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Grading for Learning


As Assistant Principal at Boulan Park Middle School in Troy, a high performing middle school, I often ponder the question Do grades truly reflect learning or do grades merely reflect compliance? My building is in the beginning stages of dialoguing on how to grade for authentic learning and understanding the affects of a zero grade. We are also in the process of establishing different supports and interventions to prevent students from earning zeros on their work. These interventions focus on providing opportunities for students to complete their work in a non-punitive way.

My goal is to help our departments and grade levels begin to establish some common grading practices and understandings. While my goal is not to mandate a complete, common schoolwide grading system, I would like our staff to share philosophy in their grading practices. Below are resources to address the two grading aspects of focus: Grading Learning, Not Compliance and The "Zero" Effect.

Click here to go to: websites , videos , articles , books , or summary.

“The primary purpose of… grades… (are) to communicate student achievement to students, parents, school administrators, post-secondary institutions and employers.”
J. Bailey and J. McTighe


Grading for LFive_Ideas.pngearning Final (
David Duez, Teacher, 2008
This slideshow, complete with presentation slides and presentation transcript, is based on the research, presentation, and book by Ken O'Connor (author of the slideshow unknown). The slideshow also includes discussion questions for professional development purposes.
Grading for Learning Final

thoughtful_teacher.pngGuidelines for Grading, Homework and Discipline that Enhance Learning
Hugh O'Donnell, 2000
This blog is written by a practicing middle school social studies teacher and is based on the work of Ken O'Connor. Mr. O'Donnell talks about grading guidelines, grading scales, homework guidelines, make-up work, late work, behavior guidelines, and progress reports.
Grading for Learning

mg.jpgTeaching in the Middle: Turning Zeroes to 60
Rick Wormeli, Middle Ground, February, 2006
This article argues that middle school students shouldn't be unfairly punished by receiving a zero for not completing an assignment. Wormeli believes that 60 is a better choice for the lowest failing grade and provides a better mathematical chance of success for a middle school student. Wormeli also argues against the 4.0 scale, unless a 1.0 is used for the lowest failing grade instead of the zero. This controversial grading method has taken much public criticism. Personally, I am still on the fence with it.
Turning Zeroes to 60

It's Easier to Teach Compliance than Initiative
Seth Grodin, Blog, February 26, 2010
Seth Grodin's Blog

Screen_shot_2010-03-11_at_6.20.27_PM.pngThe Folly of Rubric and Grades
Joe Bower, Blog, Ecology of Education, March 11, 2010
Joe Bower is a middle school teacher in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, who works to challenge 'traditional' schooling while exploring more progressive forms of education. He believes students should experience their success and failure not as reward and punishment but as information. He is also the author of For the Love of Learning @


“The consequences for a student who fails to meet a standard is not a low grade but rather the opportunity, indeed the requirement – to resubmit his or her work.”
Doug Reeves


Toxic Grading Practices
Douglas Reeves, January 2008

The Surprising Science of Motivation
Daniel Pink, July 2009
Although focused on business and not education, Pink's argument that extrinsic motivators or incentives (the if-then or carrot-and-stick methods) actually reduce innovation in (at least) mildly cognitive assignments makes sense in the classroom with grading. Pink stresses that the three main building blocks to a new way to do things are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. He focuses on autonomy in this clip.


“Students should be assessed on almost everything they do BUT everything that is assessed and/or checked does not need a score AND every score should not be included in the grade.”
Ken O’Connor


Grading What Matters
Tony Winger, Educational Leadership, November 2009
This article documents a high school social studies teacher's reflective process to change his grading system to better reflect learning and understanding. The process provides two practical classroom examples.

Making the Grades
Ken O'Connor
This two-page article highlights a few points in O'Connor's research on grading to help educators' practices truly reflect learning and not compliance. O'Connor's suggestions aid at teachers making grades accurate, meaningful, consistent, and supportive of learning.

How to Grade for Learning
Anne Keith, 2008
This presentation-in-pdf-format on grading by a 2007 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teacher highlights education research by Ken O'Connor, Robert Marzano, Rick Wormeli, Carol Ann Tomlinson, Jay McTighe, Marilee Sprenger, Susan Brookhart, and Carol Dweck. Topics such as grades as motivators, 15 fixes for grading, how the zero fits in to grading, homework practices, and more are covered.

A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Repairing Broken Grades
A Study Guide from ETS Assessment Training Institute
Ken O'Connor, 2008
This in-depth study guide provides insight on the work of education researcher Ken O'Connor. Each of O'Connor's 15 Grading Fixes is presented with arguments for and against, as well as activities and discussion questions for professional development.

Role of Zero in Grading
Dr. Karen Walker, The Principals' Partnership
A Program of Union Pacific Foundation Research Brief
This short research brief provides a mathematical basis for rethinking the use of zero in grading practices. If the purposes of grading are to inform instructional decisions, document both students’ and teachers’ progress, and provide feedback to the students, parents, and teachers about what has been learned and what students are able to do with that knowledge, then what role does and should a zero play in the assessment of what has been learned? The author wonders if giving students a zero lets them too easily off the hook.

Seven Practices for Effective Learning
Jay McTighe and Ken O'Connor, ASCD, printed in Education Leadership, November 2005
Teachers in all content areas can use the seven assessment and grading practices to enhance learning and teaching: Use summative assessments to frame meaningful performance goals, show criteria and models in advance, assess before teaching, offer appropriate choices, provide feedback early and often, encourage self-assessment and goal setting, and allow new evidence of achievement to replace old evidence.

The Case Against the Zero
Douglas Reeves, Phi Delta Kappan, December 2004
This short article takes a look at the mathematics behind the effect of a zero in a 100-point scale versus a 4-point scale. Dr. Reeves addresses what is a fair, appropriate, and accurate consequence for failing to complete an assignment.

Why Standardized Grading: A Summary of Current Research
This document is a short, yet fairly comprehensive, summary of current grading research utilized in a Troy middle school. Research is based on the works of Thomas Guskey, Robert Marzano, Douglas Reeves, Patricia Scriffiny, and Rick Wormeli.


"In effective schools one of the most consistent practices of successful teachers is the provision of multiple opportunities to learn."
Doug Reeves


Lucrari de licenta
How to Grade for Learning, K-12
Ken O'Connor, Corwin Press, 2009

Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs
Cathy Vatterott, ASCD, July 2009


Common grading concepts found throughout the above research:
  • Good grades may motivate but poor grades have no motivational value.
  • Provide clear descriptions of achievement expectations.
  • Don’t grade everything.
  • Homework should center on practice; provide students feedback.
  • Involve students in the grading process.
  • Later learning should replace early learning (evidence, grades) or new evidence of achievement should replace the old. Remember that middle school students are not the same people in June that they were in September!
  • Grading attributes should focus on achievement, not effort, attendance, and/or participation. Our global economy dictates that we stress initiative, not compliance!

  • Don’t accept zeros, make students do/redo their work. (My school has implemented the ZAP Zone and the Lunch Bunch, where students who don’t turn in their homework give up [at least part of] their lunch to complete missing work.)
  • Some argue that giving a grade of 60 is more fair than a zero, others argue using a 50, while still others argue a 4-point scale is better. All arguments agree that assigning a zero puts too many students in a hole that can get too deep to climb out of, thus causing great frustration and forcing students to give up.
  • Other ideas are to drop the lowest (one or two) grades, get rid of the average and use the median or mode for a grade, or even use the best score as in using the fastest track time to qualify for a larger race.
  • All authors believe that there should be serious consequences for messing up, not a zero, but getting the work completed.