As another year comes to a close, it is once again time to sift through the research and commentary from the past twelve months. In case you missed it, 2020 has been filled with media headlines describing flexibility in grading practices due to emergency remote learning for many K-12 schools in the spring and increasing course failure rates due to the ongoing pandemic in the fall. In response to these events, several journals and periodicals published special issues in order to support educators during such unprecedented times. Without further ado, I present to you what I believe are the top ten (10) articles from 2020 written about grading (in alphabetical order by lead author’s last name).
- Brookhart, S. M., Guskey, T. R., McTighe, J., & Wiliam, D. (2020). Eight essential principles for improving grading. Educational Leadership, 78(1). Online exclusive. [Available online]
Four experts share their thoughts exploring the place of grading as an important component of comprehensive and balanced district assessment systems. The eight principles described in this article are worth considering for schools interested in changing their grading practices today, next week, next month or next year.
- Feldman, J. (2020). Taking the stress out of grading. Educational Leadership, 78(1), 14-20. [Available online]
Educators everywhere could use less stress in their lives right now. Joe Feldman suggests how shifting away from these traditional and stress-inducing grading practices can bolster equity.
- Guskey, T. R. (2020). Breaking up the grade. Educational Leadership, 78(1), 40-46. [Available online]
Thomas Guskey discusses the inadequacy of a single grade and the advantages of reporting multiple grades. In this article, he describes how providing multiple grades that reflect product, progress, and process criteria can be done without requiring more work.
- Guskey, T., Townsley, M., & Buckmiller, T. (2020). The impact of standards-based learning: Tracking high school students’ transition to the university. NASSP Bulletin, 104(4), 257-269.
In this study, we sought to determine if the implementation of standards-based learning in high schools affects students’ transition to learning in university courses. The results revealed no detrimental effects and the most frequently mentioned transition difficulties related to social issues and time management.
- Jung, L. (2020). Does this count? Educational Leadership, 78(1), 34-38.
Nearly every educator has heard the question, “Does this count?” as it relates to students’ motivation to complete assignments. Lee Ann Jung posits that educators can fix gaming-for-grades school cultures by changing our understanding of formative classroom work.
- Link, L. J. (2020). Effective grading practices: Creating a culture of achievement. Principal Leadership, 21(2). [Available online]
In this article written for school leaders, Laura Link shares four enablers frequently used to implement successful grading reform. Perhaps most importantly, she argues that school leaders must make cultural changes that include effective grading practices.
- Schimmer, T. (2020). Quality over counting: Mindsets of grading reform. ASCD Express, 16(2). [Available online]
I plan to share this write-up by Tom Schimmer more widely in the upcoming year. He describes mindsets such as “quality over counting” and “standards over tasks” that I believe resonate with classroom teachers who have many years of points and percentages experience.
- Townsley, M. (2020). Grading principles in pandemic-era learning: Recommendations and implications for secondary school leaders. Journal of School Administration Research and Development, 5(S1), 8-14. [Available online]
In this essay, I offer three grading principles schools should consider in the era of hybrid, remote, and quarantine-induced learning. I believe the current pandemic-era of learning provides school leaders with an opportunity to reclaim the purpose of grades to communicate student learning, whether the “new norm” is here to stay or schools eventually return to primarily face-to-face instruction in the years to come.
- Townsley, M., & Knight, M. (2020). Making change stick: A case study of one high school’s journey towards standards-based grading. Journal of Educational Leadership in Action, 6(3). [Available online]
I almost left this article off the list, because “Townsley” has been noted a few times already! Yet, this study co-authored with Dr. Megan Knight was unique in that it explained the experiences of high school teachers and administrators in the midst of transitioning to standards-based grading practices. Using Kotter’s eight steps for leading organizational change as a framework, we recommend school leaders blow off the cobwebs and get started, understand staff needs and provide teacher support, and be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
- Venables, D. R. (2020). Five inconvenient truths about how we grade. Educational Leadership, 78(1), Online exclusive. [Available online]
Venables describes the “monsters” that often drive our grading practices such as grading everything that moves and grading what students did rather than what they learned. He argues a more formative mindset towards assessment is needed in order to slay these grading monsters.
What grading articles from 2020 would you add to this list?
Also, see my previous “top” articles lists:
In early 2016, I listed what I thought were the top ten books written about effective grading practices. Many books have been written about standards-based grading in the last three years, however I wanted to highlight five that have impacted me the most.
Here we go!
- O’Connor, K. (2018). How to grade for learning, K-12 (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Ken O’Connor has written a fourth edition to what may be the most widely read book on effective grading practices, which is why the third edition was noted on my initial top ten list. Beyond the theory behind each of the grading guidelines are implementation examples from schools across the world.
