How to take the dread out of grading, scoring, and reporting: Part 2

In my last blog post, I shared my personal journey of shifting my grading, scoring, and reporting practices. I provided some background about why this topic is so important, offered some prompts for reflection, and shared some ideas for beginning your own journey with inspiration before you start putting new practices into action.

This is a meaty topic, so you might wonder, what’s next? Grading, scoring, and reporting take place in complex and diverse educational ecosystems, so the next steps that are the best fit for you will depend on your context. For example, as a middle and high school teacher, I had to be careful that grading, scoring, and reporting changes in my classrooms didn’t create barriers in communication, credit, or college and career readiness for my students or their caregivers.

I acknowledge that taking next steps can feel daunting. It can feel like our hands are tied by school system tradition, policy, tools, or programs. To help you celebrate what you’re already doing and then decide on relevant next steps, I’d like to offer six actions that you can take—regardless of factors that might be out of your immediate sphere of influence.

Before digging into each of these six actions, I want you to notice something about the order in which they are listed: I don’t immediately explain recommendations for grading, reporting, or scoring. I back way up in responsive learning cycle practices because the foundations of successful grading, scoring, and reporting begin much, much earlier in the learning journey than we often realize. Trust me. I’ve made the mistake of diving directly into grading, scoring, and reporting practices without starting with and returning to those earlier practices. I’ve also worked with educators, students, and caregivers from all over who’ve made the same mistakes. (For more about common mistakes or obstacles, see “Five obstacles to grading reform.”) These six actions, resources, and suggestions are listed in this particular order below in the hopes of saving you, your students, and caregivers precious time, energy, and sanity.

1. Settle in for the journey

In all of my responsive learning cycle blog posts (available from my bio page) and in our eBook Assessment empowerment 101: What it is, why it matters, and how to do it, you’ll find many different parts of a huge paradigm shift. A shift like this takes time. We are more familiar with a factory or learner-manager model of education because that has been educators’ main experience in this country for more than 200 years. Figuring out how to apply responsive teaching and learning practices in partnership with learners—including responsive grading, scoring, and reporting—takes time and is a continuous process. Changing that paradigm will take an entire career and more. If we don’t settle in for a journey, it’s easy to become discouraged, disillusioned, and burned out. This is something I wished I knew decades ago!

Suggestion: Join a group of educators who support each other to sustain energy and celebrate successes in this long journey. You might already have such a group at your site, or you might find support through online options such as social media groups for student-centered learning.

2. Let go of quick fixes and pause to notice mindset

Sometimes we get our hopes up that there’s one grading or scoring tool, program, or practice that’s going to be a quick fix and then we’ll be “done.” But that’s factory-model or learner-manager thinking. This is a messy, zig-zaggy, and continuous process because we are not robots and we’re not working with widgets. Rather, we’re applying responsive teaching and learning practices—including grading, scoring, and reporting—as humans and withhumans. This is also something I wished I had learned decades ago!

Suggestion: With a trusted colleague or mentor, get real: Are you waiting for a quick fix for grading, scoring, or reporting? Are you thinking about or using a current or proposed gradebook or scoring tool, practice, or program as a learner-manager tool, disconnected from teaching and learning processes? If so, how can you support each other to let go of quick-fix thinking and shift away from a learner-manager mindset, especially when engaging in grading, scoring, and reporting practices? Who or what can support you with this?

3. Continue to grow in the first four practices of the responsive learning cycle

Over and over and over again, I hear from educators and students that a reformed gradebook policy, tool, program, or approach “didn’t work.” This result is to be expected if implementation takes place without equal and continuous attention to partnering with students in the other responsive learning cycle practices. In my last blog post, I described the disconnections and frustrations that can occur in this scenario.

For various reasons, the other responsive learning cycle practices (embracing learner context, strengthening learning culture, building learning paths with students, and activating students with quality classroom assessments) can get lost or feel ignored. If we don’t give equal and continuous attention to the first four practices in the responsive learning cycle, our grading and scoring practices will never be fair, accurate, responsive, or empowering.

It might seem like those first four practices are unrelated to grading, scoring, and reporting, but they are actually critical. For example, how will you know how to effectively engage learners in collecting and engaging with learning evidence if you don’t know their context and don’t have a thriving learning culture? How will you and your students know how to effectively synthesize evidence of learning to make relevant and responsive communication moves and learning decisions if you haven’t made learning paths or identified quality classroom assessment processes?

Suggestion: With help and feedback from a mentor, continue to grow in the first four practices of the responsive learning cycle with your students. Check out my previous posts on responsive learning cycles and our eBook Assessment empowerment 101: What it is, why it matters, and how to do it for specific examples and strategies.

4. Note the difference between empowering and enabling learners

Here’s a common misconception that I’ve noticed: People get the impression that “responsive,” “empowering,” or “student-centered” means letting students do whatever they want, whenever they want. Not true! Enabling learners in the unhealthy sense of the word does not support their learning and growth in work habits or other skills needed for success, well-being, and self-efficacy. I like Zaretta Hammond’s guidance for the balance we’re trying to strike in all things, including with grading, scoring, and reporting practices: We’re striving to be warm demanders, and that’s going to look different depending on the grades, subjects, and contexts in which we teach.

Suggestion: With a trusted colleague or mentor, review your teaching and learning practices and processes, including those for grading, scoring, and reporting. In what areas are you a learner manager or enabler? How can you shift to be a warm demander (i.e., a learner empowerer) more often?

5. Apply small grading and scoring shifts with your students that are in your sphere of influence and aligned to responsive learning cycle practices

Different districts, schools, educators, students, and caregivers are in different places in shifting paradigms. There isn’t a single entry point or set of next steps that will work for everyone. Below are suggestions and resources that can help you decide on the best fit for you and your learners at this point in your journey together. Try making a goal for yourself that includes trying out and testing one or two of the ideas with your students and their caregivers. Learn from what you try and use that information to inform what you try next. Use student and caregiver perspectives to inform the process, celebrate success, and continuously improve.

Suggestions and resources:

6. Discuss with leaders or decision makers how to adopt and refine team, school, or district-wide responsive grading, scoring, and reporting practices

This may include looking at policies. Share the resources you’ve been exploring and applying. Discuss what’s working and what you’re going to try next. Explore how those successes could be scaled up, monitored for impact, and revised as needed. To help with this process, Matt Townsley, an educator-leader in assessment and grading, has curated a list of implementation publications.

Interrupt the familiar, one step at a time

Educators’ and learners’ lives are busy and complex. In the hectic day-to-day, it can be easy to forget that grading, scoring, and reporting processes are part of the responsive learning cycle. It’s where we partner with students to synthesize learning information in order to make decisions and exchange communication in ways that move learning forward. When we’re tired, stressed, and out of time, we’re more likely to use what’s most familiar, which might be “traditional” grading, scoring, and reporting actions that are done to or for learners rather than with them.

It does take time and conscious effort to interrupt what’s familiar. And it takes time and effort to shift our habits to make sure that our actions throughout the learning journey are empowering and responsive rather than disconnected and disempowering. But that’s OK! These shifts are investments that ultimately pay high dividends for you and your learners. I hope it’s reassuring to know that there are lots of resources that can support you, such as the ones included in this post. I encourage you to celebrate the shifts you’re already making and take one step at a time.

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