Grading Students in Inclusive Settings

By Salend, Spencer J.; Garrick Duhaney, Laurel M. | Teaching Exceptional Children, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Grading Students in Inclusive Settings


Salend, Spencer J., Garrick Duhaney, Laurel M., Teaching Exceptional Children


As these situations demonstrate, the issue of grading students is multifaceted and has implications for students, families, and educators. These scenarios indicate that grading is more complex than selecting alternative grading systems to assign report card grades to individual students. Grading is an important issue for all students; but it is especially important for students with disabilities educated in inclusive settings, who tend to receive lower grades than their general education peers (Munk & Bursuck, 2001).

Issues related to grading are further complicated by several factors. One facfor is the conflict between the movement toward more "rigorous standards" and the movement to educate all students in general education settings (Hendrickson & Gable, 1997). Another factor is the limited number of districts that have specific policies to guide educators in grading students (Polloway et al., 1994). Finally, the grading of all students is hindered by the limited training that educators have received regarding the use of effective and legally sound grading practices (Guskey, 1994).

As a result of these factors, many school districts lack current grading policies that are consistent with increased academic standards, best practices in grading, and legal guidelines for grading all students.

This article offers guidelines for determining equitable, accountable, and effective grading practices and policies for all students that balance the need for a common set of standards and the individual needs of students. Though the article is based on the literature on best practices and legal guidelines for grading of students with special needs, it examines these issues within the broader context of improving grading for all students.

Guidelines on Grading

1. Establish a diverse committee to examine, develop, and evaluate the district's grading policies and practices.

Initially, the school district can form a grading-policy committee that includes a diverse group of students, family members, educators, and community members. The inclusion of family and community members helps the committee focus attention on local preferences. To provide access to a wide range of perspectives on grading, the committee should include high- and low-performing students and their family members, community members who represent the diverse groups that reside in the district, and individuals who have knowledge of the legal guidelines related to grading, learning standards, educational assessment, curriculum and instruction.

2. Review the district's current grading policies and practices.

The committee begins its work by reviewing the district's current grading policies and practices. Specifically, the committee examines the district's grading, policies, and practices in terms of the following:

The date they were adopted.

The philosophical and legal framework on which they are based.

The types of grading policies and practices addressed.

The procedures for modifying grading for individual students.

The ways in which individuals are informed about the policies and trained to implement them.

The frequency with which they are evaluated (Polloway et al., 1994).

3. Identify the preferences of students, families, educators, and community members concerning various aspects of grading.

The committee gathers information by interviewing or surveying students, families, educators, and community members to identify their feelings and experiences regarding various aspects of grading (Marzano, 2000). Frequently, the committee uses interviews and surveys to identify the district members' preferences in terms of the purposes of grading. Figure 1 shows the varied purposes of grading.

Interviews and surveys also address the district members' reactions to the different types of referent grading systems: norm-referenced systems, criterion-referenced systems, and self-referenced systems, as follows:

In norm-referenced grading systems, all students are evaluated using the same standards; and their grades are based on their performance in comparison to the performance of others. …

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