- Rinkema, E. A. & Williams, S. (2018). The standards-based classroom: Make learning the goal. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
This book focuses on more than just grading practices. By looking at curriculum, instruction, and assessment, educators can envision a classroom-wide shift to more effective grading practices. I admit that as a teacher I often over-emphasized feedback and grade book revisions at the expense of designing effective instruction. Rinkema and Williams provide a realistic and useful blueprint, one I wish would have been available ten years ago.
- Wormeli, R. (2018). Fair isn’t always equal (2nd ed.). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
The first edition was on the initial top ten book list as well. While much of the content is updated, the main message is still the same: transitioning to more equitable grading process is just as much (or more) about mindset than it is classroom moves. I recommend this book for any teacher or group of educators who would like engage in thinking more deeply about the “why” behind standards-based grading.
- Schimmer, T. (2016). Grading from the inside out: Bringing accuracy to student assessment through a standards-based mindset. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Not too long after posting the initial top ten book list in January 2016, this book by Tom Schimmer came out. A few months later, I secured a copy and was especially enamored by the chapters entitled, “Five myths of standards-based grading” and “How to repurpose homework.” This is on my highly recommend list for those working towards standards-based grading practices.
- Schimmer, T., Hillman, G., & Stalets, M. (2018). Standards-based learning in action: Moving from theory to practice. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Speaking of Tom Schimmer, this book written with Garnet Hillman and Mandy Stalets is worth buying, too. Each chapter includes underlying research, a plan for action, and talking points to be used with parents. Whether the reader is looking for perspectives on redos and retakes or effective feedback, this book provides helpful guidance.
What book(s) from 2016, 2017, or 2018 would you add to this list?
In early 2016, I wrote what I thought were the “Top 10 standards-based grading articles” available at that time. Nearly three years have past and a number of quality articles have been written in that time.
Here we go!
- Brookhart, S. M., Guskey, T. R., Bowers, A. J., McMillan, J. H., Smith, J. K., Smith, L. F., Stevens, M. T., & Welsh, M. E. (2016). A century of grading research: Meaning and value in the most common educational measure. Review of Educational Research, 86(4), 803-848. [Available online]
Too often, those of us in education receive some of the same questions from multiple audiences. In the case of changing grading practices, I often hear, “Why do we need to change our grading practices? They worked for me!” One article I often point to is this one, which I believe will someday be seminal work in our field. The authors conclude, “One hundred years of grading research have generally confirmed large variation among teachers in the validity and reliability of grades, both in the meaning of grades and the accuracy of reporting.” In other words, traditional grades have all kinds of problems.
- O’Connor, K. (2017). A case for standards-based grading and reporting. School Administrator, 74(1), 24-28. [Available online]
Ken has written a number of excellent books and this article seems to sum them all up in a concise way. Although the original audience of the article was school superintendents, I feel confident sharing it with anyone interested in an overview of both why and how grading practices should improve.
- Buckmiller, T., Peters, R., & Kruse, J. (2017). Questioning points and percentages: Standards-based grading in higher education. College Teaching, 65(1), 1-7. doi:10.1080/87567555.2017.1302919.
Standards-based grading can be done in higher education! Tom, Randy and Jerrid document the perceptions of students in an educational technology course. In fact, the learners reported SBG was clear, more fair and a means for going beyond “playing the game of school” in college.
- Scarlett, M. H. (2018). “Why did I get a C?” Communicating student performance using standards-based grading. Insight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching, 13, 59-75. [Available online]
Dr. Scarlett proves yet again that standards-based grading cane be done in higher education, this time with an impressive attention to the planning and implementation details.
- James, A. R. (2018). Grading in physical education. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 89(5), 5-7. doi: 10.1080/07303084.2018.1442063. [Available online]
It seems like standards-based grading early adopters are typically in the core content areas such as math, ELA or science, due to the accessibility of state and national standards documents. In this article, the author describes what SBG looks like in physical education. This write-up will inevitably be helpful for schools going “all-in: with SBG and few PE examples to draw from.
- Buckmiller, T., & Peters, R.. (2018). Getting a fair shot?. School Administrator, 75(2), 22-25. [Available online]
Buckmiller and Peters receive fifteen points of extra credit for landing on this list more than once. When high schools make a change to standards-based grading practices, one of the often-noted concerns is around implications for the higher education admissions process. Through interviewing staff at several university admissions, the authors document several themes which include, “Letter grades and transcripts based on standards are acceptable, if not preferable, in the eyes of admissions offices, but with some caveats.” In other words, high school students experiencing SBG are getting a fair shot when applying for college.
- Reeves, D., Jung, L. A., & O’Connor, K. (2017). What’s worth fighting against in grading? Educational Leadership, 74(8), 42-45.
