Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Grades That Mean Something: Kentucky Develops Standards-Based Report Cards a Group of Teachers, School Leaders, and Education Researchers Create Report Cards That Link Course Grades to Student Progress on Mastering State Standards

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Grades That Mean Something: Kentucky Develops Standards-Based Report Cards a Group of Teachers, School Leaders, and Education Researchers Create Report Cards That Link Course Grades to Student Progress on Mastering State Standards

Article excerpt

Nearly all states today have standards for student learning that describe what students should learn and be able to do. Nearly all states also have large-scale accountability assessment programs designed to measure students' proficiency on those standards. Despite these commonalities, schools in each state are left to develop their own standards-based student report cards as the primary means of communicating information about students' performance on state standards.

Although school leaders would undoubtedly like to align their reporting procedures with the same standards and assessments that guide instructional programs, most lack the time and resources to do so. Those few leaders who take up the challenge rarely have expertise in developing effective standards-based reporting forms and inevitably encounter significant design and implementation problems (Guskey & Bailey, 2010).

To help Kentucky educators address this challenge, we worked with a group of teachers and school leaders to develop a common, statewide, standards-based student report card for all grade levels. While some Canadian provinces have used standards-based report cards for many years, Kentucky educators are the first in the U.S. to attempt such a statewide reform. Data from the early implementation demonstrate that schools can implement more effective ways of communicating student learning with little additional work by teachers and that parents and community members can be strong supporters of such reforms. This shows great promise for revolutionizing reporting systems in Kentucky and elsewhere.

STANDARDS-BASED GRADING

Grades have long been identified by those in the measurement community as prime examples of unreliable measurement. Huge differences exist among teachers in the criteria they use when assigning grades. Even in schools where established policies offer guidelines for grading, significant variation remains in individual teachers' grading practices. The unique adaptations teachers use in assigning grades to students with disabilities and English learners make that variation wider still.

These varying grading practices result in part from the lack of formal training teachers receive on grading and reporting. Most teachers have scant knowledge of various grading methods, the advantages and shortcomings of each, or the effects of different grading policies on students. As a result, most simply replicate what they experienced as students. Because the nature of these experiences widely vary, so do the grading practices and policies teachers employ. Rarely do these policies and practices reflect those recommended by researchers and aligned with a standards-based approach.

Standards-based approaches to grading and reporting address these grading dilemmas in two important ways. First, they require teachers to base grades on explicit criteria derived from the articulated learning standards. To assign grades, teachers must analyze the meaning of each standard and decide what evidence best reflects achievement of that specific standard. Second, they compel teachers to distinguish product, process, and progress criteria in assigning grades (Guskey, 2006, 2009).

THE KENTUCKY INITIATIVE

We began our standards-based grading initiative in Kentucky by bringing together educators from three diverse school districts who had been working to develop standards-based report cards, unaware of each other's efforts. District and school leaders, along with teacher leaders from each district were invited to a three-day, summer workshop on standards-based report cards led by researchers with expertise in grading and reporting policies and practices.

The first part of the workshop focused on the unique challenges of standards-based grading, recommended practices in grading and reporting, and methods of applying these practices to students with disabilities and English learners. The second part featured school leaders and teachers working to create two standards-based reporting forms: one for grades K-5, and another for grades 6-12. …

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