Apodaca: Grading reform needed

September 24, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

It's time to talk about the 5-ton elephant in the classroom that's been largely ignored amid all the talk of educational reform: grades.

We all know the problem. From district to district, school to school, and even teacher to teacher within the same school, there is a glaring lack of consistency when it comes to grading policies and practices. The same student producing the same work may be evaluated so differently as to receive an "A" from one teacher, a "D" from another.

Every September, as a new school session gets underway, we brace ourselves for the kind of year we expect our children will have based on the reputations of their teachers.


Are they hard or easy graders? Are they considered to be fair, or inconsistent or intransigent? Do they offer extra credit? Do they grade homework? What percentage of final grades is based on tests? Do they give partial credit for incomplete answers? Are their expectations reasonable? Do they use a complicated weighting system that encourages gamesmanship but discourages real learning?

The answers are all over the chalkboard, leaving parents feeling as if any attempt to make sense of it all is a bit like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.

The issue takes on added relevance today, as the high-stakes college admissions process grows ever more competitive.

"It's something we need to address universally," said Charles Hinman, assistant superintendent of secondary education at Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

Hinman has become a passionate advocate for grading reform. He has encouraged a dialogue at the school level with the intent of developing a more standardized approach to grading.

The district is also trying to use assessment data to identify pockets of success, which can then be used as models for other teachers to emulate.

But the reality is that nothing will change unless the teachers are on board. The state education code gives teachers virtually total control over how they grade their students.

The key then will be to steer any reform efforts in a direction that the majority of teachers support.

Grades are intended to serve several purposes. They are meant to let students know how they're doing and help them determine the best course for their futures. They're supposed to provide incentives for students to learn, and they're used as benchmarks to evaluate how schools and instructional programs are faring.

Daily Pilot Articles Daily Pilot Articles