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Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.1 Running Head: GRADING SYSTEMS AT THE SECONDARY LEVEL

Investigating the Consistency of Grading Systems at the Secondary Level Lindsay Mollo December 1, 2008 Educational Leadership, Course 608 Clinical Projects in Educational Leadership Professor Barbara Miller

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.2 Table of Contents Abstract ....................................................................................................3 Introduction..............................................................................................4 Review of Literature.................................................................................7 Problem Statement and Action Research Questions ................................14 Design and Methods ...............................................................................18 Data Analysis .........................................................................................21 Action Plan.............................................................................................25 Appendix A ............................................................................................30 References ..............................................................................................31

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.3 Abstract Educators employ grading systems to assess and to evaluate the knowledge students have gained from a lesson, unit, or course of instruction. The grades that are assigned by teachers are reported to many audiences as communication of students’ achievement. Given the centrality of grades for many important audiences, it is crucial that grading systems are reliable. The purpose of this study was to examine teacher practices and philosophy when assessing student achievement. This research was framed by two questions 1) “How much inconsistency exists in grading systems in a suburban high school?” and 2) “Do inconsistencies in the grading systems of teachers make grades unreliable?” This proposal involved researching the grading practices of approximately 80 teachers in a medium-size suburban high school. The primary source of data collection was through surveys. The data was analyzed for inconsistency among grading systems and reliability of assigned grades. The results of the surveys clearly revealed the inconsistencies that exist in the grading systems of the teachers in this suburban high school. What is equally clear, however, is that college admissions counselors are aware of the inconsistencies in grading systems both within and between schools, and they read and interpret transcripts based upon the their knowledge of the school from which the student is graduating. As a result of this study, a discussion was started with members of school administration and teachers. The discussion has created enough awareness that teachers are working to create a more consistent grading system that reflects collaboration in lesson and assessment planning. In addition there is an interest in attending professional development and possibly creating a grading committee to continue the process of aligning grading systems in this high school.

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.4 Introduction Educators employ grading systems to assess and to evaluate the knowledge students have gained from a lesson, unit, or course of instruction. The grades that are assigned by teachers are reported to many audiences as communication of students’ achievement. Teachers, parents, students, and administrators use grades to measure a student’s progress in class. Parents and students use grades to recognize the student’s standing in the class, assessing how much of the content or skill a student has mastered. Beyond the realm of the classroom, potential employers and higher educational institutions rely upon grades as indicators of achievement based on the student’s abilities and capabilities. Decisions regarding placement of a student while in high school, for acceptance to college, or even employment worthiness are largely made based on grades. Given the centrality of grades for many important audiences, it is crucial that grading systems are reliable. Throughout her six years as a business educator, the researcher has observed that grading consistency might not always be apparent across departments in her school. This conclusion was reached based on observation and discussion with teachers, students, and administrators. For the past four years the researcher has worked in a suburban high school, grades 9-12, with an enrollment of approximately 800 students. The researcher has consulted with colleagues who teach the same courses to develop consistent grading strategies when assessing students; however, she was aware this practice was not followed throughout the entire school. For example, within the business department, the two teachers of Web Page Design give the same assignments, rubrics, and grade weights throughout the entire course. They also, as members of the

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.5 same department, give the same final exam. However, it was essential to question how much of this type of consistent activity was practiced throughout the building. Much of the decision-making about grade determination was left to individual teachers. Some department supervisors instituted guidelines that must be followed within that particular department. Further, there are district policies concerning grading that must be followed and were examined throughout the course of this study. Overall, there was a sense that, despite the district policy, there were still inconsistencies that existed within the high school. The researcher also believed this concern was legitimate because the principal of the building made grading policies and practices a focus for the 2007-2008 school year. He wanted teachers to be cognizant of their own policies and practices, as well as observe the actions of colleagues. The principal worked to create awareness by leading open discussions on the topic of grading and assessments at faculty meetings. He also distributed a brief open-ended survey for teachers to respond and reflect on their grading practices. It is critical that students must be measured uniformly in a course, regardless of which instructor teaches a particular section. Essentially, students could earn a “B” with one teacher but know that, if they had a different teacher, they could have earned an “A” in the same course. This inconsistency becomes a concern for students because they are in competition with one another academically. Students’ grades are used to calculate grade point averages, which are the basis of class rank. These rankings are used by colleges to determine acceptance and scholarship eligibility and by potential employers to determine candidacy for employment. For an instructor, the reliability of grades is

