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Individualizing a Grading System for a Student With LD and an IEP

Get expert advice on working with your child's IEP team to develop a fair and equitable approach to grading.

By Dennis D. Munk, Ed.D.

 If your child with learning disabilities (LD) consistently receives low grades, or if the classroom grading system just doesn't seem to "fit" her needs, individualizing her grading system may seem like an ideal solution.  Although individualized grading is often a response to low grades, raising grades is not an end in itself; the goal of grading strategies should be to help your child perform better in the general education curriculum.  As a member of her Individualized Education Program (IEP) team, you may want to suggest an individualized grading system to school professionals on the team. But even if the team agrees to individualized grading, you'll quickly discover that little is known about developing a grading system tailored to a child's individual strengths and needs.

This article will discuss the circumstances in which  individualized grading may make sense, and some strategies for developing a grading system that also promotes your child's achievement in the general education curriculum, progress toward her IEP goals, or both. To get an overview and background on individualized grading practices, read the first article in this series: "Fair and Equitable Grading Practices for Students with LD Who Have IEPs.

Keeping It Fair, Equitable, and Legal

While there is no single best way to individualize a grading system, there are some field-tested strategies designed to guide the process. When it's done thoughtfully and systematically, individualization leads to a grading system that is fair and equitable. This requires a system to be philosophically based in a belief that fairness means maintaining equity and meeting individual needs; it doesn't necessarily mean "equality," which is treating all students exactly the same. According to one expert: 1

A fair grading system

  • provides an opportunity for students to earn high grades
  • provides meaningful grades that reflect a student's experience in the classroom
  • includes flexibility as needed to meet individual needs of students

An equitable grading system

  • maintains high student accountability even when a grading system  is individualized
  • accurately matches grades to performance, even when accommodations are implemented

Legal guidelines for individualizing a grading system take into account the needs and interests of students in the classroom with and without IEPs. 

  • An individualized grading system is considered a legal accommodation for students with an IEP, and documentation of a grading accommodation must appear in her IEP.
  • By law, a teacher cannot use any special grading procedures, including individualization, for a student who doesn't have an IEP, unless such procedures are available to all students in the class.