It would be hard to NOT include this article collectively written by three of the most often cited experts in the grading reform field. Reeves, Jung and O’Connor clear the air and suggest several non-negotiables schools should consider in their quest to better communicate/report student learning.
- Wormeli, R. (2017). We have to prepare students for the next level, don’t we? AMLE Magazine, 5(1), ##-##. [Available online]
The title speaks for itself. Rather than worrying about the next grade or institution of learning, educators should “…not sacrifice good instruction because those in upper levels are not there yet. Instead, we employ what we know works, and we spend time mentoring those above us in what we do.”
- Townsley, M. (2018). Mastery-minded grading in secondary schools. School Administrator, 75(2), 16-21. [Available online]
I hesitated to include one of my own articles in this list, but by golly, I think it does a nice job describing what standards-based grading can look like at the secondary level. Feel free to let me know in the comments if you think my thinking was severely clouded when elevating this one to the top ten.
- Tucker, C. (2018). Rethinking grading. Educational Leadership, 75(5). [Available online]
I’m not sure how I missed this article until a month ago when I was doing a literature search. Catlin lays out her fears and successes when implementing standards-based grading in a way that really resonated with me.
What articles would you add to this list from 2016-2018?
I received some positive feedback from the Top 10 Standards-Based Grading Articles list, so I thought it might be helpful to share a similar list of books¹.
- O’Connor, K. (2009). How to grade for learning, K-12 (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Ken O’Connor has written a number of books and articles geared toward practitioners. How to Grading for Learning was helpful for me to think through several components of grading I needed to change in my own classroom. These components include “basing grades on standards” and “emphasizing most recent information.” There’s a reason the grade doctor’s books are so popular!
- Guskey, T.R. (2015). On your mark: Challenging the conventions of grading and reporting. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
No top ten list of standards-based grading books would be complete without at least one written by Dr. Tom Guskey. On Your Mark is a comprehensive piece written for an audience who needs to understand why grading practices need to change. I envision these chapters as meaningful content for book study teams in schools across the country.
- Wormeli, R. (2006). Fair isn’t always equal: Assessing and grading in the differentiated classroom. Portland, OR: Stenhouse.
Rick Wormeli is an author and former middle school practitioner. This book tackles concepts such as redos and retakes, the role of homework in the final grade and setting up grade books that reflect student learning. I often categorize Wormeli’s work as less standardized than Marzano and more practical than Guskey.
- Jung, L. & Guskey, T.R. (2012). Grading exceptional and struggling learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Not sure what the role of ELL and special education students is within a standards-based grading context? When are accommodations appropriate? When should modifications be made to the standards themselves? This book has some answers!
- Guskey, T. R., & Jung, L.A. (2013). Answers to essential questions about standards, assessments, grading, & reporting. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
If educators are looking for a book in the form of frequently asked questions, this is it. Beyond theory and outside of day-to-day classroom practice, Guskey and Jung lay out responses to questions teachers, administrators, parents and school board members may have about non-traditional grading practices.
- Brookhart, S. M. (2013). Grading and group work. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Group work is still a valuable part of standards-based grading classrooms! Susan Brookhart helps readers understand the difference between learning in collaborative groups and assessing group work. Any teacher or school moving towards standards-based grading would benefit from understanding these ideas early on in the process.
- Reeves, D. (2010). Elements of grading: A guide to effective practice. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
I have always appreciated Dr. Doug Reeves as a speaker and author. This book is no exception. Reeves blends together research, logic and examples from schools to help readers think through toxic grading practices and their solutions. Keep an eye out for the second edition of this book!
- Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2007). Checking for understanding: Formative assessment techniques for your classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Fisher and Frey’s book holds a special place in my heart, because the day I had the initial “I’d like to try out standards-based grading in my classroom” discussion with my high school principal, he handed me this book as a resource. I believe grading and assessment practices need to go hand in hand. This book provides more than enough practical tips and strategies for a classroom teacher to try out in a school year.
- Marzano, R. J. (2010). Formative Assessment & Standards-Based Grading. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research Laboratory.
It would have been hard to create a top ten standards-based grading books without including this Marzano text. Of all of the books I’ve read the past ten years, this was the most highly anticipated one, however I cannot recommend all of the ideas presented for across-the-board use. Marzano uses a formulaic way of creating tiered assessments that, while easily scalable across multiple classrooms and buildings, appears to go against my beliefs about authentic and meaningful classroom assessment.
- Heflebower, T., Hoegh, J.K., & Warrick, P. (2014). A school leader’s guide to standards-based grading. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research Laboratory.
See previous comments about the Marzano book on formative assessment and standards-based grading. It would also be hard to create a list without including this book, because it is the only book I know of focused on school leaders. Enjoy!