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.6 important because when an “A” is awarded, it is understood by all audiences that the student accomplished superior mastery of content and certain skills. If this understanding is not the case then the student should not be awarded an “A”. It is within the belief system of the researcher that a grade should solely represent academic achievement. “Validity is important because the sole purpose of grades is to accurately communicate to others the level of academic achievement that a student has obtained. If the grades are not accurate measures of the student’s achievement, then they do not communicate the truth about the level of the student’s academic achievement” (Allen, 2005, p. 218). For example, if one teacher included effort, behavior, and attendance in a grade but another teacher did not, then there is inconsistency in the grading system. Such discrepancy in practice makes it difficult for an evaluator beyond the classroom to understand the student level of content mastery. The possibility of inconsistencies in the grading systems needed to be explored in the school where this study is being conducted. She investigated the possibility that grades are unreliable indicators to individuals outside the context of the classroom. Key terms used in this action research proposal include “grades”, “grading system”, “assessment”, “reliable”, and “consistency”. “Grades” is the term used to describe calculations of the end-of marking period average. A “grading system” is the algorithm by which a teacher calculates a final quarter grade, for example the 100% is broken down in to 20% for homework, 30% for class participation, and 50% for tests and quizzes. “Assessment” is used to explain the process of evaluation a teacher uses to assign a grade to student assignments, such as projects, tests, or term papers. In another sense, for example, teachers may assess students by using rubrics. “Reliability” is the

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.7 degree to which a test consistently measures whatever it purports to measure. In this study, reliability refers to the ability to measure assessments and grades so they have the same meaning to every audience. For the purpose of this study “consistency” will mean that teachers across the disciplines adhere to the same way of assessing and grading student achievement. Review of Literature Based on a tradition developed many years ago grades are an important measurement tool of the current education system the United States. The grading system of “marking, or grading, to differentiate students was first used at Yale. The scale was made up of descriptive adjectives” (Durm, 1993, p. 2). The grading system further developed through the years at Yale University until the first numerical scale was used at Harvard in 1830 (Durm, 1993, p. 2). After the 100-point scale had been used at Harvard, The Annual Report of the President of Harvard, 1885, stated: “The faculty last year did away with the minute percentage system of marking, and substituted a classification of the students in each course of study in five groups, the lowest of which includes those who have failed in the course” (1993). This was the beginning of the system that is currently used to classify students: A, B, C, D, or F. It is significant to examine how students were assessed before a grading system was developed because it is important to see the evolution of the process to know what has been successful in the past. The historical knowledge base helps future educators develop systems to better measure academic achievement. In the late 1800’s “Teachers met with students as individuals or in small groups to assess whether the students had mastered whatever the instructor was teaching. It was sort of ‘show me’ (process to

