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Educational Services Division

Do Grades Reflect Student Learning?
An Important Conversation among County Educators


Last year, middle school principals shared their frustrations around the fact that during this time of accountability and aligning instruction to state standards, many are finding themselves with grading systems that do not reflect their students’ mastery of standards. This conversation led our SCCOE curriculum and instruction team to identify the need for a process that would allow administrators to look further into their current grading practices. We asked school site administrators to reflect upon how many non-academic factors such as attendance and attitude were included in their grading system and how consistently any system for grading was being implemented across their schools.

As a group, we reviewed professional research/articles about grading practices, and facilitated the conversations around the literature. The research led our site administrators and county office personnel to identify some next steps to take in an effort to make grades more reflective of learning. One of those next steps was to involve teachers and staff in this important, but often times challenging, discussion.

Site administrators from across the county selected teams of teacher leaders who were open to beginning the conversation around grading. These selected teams would come together to discuss the purpose of grading. In the process, they would also learn ways to facilitate conversations with their peers around the changes needed to ensure their system for grading accurately represented student academic progress on state standards across the content areas.

Grading for Learning workshop

Over forty participants from school teams gathered at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education this fall to begin examining grading practices/policies in an effort to determine if their grading policies are consistent, accurate, and truly supportive of learning. The goal of the workshop was to provide support for refining, developing, or implementing changes in current grading practices.

Teams began by participating in a live webinar forum with Ken O’Connor, author of How to Grade for Learning, in order to deepen their understanding about the purpose of grading. O’Connor shared with teachers his research supporting the need to critically examine established grading practices .He suggested that they discuss the pros and cons of a variety of methods (fixes) for improving grading practices such as: not including student behaviors (attendance, participation, effort) in grades; not reducing marks on work submitted late but providing support for the learner to complete the task; not giving 0’s on missing assignments; and many more suggestions. The cross county dialogue around long held beliefs about grades was often passionate and productive.

Grading for Learning workshop

Along with the information provided by Mr. O’Connor, in the future participants will review research from other academic experts such as Douglas Reeves, Tim Brown, and Daniel Pink regarding motivation. This research will be used to further the conversation around all ramifications of grading. Participants will find many of their long held beliefs about grades challenged, but will begin to reflect upon the need for change.

One of the more enlightening events of the day was the presentation from a team of their peers from Lakeview Middle School in Pajaro. These presenting teachers and administrators were participants in similar professional development provided last year by the County Office of Education. They provided real life examples of the challenges and successes they had experienced in the process of changing their grading practices.

Grading for Learning workshop

From walking through grading scenarios, to debating with their peers, participating teams worked towards planning the next steps to help them and their staffs begin to facilitate desired changes in long standing grading practices. It is truly inspirational to see this large group of educators open their minds to finding ways of making our educational system work more effectively for all of our students.


Santa Cruz County Office of Education  |  400 Encinal Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060  |  831.466.5600  |  Fax: 831.466.5607
The Santa Cruz County Office of Education provides quality educational programs and services to a diverse community.