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By Dennis D. Munk, Ed.D.
It's important for parents and other IEP team members to understand that, although consideration of an individualized grading system is often a result of concerns over a learner's low grades, the goal should never be to simply find a way for her to get a higher grade. Rather, the goal of the team should be to choose strategies that will help her improve her performance in the general education curriculum.
The professional literature describes the following three options for individualizing a grading system:
One expert1 describes a system in which each assignment is graded for:
To date, research on the efficacy of this approach has not been reported. However, one potential benefit of the multiple-grade approach might be that learners will be motivated to attempt harder versus easier work because they receive credit for trying.
Here's an example of how this might work: A fifth-grader is assigned 50 multi-step math problems worth a total of 50 points. If all the assigned math problems were from the current grade-level curriculum, the teacher would assign a "difficulty weight" of 100 to the assignment. However, some of the problems assigned to the learner are from an earlier unit or grade level (i.e., less difficult), so the teacher assigns a difficulty weight of 90. In addition, the achievement score will be counted twice, so that it "weighs" more in relation to "difficulty" and "effort" in calculating the final grade. When the teacher corrects the assignment, she finds that the learner has done 40 of the 50 problems correctly. So, the student earns:
|for achievement (40 out of 50, or 80% correct, x 2)|
|for effort (on a 100-point scale, based on the teacher's review of how many problems the learner attempted, number of strategies she used, times she asked for help, etc.)|
The student's total score for this assignment is 330 points, which the teacher divides by the number of scores, 4, to obtain an average of 82.5 for the assignment. In this example, both the "difficulty" grade and the "effort" grade offer a student the possibility to improve the "achievement" grade, which would typically be the only grade. Issues associated with grading "effort" are discussed in more detail below.
Individualizing a grading system by changing the elements that count toward the grade for an assignment, or for a report card grade, has received research attention3. Grading elements commonly found in grading systems include: quizzes, tests, or exams; research or lab reports; projects or exhibits; portfolios; notebooks or journals; oral presentations or performances; homework; class participation; work habits or neatness; effort; and punctuality of assignments4. The following are examples of grading elements that can be added to a grading system for a student with a learning disability:
Incorporating progress on IEP goals and objectives as a grading element can be achieved by selecting classroom assignments for a student that provide her an opportunity to demonstrate the target skills. For example, if a student has an IEP goal to improve her organization of multi-step assignments, she could be graded with a rubric that gives her points for effectively organizing the task. Using this approach, her improvement in organization is reflected in both the progress on her IEP goal, and in the grade she receives for the assignment. Incorporating progress on IEP objectives into the grading system may also serve as a reminder to monitor progress toward IEP goals on a regular basis.
Below is an example of a rubric a teacher to might use to evaluate a project in which students are required to construct a replica of a colonial village. The added criteria for assessing a student's organization of the task are in the last row of the rubric.
Similarly, if the teacher incorporates in the grade a measure of how efficiently the learner applies learning strategies to complete a task, this may also result in the student building her skill in strategy use, producing a better overall product, and hence earning a higher grade. A related grading adaptation involves a teacher giving priority to classroom assignments that are linked to state learning standards, or assignments that are prerequisite to future assignments. Prioritization has been used successfully by teachers, but is controversial because the learner is not graded on exactly the same assignments as classmates3.
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