What books would you add to this list?
¹All of the books on this list are focused on effective grading practices with or without a strong “standards-based” grading title.
UPDATE: For articles published in 2016 or later, see this list.
Every once in a while, I receive an email from an educator or parent interested in standards-based grading (SBG) and he/she asks for an introductory reading list. I typically attach several of my favorites and then link to an ongoing list of articles curated during the past several years for further reading. Earlier this week, a professional acquaintance suggested I share a top ten standards-based grading articles list. Challenge accepted!
Without further ado, here is my top ten standards-based grading articles¹.
- Scriffiny, P.L. (2008). Seven reasons for standards-based grading. Educational Leadership, 66(2), 70-74 [Available online]
Patricia Scriffiny is a math teacher who mixes in the “why” of standards-based grading with a few of her own classroom examples. Any school or department considering the shift to SBG could use this article as a conversation starter.
- Peters, R. & Buckmiller, T. (2014). Our grades were broken: Overcoming barriers and challenges to implementing standards-based grading. Journal of Educational Leadership in Action, 2(2). [Available online]
Two Drake University researchers interviewed a number of building and district administrators in order to describe the ups and downs of implementing SBG systemwide. Barriers in the process included: student information and grading systems, parents/community members, the tradition of grading and fear of the unknown, and the implementation dip. I’ll let you read the rest!
- Winger, T. (2005). Grading to communicate. Educational Leadership, 63(3), 61-65. [Available online]
In the summer workshops I’ve facilitated, Winger’s article is almost always a hit. Tony is a practicing educator who mixes in thought provoking questions with his own classroom reality. Questions such as “do grades interfere with learning?” and “do grades provide accurate feedback?” are bound to stir up some heated conversations amongst educators at all grade levels.
- Erickson, J.A. (2011). A call to action: Transforming grading practices. Principal Leadership, 12(1), 42-46. [pdf]
Jeffrey Erickson is a practicing school administrator who writes about his experiences changing grading practices in a suburban high school. While his ideas don’t quite meet my personal idea of standards-based grading (e.g. homework still counts towards a small percentage of the final grade), I believe his ideas are on the right track and worth sharing with others.
- Clymer, J.B., & Wiliam, D. (2006). Improving the way we grade science. Educational Leadership, 64(4), 36-42. [Available online]
Looking for a practical view into a standards-based grading classroom? This is it! Eighth grade science teacher Jacqueline Clymer shares a sample grade book and a summary of student reaction to standards-based grading in the classroom. The obvious target audience is science teachers who want to “see” SBG in action.
- Jung, L., & Guskey, T.R. (2011). Fair & accurate grading for exceptional learners. Principal Leadership, 12(3), 32-37. [pdf]
Hold on…what about students with special needs?! University of Kentucky researchers LeeAnn Jung and Thomas Guskey team up to communicate, “standards-based grading is the most accurate method to assess students’ abilities.” Students with IEPs and English language learners may need modifications or accommodations and this article describes how to fairly do so in a standards-based grading setting.
- Iamarino, D. (2014). The benefits of standards-based grading: A critical evaluation of modern grading practices. Current Issues in Education, 17(2). [Available online]
In this peer-reviewed article, the author examines the literature to evaluate various grading practices before concluding “modern grading practices are rife
with complexity and contradiction. They are remnants of archaic conventions, and hybrids of newer methodologies not yet tried by time and application” (p. 9). I wouldn’t recommend this piece as a first read, but rather for educators with a more philosophical or theoretical bend.
- Wormeli, R. (2011). Redos and retakes done right. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 22-26.
Reassessments are one of the most hotly contested aspects of standards-based grading from the perspective of teachers and parents. Wormeli’s article describes compelling reasons reassessments make sense while providing teachers a list of practical strategies to try out in their classrooms.
- Guskey, T.R. (2013). The case against percentage grades. Educational Leadership, 71(1), 68-72.
This article alone is worth the price of purchasing the September 2013 issue of Educational Leadership. Dr. Guskey briefly describes the history of grading and goes on to differentiate percentage grades from percentage correct. Not sure why a 4 or 5 point scale is more accurate and appropriate when compared to a 100 point scale? This is your go-to source.
- Vatterott, C. (2011). Making homework central to learning. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 60-64.
Any meaningful conversation about grading practices involves the purpose of homework. Dr. Cathy Vatterott is often coined “The Homework Lady.” This article provides schools a framework to consider in order to unify educators around the purpose and emphasis of homework within standards-based grading.
What articles would you add to this list?
¹Articles must describe the why and/or how of effective grading practices, and priority was given to articles available publicly online.
Static URL: http://tinyurl.com/top10sbg