Grading and Reporting for Educational Equity

Educational equity means ensuring just outcomes for each student, raising marginalized voices, and challenging the imbalance of power and privilege.

The purpose of a grading system is to give feedback to students so they can take charge of their learning and to provide information to all who support these students—teachers, special educators, parents, and others. The purpose of a reporting system is to communicate the students’ achievement to families, post-secondary institutions, and employers. These systems must, above all, communicate clear information about the skills a student has mastered or the areas where they need more support or practice. When schools use grades to reward or punish students, or to sort students into levels, imbalances in power and privilege will be magnified and the purposes of the grading and reporting systems will not be achieved. This guide is intended to highlight the central practices that schools can use to ensure that their grading and reporting systems help them build a nurturing, equitable, creative, and dynamic culture of learning.

The following tenets must be at the core of the school’s grading and reporting practices:

Communicate Information About Learning

Effective grading systems communicate information about learning to help students be proactive, overcome failures, and excel. In equitable schools and classrooms, grades will never be used as rewards, punishments, or tools to force compliance.

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Design Clear Grading & Reporting Guidelines

When each teacher designs their own unique grading system, consistency becomes impossible. Clear, collaboratively- designed school guidelines for grading and reporting, known and followed by everyone, help create a school culture that supports all students.

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Use Common Rubrics or Scoring Guides

An essential practice for educational equity is establishing clear, agreed-upon learning outcomes and defining the criteria for meeting those outcomes. These descriptions of what mastery looks like are powerful tools for learning, teaching, and assessment design.

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Provide Low- Stakes Practice & Feedback

In order for students to learn from practice and feedback, they need chances to practice, make mistakes, and get feedback based on common scoring criteria, without worrying that early mistakes will count heavily against them.

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Report on Habits of Work Separately

Separating habits of work from academic proficiency ensures that a student’s good behavior or work habits cannot mask a lack of proficiency, and that a student’s poor behavior or work habits cannot mask their attainment of proficiency.

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Organize Grade Books Consistently

Design grade book categories in such a way that they will yield the most useful information to educators and learners. The method used for organizing information in gradebooks should be consistent across the school.

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Technical Aspects of Grading:

Report Grades Clearly and Consistently

The numerals, letters, or other codes used to designate various levels of achievement or proficiency should be clear, easy to understand, and connected to common scoring guides or rubrics; they should also be used in a consistent way by all teachers.

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Establish a Process for Determining Course or Standards Grades

Agree upon a consistent method for determining a final grade from multiple assessment grades. (Note: A separate verification system may be built in order to ensure that students can meet standards through internships or out-of-school projects.)

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Definition of Terms

Grading System: The system that a school has developed to guide how teachers assess and grade student work.

Reporting System: The system that a school has developed for the organization of assignment scores in gradebooks (either online or paper), and the determination of final grades for report cards and transcripts.

Considerations for Schools or Districts When Redesigning Grading Systems

The central challenge for all schools is to create a vibrant and supportive culture of learning. In schools where this culture exists, the faculty believe they can teach all students to reach high standards and have designed school-wide systems to help students get there. Grading and reporting systems can play an important role in helping schools create this culture of high expectations and nurturing support.

In the work of making grading equitable, schools should initially shift culture through the tenets that focus on classroom practice, rather than starting with a change of the symbols that will be used on report cards. Begin redesign efforts by working on common scoring criteria, assessment design, calibration of scoring, opportunities for low-stakes practice and feedback, and systems of academic support. Remember, the point of improving the grading system is to make grading fair, informative, and transparent so students can focus on learning, creating, and growing.

We are grateful to the many extraordinary schools and districts that have contributed to this guide. Their work exemplifies what it means to strive for educational equity.

Download a Printable Version of the Complete Grading and Reporting for Educational Equity Booklet

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This tool depends on the input and advice of many individual educators, schools, and districts. In no particular order, we would like to thank:

  • Joy Nolan of New York City’s Mastery Collaborative
  • Mike McRaith, assistant executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association
  • Michael Martin, Ed.D., Director of Learning for South Burlington School District, VT
  • Barbara Maling, principal of York Middle School, York, ME
  • Adam Bunting, Katherine Riley, Emily Rinkema, and Stan Williams of Champlain Valley Union High School, VT
  • Sarah Goodman, principal of Hunter’s Point Community Middle School, Long Island City, NY
  • Jonathan Pratt, Academic Dean at Foxcroft Academy, Dover-Foxcroft, Maine

The faculties and leaders of the following schools and districts:

  • The school district of Waukesha, Wisconsin
  • The school district of Kittery, Maine
  • Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine 
  • Frank McCourt High School, New York City, New York
  • Orville H. Platt High School and Francis T. Maloney High School in Meriden, Connecticut
  • Maine School Administrative District #6: Bonny Eagle
  • University Park Campus High School in Worcester, Massachusetts
  • The school district of Durango, Colorado
  • Champlain Valley Union High School in Vermont
  • Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine
  • Hunter’s Point Community Middle School, Long Island City, New York
  • Noble High School, North Berwick, Maine
  • The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria in Queens, New York
  • York Middle School, York, Maine
  • Montpelier High School, Montpelier, Vermont
  • AR Gould School in the Long Creek Youth Development Center, South Portland, ME