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.8 product) assessment” (Trowbridge, 2007, p. 397). Throughout the last 200 years, the philosophies behind education and evaluation have changed in the United States. “The process of grading has lost its focus on what really is important: evaluating what students know, understand and are able to do” (Huhn, 2005, p. 81). The grading system of A, B, C, D, and F does not convey to the reader that the student has mastered content, and therefore a grade’s interpretation can change depending on the interpreter. Although the grouping does broaden the category and range, it also opens areas for discrepancy. Based on her experience the researcher sees these categories as broad and believes that the A, B, C, D, F grading system does not give the reader a complete and specific picture of the students’ content mastery. These broad categories leave room for interpretation of the meaning of the grade. For example, if a student earns a C, most grading systems see this as mastering 73-76 % of the course material; however, it is undeterminable which specific skills and content were mastered and which were not. For this reason, a common, consistent, and explanatory framework for grading should be developed. There are four main factors to consider when developing a consistent grading system: teacher training in grading and assessment; teacher attitudes and beliefs toward grading; the use of common tools in assessment; and teacher subjectivity when grading. When assessing the first factor, teacher training in grading and assessment, it is vital to this study to look at the lack of training and guidance in this area of assessing, evaluating, and assigning grades to students. “Few educators receive any formal training in assigning marks to students’ work or in grading students performance and achievement…Their personal experience as students, therefore, may have a significant influence on the policies and practices they choose to employ” (Guskey, 2006, p. 1).

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.9 Teachers who have not been taught how to properly assign grades to students may be unduly influenced by their own experiences in school and how they were graded. “Fewer than half of the fifty states require specific coursework on assessment for their initial certification of teachers” (Allen, 2005, p. 221). This fact implies that teachers in the United States are not being prepared adequately for one of the most important tasks of their job. It is the researcher’s belief that the task of assessment and grading is of such importance because students go to school to learn and the learning that goes on must be measured. These measurements during the secondary education experience can be a basis for the world to judge the students. Students’ futures, whether they entail entering the workforce or going to college, can be affected by the assignment of grades by teachers. Teacher beliefs about grading and assessment also play a crucial role in the current grading systems used in most educational systems. One common belief is that a grading system should be a measure of students’ content mastery. “If a teacher must summarize and communicate a student’s classroom progress in an academic subject through a single report card grade, then there must be a consensus that the grade represents the most accurate statement of the student’s academic achievement, and only academic achievement” (Allen, 2005, p221-222). A report card, or transcript grade, must convey that a student has achieved certain skills or knowledge based on the subject criteria. One way to convey achievement of certain skills or mastery of content is to use a grading system based on criterion-referenced standards. “Criterion-referenced standards compare each student’s performance to clearly stated performance descriptions that differentiate levels of quality. Teachers judge students’ performance by what each student does” (Guskey, 2001, p20). When students are measured by well-defined standards, their

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.10 grades become a consistent and clear communication to the person reading the report cards or transcript. “A grade is supposed to provide an accurate, undiluted indicator of a student’s mastery of learning standards. If the grade is distorted by weaving in personal behavior, character, and work habits, it cannot be used to successfully provide feedback or document progress” (Wormeli, 2006, p 19). Other educators have personal training and learning philosophies that lead them to believe that a grading system should reflect effort and personal growth in addition to academic, standards-based performance. “While measurement experts urge the grades be focused on current levels of achievement, teachers typically consider a variety of other factors when assigning grades, including effort, progress, participation, behavior, and attitude” (Boston, 2003, p. 2). Inconsistencies then exist when some teachers include these other factors and others do not make them part of the grade determination. Grading systems used by teachers vary widely and unpredictably and often have low levels of validity due to the inclusion of non-academic criteria in the calculation of grades. Teachers have been found to make decisions about grades related to student effort in attempts to be ‘fair’ in their grading practices. (Allen, 2005, p 220) Individual teachers decide the composition of their grades based on their beliefs. “Grading grows from a philosophy of teaching and learning. It reflects what a teacher believes about learning” (Tomlinson, 2001, p 12). Developing a grading system from a philosophy of teaching and learning can foster inconsistencies because teachers have diverse views and would consequently base the judgments of their students on different criteria.

