- I failed to effectively communicate my vision and purpose to families. Honestly, I don't remember a single student having any issues with standards-based grading, and most families were extremely supportive and even appreciative, but some families resisted. The families that did resist were on the two grading scale extremes. I remember the father of an "A+ student" who seemed more interested in preserving the status quo and seemingly ensuring his daughter would be ahead in the race for valedictorian. On the other end of the spectrum, I had several parents who argued, "If my son does just enough to pass, he should be able to pass." In hindsight, I needed to more clearly communicate--and in multiple ways--why standards-based grading benefits all students.
- I still relied on calculating grades instead of determining grades. I entered the year knowing this would be my biggest hurdle because we were required to enter grades into our grading program, use either a point or a percentage system, and assign exam grades. Knowing averaging falls short of providing an accurate description of what a student has learned, I stuck with a point system because I felt I could better manipulate it to reflect student achievement. I attempted to focus on the most recent evidence of learning and used both median and mode in determining grades, but I felt my efforts were continually handcuffed by the school system's requirements. I slowly became more adept at determining grades and ultimately relied on my own professional judgment.
- I didn't develop an effective naming convention for organizing my gradebook. My gradebook reflected a combined--and thus confusing--approach to grading. Instead of completely organizing my gradebook by learning standards, expectations and criteria, I relied on a combination of naming by sources of information (quiz, project, presentation, etc.) and specific content standards.
- I didn't collect enough quality evidence. For power standards, I believe I did a pretty good job of collecting multiple samples of student achievement to accurately assess student learning, but for less important standards, I assigned grades that relied too heavily on assessments that were not sound. Essentially, I was checking a box that the student had learned it and I was ready to move on. We should attempt to collect at least 3 samples of student work to accurately assess student learning.
- I struggled to grade exceptional students. While I modified and differentiated learning and assessments for exceptional students, I did not have a plan on how to accurately assess all students based on their abilities, thus I could not accurately provide information on their achievement as it related to their IEP goals. When it came time to enter grades, I sorta' just entered a grade based on my heart and gut. Tailoring learning goals for exceptional students requires communication and collaboration with case managers, co-teachers, families and the student.
- I didn't solicit administrative support. At no time did I sit down with my school administrator to share my vision and plan to implement standards-based grading. At the end of the first marking period, I was called into the principal's office and asked/told, "Why do you have so many INCs? You can't give incompletes unless there are extenuating circumstances." For the first time, I explained to my assistant principal and the principal my standards-based grading system and the INC represented not having sufficient evidence to assess the student at this point, and I was holding the student and myself accountable for learning." Well, that didn't go too well. I was told to enter grades by the end of the week and within 24-hours an email went out to all staff that from that point forward all INC grades required administrative approval. I no longer gave incompletes, but instead submitted countless grade change forms every marking period thereafter. Thankfully, I had a good relationship with our registrar! Needless to say, I should've sat down and communicated my plan with administration before the school year started.
- I went at it alone. It wasn't until the end of the year that I learned that another teacher was also implementing standards-based grading and that she also had been called into the principal's office for giving incompletes. The shift to standards-based grading is a tremendous endeavor to take on alone. I wish I had solicited others to begin the journey with me--perhaps other ninth grade teachers or other world history teachers.
Even with all of the mistakes I made, I am glad that I made the change to standards-based grading. Grading requires significant professional judgment. We should aim to ensure that grades are an accurate representation of student learning and are clearly understood by the the sender (the teacher) and the receiver (students and families).