Message from the Superintendent – A Look At Grading

(A reprint of the Superintendent’s Message from the January/February Superintendent’s Newsletter)
As we begin the second semester, I wish each of you a Happy New Year in 2017.  We continue to develop numerous important initiatives in District 211 and I want to focus awareness on our work in the area of grading.  Along with this newsletter, parents and students received a report card conveying the final grades earned for every course completed during the first semester.  Grades are central to much of what we do as educators and it is essential that we continually review, improve and communicate our practices in partnership with students and parents.
Regardless of one’s age or role, everyone has received grades of some kind and – knowingly or unknowingly – most people have a conception about what they think a grade should represent.  Grades are easily recognized for their universal nature, but grades are not always well understood for the complexity in their underlying assumptions or for the varying means and methods available to communicate an appraisal of student performance. 
Last year through our community engagement sessions, we gathered input from students, parents and school personnel about grading.  A committee of teachers and school leaders also met throughout the past year to examine potential grading improvements.  Drawing upon this comprehensive feedback, throughout the first semester faculty members and school leaders conducted extensive reviews of our grading practices, including: our grading scales, the electronic gradebook, the timing of grades, homework completion, final exams, mid-term reports, missing assignments, our critical learning standards and others. 
Diligent work among our educators to identify potential grading improvements will continue in the coming months.  A top priority for the upcoming semester is the articulation of recommended grading practices which will set the course for professional development among our educators, students and parents to ensure an understanding of the rationale guiding our improvements and how the implementation of our grading improvements will benefit students. 
Thousands of professional articles, books and conference seminars center on the topic of grading.  Within the professional field of education, opinions, beliefs and conclusions about grading often differ, and I have found these differences to exist in just about every conversation with any group of teachers, parents and students.  Our pursuit of continuous improvement includes our grading practices and though differing ideas will likely remain, communicating a clear understanding of our recommended grading improvements will benefit all of us in our work together.
Daniel E. Cates