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.11 Grade determinations are significantly impacted by decisions teachers make, based on their beliefs, about the composition of those grades. One example of this discrepancy in composition is found at the secondary level of education when teachers assign weighted categories to calculate a grade, i.e. homework counts for 20%, class work for 30%, and tests for 50%. This weighting of categories can create discrepancy because not all teachers have the same weighted categories when doing their calculations of grades. Currently the assigning of grades is often helter-skelter within departments and between schools and can often be a bit of luck-of-the-draw. A student can get a “B” in Mr. Jones’ geometry class because he did absolutely all the assigned class and homework (possibly by questionable means), did loads of available extra credit and barely passed exams. But if Mr. Jones weighs tests rather lightly compared to class work and always offers lots of extra credit and make-up work, then this student can end up with a “B” in geometry. If, however, this same student just happened to have been scheduled into Ms. Richards’ class, he would have earned a “D” as Ms. Richards’ offers no extra credit and heavily weights exams. Mr. Jones and Ms. Richards teach the same subject in the same school which issues the same transcripts to the same Universities who use high school grades as one of the factors in acceptance. (Nunley, 2004, p.1) Variances in specific teacher assessments within the weighted categories of the grade may lead to discrepancies in grade calculations. “The number and variety of assessment measures employ the validity of a student’s grade” (Carlson, 2003, p.509). The discrepancies in grade calculation can lead to misinterpretation of the grade that is shown

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.12 on the report card. Depending on the number of assignments or the type of assignments individual teacher’s assign the grade of students will not be consistent from one teacher to another. Students themselves are aware of these inconsistencies. One student journalist, from the Paly Voice, the Palo Alto High School Newspaper, writes, “When two students of the similar intelligence and work ethic receive different grades in the same course because of their teacher’s inconsistent grading policies, there is a major problem.” (Javerbaum, The Paly Voice) Students know that their futures can rely on these grades and feel that inconsistency is unjust. The third factor that needs to be examined when looking at grade inconsistency is the lack of common instruments used by teachers to determine grades. With the development of standard grading criteria, teachers, students, parents, and community stakeholders will be able to evaluate individual student mastery of content with greater and more complete comprehension. “How can we find out if an A earned in a subject in one school is the same level of achievement as an A earned in that subject matter in another school? One way is to compare student performance on end-of-course examinations” (Boston, 2003, p 2). Comparing students based on an academic test at the end of the course would demonstrate students’ content mastery in a specific course of study. For example, if every teacher who taught the same course in a school building had a common final exam it would help in creating consistency among the students in that building. This final exam test score would not take in to consideration any of the variable factors sometimes considered in grade determinations. Another instrument that is not commonly used at the secondary level is a standards-based report card that clearly explains the grade assigned, either by adding a

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.13 narrative portion or a check-off of academic standards achieved. “Rather than a familiar A through F in each subject, standards-based report cards might feature numbers or phrases that represent whether students have reached, exceeded, or not yet met various specific performance expectations” (Boston, 2003, p. 3). A standards-based report card would clearly communicate a student’s academic achievement to a person trying to interpret a letter grade on a report card. Because these common instruments are used infrequently, it is “explained that report cards alone rarely provide a clear response on how students are doing in the classroom. Many of these youngsters who receive high grades are not proficient” (Sraiheen and Lesisko, 2006, p. 4). Some school systems have available comments to choose from to put on the report card in addition to the letter grade, but they are usually very general and there are often a limited number of comments from which to choose. The teacher should have the opportunity to explain the grade on a report card so that the reader has a clear understanding of its meaning. The final factor that needs to be addressed when developing a consistent grading system is the subjectivity of teachers while they grade assignments. All teachers are human beings; and humans, by the nature of their species, are subjective. “Every step along the route, from deciding to have an exam to the final bookkeeping, involves a series of choices – choices that often as not are resolved by reference to personal biases, past experiences, old exams, old colleagues, and chicken entrails” (Durham, 2006, 18). The type of assessment given by a teacher, or the time within which it is given, might affect some student’s grades in a positive manner and others in a negative manner. The conditions under which assignments are given to students and assessed are not free from

