional Children, 26(l), 1-20. Rojewski, J. W., Pollard, R. R., & Meers, G. D. (1990). Grading mainstreamed special needs students: Determining practices and attitudes of secondary vocational educators using a qualitative approach. Remedial and Special Education, 12(1), 7-28. Rojewski, J. W, Pollard, R. P., & Meers, G. D. (1992). Grading secondary vocational education students with disabilities: A national perspective. Exceptional Children, 59,68-76. Schumm, J. S., & Vaughn, S. (1991). Making adaptations for mainstreamed students: General classroom teachers' perspectives. Remedial and Special Education, 12(4), 18-27. Scruggs, T E., & Mastropieri, M. (1988). Are learning disabled students "test-wise"? A review of recent research. Learning Disabilities Focus, 3(2), 87-97. Sudman, S., & Bradburn, N. M. (1983). Asking questions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Sullivan, K. & Bryan, T. (1995). Teachers' reflections on collaborative action research. Unpublished manuscript, Arizona State University. U. S. Department of Education. (1986-1987). Common core of data public school universe. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Valdes, K. A., Williamson, C. L., & Wagner, M. M. (1990). The National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students (Vol. 1). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 324 893) Vasa, S. F. (1981). Alternative procedures for grading handicapped students in the secondary schools. Education Unlimited 3, 16-23. Witt, J. C., & Elliott, S. N. (1985). Acceptability of classroom management strategies. In T. R. Kratochwill (Ed.), Advances in school psychology. (Vol. 4, pp. 251-288). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Wood, J.W., Miederhoff, J. W, & Ulschmid, B. (1989). Adapting test construction for mainstreamed social studies students. Social Education, 53(1), 46-49. Wood, P. H., Bennett, T., Wood, J., & Bennett, C. (1990). Grading and evaluation practices and policies of school teachers. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 319 782) Zigmond, N., Levin, E., & Laurie, T (1985). Managing the mainstream: An analysis for teacher attitudes and student performance in mainstream high school programs. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 18, 535-541.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.