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.14 personal biases, opinions, or feelings. This underlying human element makes it difficult for grading systems from teacher to teacher to be consistent, valid, and fair for students. The interpretation of grades can have a significant impact on a student’s future. “Despite their questionable psychometric properties, however, grades have a powerful influence on students” (Guskey, 2006, p. 3). These influences can include scholarship and other award decisions, college acceptance, and even employability and salary determination. “Grading still stands as the premiere method of informing parents, students, educators, administrators, and community stakeholders regarding an individual students’ acquisition of essential skills and knowledge. It is the base of accountability for public education” (Carlson, 2003). The problem is that those relying on grades as a communication of achievement do not truly have an understanding of the composition of that grade because grade determination is left up to individual teachers.

Problem Statement and Action Research Questions This proposal involved researching the grading practices of approximately 80 teachers in a medium-size suburban high school. The primary source of data collection was through surveys. The data collected was compared to the current district policies. Three teachers were asked to volunteer to be interviewed as a follow-up to the survey in order to gain further understanding of grading practices and philosophies. In addition, grade distribution reports were reviewed. The data was analyzed for inconsistency among grading systems and reliability of assigned grades. The purpose of this study was to examine teacher practices and philosophy when assessing student achievement. Grades are used by teachers, parents, students, and

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.15 administrators to measure student progress in a class, to measure students against existing standards, and to measure students against each another. If teachers have different philosophies on how to measure student achievement, these variations could create inconsistencies that lead to an unreliable grading system. There were two questions that framed the research in this proposal. The first question was “How much inconsistency exists in grading systems in a suburban high school?” The second question was “Do inconsistencies in the grading systems of teachers make grades unreliable?” One challenge of this action research proposal was to obtain constructive feedback from the teachers in the form of a survey. To encourage truthful responses, the survey was conducted anonymously; however, there was a concern that teachers who were uncertain about the validity of their grading practices would not provide responses. The second limitation was the availability of grade distribution reports. Only the 20072008 school year report was available, so it was impossible to compare the report to previous years. The pie chart on the following page, Figure 1, visually represents the five factors believed to contribute to possible inconsistencies in the grading system at this school. Each factor included in the chart is rated according to the percentage to which the researcher felt it impacted the grading system in her school. The first factor, training on grading, refers to the education a teacher has received on how to grade and assess students. School policies, which are the second factor, are the policies set by the board of education that would affect teachers’ grading systems. The third factor that could influence possible grading inconsistencies is the amount of time that individual teachers

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.16 spend on assessing student work each week. The next factor that can play a role in assessment is individual teacher’s philosophies and beliefs about grading systems. The fifth factor that may lead to inconsistencies in grading systems can occur when teachers devise a grading system based on a mix of their colleagues’ grading systems. And the last factor that can contribute to inconsistent grading systems is the influence of outside factors, including special education laws, guidance counselors, and parents. Figure 1

The graphic organizer on the next page, Figure 2, displays variables that were researched in this proposal. The two questions in the rectangles at the top of the page are the focus questions for this study. All of the questions in the smaller rectangles are the questions that guided the development of research and data collection to answer the focus

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.17 questions. The offspring of the smaller squares display the methods of data collection for the variable questions. Figure 2 How much inconsistency exists in grading systems in a suburban high school?

Do inconsistencies in teacher’s grading systems make grades unreliable?

How much time do teachers spend each week assessing student work?

Do teachers give the same final exam at the end of a course?

Teacher surveys

Teacher surveys

Interviews

Do teachers give the same assessments when they are teaching the same course?

Do teachers of the same course set up the same weighted categories to calculate quarter averages? Teacher surveys

Teacher surveys What are the philosophies behind teacher grading systems? Are grading systems unreliable?

Teacher surveys

Admission Counselor surveys

Interviews

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.18 Design and Methods A qualitative approach was used to investigate the inconsistencies among grading systems in a suburban New Jersey high school. These measures included surveys, as well as both formal and informal interviews of colleagues and college admission counselors. In addition, the researcher accessed and examined the grading policies of the school district. After satisfying all school and district procedures for conducting research, a survey was administered to the teachers. The surveys were designed to elicit information about the grading procedures, practices, and beliefs among teachers. The surveys were carefully analyzed for patterns and insights into practices. Three volunteer teachers were then interviewed as a follow-up to gain further understanding and insight into grading practices and philosophies in the building. The principal in the researcher’s school simultaneously did further research on the topic of grading and assessment. The results of his survey were also examined and compared to the results of the researcher’s initial survey. In addition to teacher surveys and interviews, college admissions counselors were also surveyed. These surveys were designed to find out what admissions counselors are looking for when evaluating a candidate and the role that transcripts and students grades play in their admissions process.

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.19 Figure 3 Research Questions How do grading systems affect student achievement? How much time do teachers spend each week grading student assessments? What are the grading systems teachers use to measure student achievement? Do teachers use the same assessments at the end of the lesson, unit, and/or course? Do teachers administer the same final exam at the end of a course? How much inconsistency exists in grading? Data Source 1 Grade Distribution Report (Examining Data) Teacher Survey (Enquiring Data) Data Source 2 Data Source 3

Interview (Enquiring Data)

Teacher Survey (Enquiring Data)

Interview (Enquiring Data)

Teacher Survey (Enquiring Data)

Interview (Enquiring Data)

Grade Distribution Report (Examining Data)

Teacher Surveys (Enquiring)

Interview College Admissions Counselors (Enquiring Data)

What are the philosophies behind how teachers grade student assessments? What are the outside influences that affect grade determination?

Teacher Survey (Enquiring Data)

Interview (Enquiring Data)

Teacher Survey (Enquiring Data)

Interview (Enquiring Data)

Interview Guidance and/or Special Services (Enquiring Data)

The researcher included a variety of data collection methods in an attempt to support triangulation. Figure 3 above demonstrates this attempt to triangulate the data collection.

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.20 Figure 4: Timeline December 1, 2008 November 1, 2008 October 1, 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 Action Research Report and Action Plan due to advisor Report of Findings due to Advisor (Section V) Revisions of Sections I, II, III, and IV due to advisor Transcribed and analyzed interviews Revision of Sections I, II, III, and IV Accessed grade distribution reports for the year Interviewed Teachers and College Admissions Counselors Compiled and analyze surveys Collected surveys from teachers Obtained approval of survey from school principal and WPU advisor. Gave surveys out to teachers Gathered data on school policies concerning grades Action Research Proposals with responses available Designed Survey and obtained approval from field advisor Action Research Proposal (Sections II-IV) due to EDLP office

December 20, 2007 December 3, 2007

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.21 Data Analysis Section In this study, the consistency of grading practices was analyzed by examining school policies and surveying teachers from a suburban high school, while a second survey targeted college admissions counselors, in an effort to determine the reliability of current grading systems. Seventy-four teachers were surveyed. Thirty-six returned results for data analysis, which equates to a 48.6% return rate. The teacher survey, seen in Appendix A, outlined factors that contributed to possible grading inconsistencies: teacher training in grading, the use of common assessment tools, teacher attitudes and beliefs about grading, and teacher subjectivity when grading. Additionally, the calculation of grades, school policy, time devoted to grading, and external influences such as parents and guidance counselors, all determined the conclusions of this research. The first question in the survey asked teachers how they developed their grading systems. The teachers’ responses varied; 17% said it was based on coursework from teacher education programs, 36% based it on their colleagues grading systems, 39% drew upon personal experience when they were students, and 31% stated other factors, such as trial and error, board policy, and department guidelines. Next, teachers were asked to select from a list factors that are considered when assessing student work. The response was 83% evaluate based on student effort, 58% consider special circumstances, 11% take into account the student’s prior performance history, and 6% cited variables such as student ability particularly their Individualized Education Plans or 504 Accommodations. The teachers were then asked if they taught an identical course to at least one other colleague in the building. Of the 27 participants who answered yes, 33% do not collaborate in the development of lesson plans and 81% do not give their students the

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.22 same tests and quizzes. Of the 85% who do offer students similar assignments (other than tests and quizzes), 37% do not use rubrics to assess those assignments. Forty-one percent do not give their students the same final exam as their colleagues. When calculating student quarterly averages, 48% of these teachers do not use the same category weights. The data collected from the surveys reflected the fact that a large percentage of teachers do not use common assessment tools, and confirmed the increased likelihood for an inconsistent grading system.

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.23 Finally, the teachers were asked to respond openly to the question, “What is the biggest challenge in maintaining a fair and consistent grading system, in multiple sections for the same course from period to period, semester to semester and year to year?” Of the 36 teachers who returned the survey, 83% answered this question. Thirty-three percent of the teachers who replied mentioned addressing individual learning needs as a concern when trying to maintain consistency. One teacher said, “With mainstreaming of students with different abilities in the same class, fair and consistent grading is difficult at best. Compound that with special accommodations and privileges for students with IEP’s or extended absences. A special accommodation for some students, as a leveling off of the playing field, usually just inflates their grades.” She continues to say, “Teachers of electives are asked to maintain high standards of competency, but are given students with low levels of ability. Grading now becomes skewed. The student barely competent of passing ‘receives’ a C, but the student who tries really hard also ‘earns’ a C. Tracking students by ability creates inconsistency.” Another teacher replied that he “has to reach each class (and individuals) based on their ability and the curriculum. Some classes have better attendance, more ability, and work harder than others.” Although addressing individual learning needs was not included in the initial hypothesis, it became apparent from teacher responses that special accommodations, such as IEPs, influenced inconsistency in the grading systems of teachers in this school. One teacher responded to the open-ended question by saying that teachers need to “eliminate ‘subjective opinions’ and stick to ‘objective observations”. This response substantiates the researcher’s assertion that there is subjectivity in grading. All teachers are human beings and humans, by the nature of their species, are subjective.

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.24 Another aspect of this research included the school district’s grading policies. One policy states in grades 9-12, “all homework will be discussed, graded, or checked. Regular assignments in English, Science, Mathematics, Social Studies, Business, Foreign Language, and Health will count as twenty percent (20%) of each marking period’s grade.” Although this policy would seem to provide consistency, the policy is not specific enough. Teachers reported that they spend varied amounts of time assigning and assessing assignments. For example, 28% of teachers assign 1-10 homework assignments per quarter, 31% assign 11-20, 33% assign more than 21, and 3% reported not being required to assign homework. Teachers exercise subjectivity because some merely discuss homework in class or simply check for understanding, while others thoroughly assess. The second question the researcher aimed to answer was, “Do inconsistencies in teacher’s grading systems make grades unreliable?” To answer this question, surveys were sent to college admission counselors that factor transcript grades while making acceptance decisions. When asked, “Do you feel that grades are consistent enough from school to school to use them to measure and compare students for entrance to your school,” an admission counselor from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina responded, “No, I do not feel that grades are consistent. Unfortunately, that is why so much weight is put on standardized tests. It is helpful when high schools send a school profile because this information helps colleges determine how rigorous the students’ course selections were when compared to the possible courses available at the college.” The school profile is a document that is sent to colleges and universities, that details the demographics of the school enrollment, average standardized test scores and the courses

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.25 offered. The director of admissions for Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ said that “First, the high school transcript will indicate the courses, grades, and course level, and then it is followed by the test scores.” She said, “Admissions counselors will read the applications of the students in the territory they travel, so they are familiar with the competitiveness of their high schools.” The reality is that some high schools are more competitive than others. This provides for a different level of academic rigor at each school. Admissions counselors take these levels into consideration when reading and interpreting a high school transcript. The results of the surveys clearly revealed the inconsistencies that exist in the grading systems of the teachers in this suburban high school. What is equally clear, however, is that college admissions counselors are aware of the inconsistencies in grading systems both within and between schools, and they read and interpret transcripts based upon the their knowledge of the school from which the student is graduating. The initial research was to include comparative data analysis of the grade distribution reports from the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years. However, the student information system was replaced during this time period and cumulative data was unavailable, making a true year-to-year data comparison unreliable. Action Plan The purpose of this action research was to discover inconsistencies in a grading system among teachers at a suburban high school. Further, there was a need to explore the affect they had on the reliability of grades. An action plan was designed to create awareness for teachers, with the ultimate goal of developing a consistent grading system.

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.26 After compiling data, the initial step was to share the findings of this research with the building principal. The principal concurs that there are inconsistencies. So the researcher will generate a common planning time schedule with the help of the principal. Next, she will attend a meeting to present her findings and the available common planning time to the five department supervisors. A discussion about grading practices, beliefs, and philosophies will take place. Supervisors will be asked to take this discussion back to their departments. The researcher will then ask teachers who share the concerns for grading inconsistencies to meet during their common planning time to discuss their grading systems and work to create common lessons, assessments, rubrics, and final exams. The teachers will be asked to report back with feedback and reflections on the process they pursued. In addition, the researcher’s department has committed to continue their practice of working collaboratively to plan lessons, quizzes, tests, assessments, rubrics, and final exams. This practice will serve as a model for teachers in the building who are working toward this consistent grading practice and those that want to see it in action. The plan also proposes the formation of a grading committee comprised of teachers, students, parents, and administrators working collaboratively to further discuss and examine grading practices and policies of this high school. It is recommended that this action research continue by monitoring the grade distribution reports from semester to semester and year to year in an effort to collect further data and continue the conversations about grading practices, procedures, and policies. It is also recommended that when scheduling is done, there is an attempt for teachers who instruct the same classes to have a common planning time. This time will

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.27 provide teachers the opportunity for discussion and collaboration in planning, which will ultimately lead toward more consistent grading practices in this suburban high school. Chart A depicts the recommended actions to address the first five determining factors that lead to an inconsistent grading system. They are: common grade setup, use of rubrics, common tests/quizzes; common final exams, and number of assignments given to students. The timeline to commit each action into practice is 2008 through 2009. Chart B reveals actions to address the sixth factor, common beliefs and philosophies of teachers. The timeline to address these actions are 2009 through 2010.

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.28 Chart A Recommended Action Targeted to Findings Discuss findings with principal Meet with supervisors Meet with teachers who share these grading concerns Make teachers aware of common planning time that already exists for those who instruct the same courses; work in the future to create time in the schedule common planning time In this planning time, teachers can work to create common assignments, common quizzes, tests, and final exams, rubrics to assess these assignments and decide on the grade make-up Professional development for writing rubrics and creating effective projects/assignments. Who is Responsible for the Action?
Principal Teachers Supervisors Teachers Teachers Principal Teachers Supervisors Principal Principal Supervisors Teachers None Supervisors Supervisors None

Who Needs to Be Consulted or Informed?
Principal

Who Will Monitor/Collect Data?
Principal

Resources
None

Teacher schedules
Teachers Teachers

Supervisors

Teachers

Teachers

Supervisors

Teachers

Physical space; research and information on grading practices, rubrics, etc.

Teachers

Principal

Principal

Workshops

Teachers

Supervisors

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.29 Chart B Recommended Action Targeted to Findings To come to conclusions about during planning sessions, teachers will work to understand differences in belief and philosophies. Who is Responsible for the Action?
Teachers

Who Needs to Be Consulted or Informed?
Principal

Who Will Monitor/Collect Data?
Supervisors

Resources

None

Teachers

Teachers

Teachers Principal

Teachers Students Parents Principal

Teachers Principal

Grading committee

physical space; research and information on grading practices and policies.

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.30 Appendix A

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.31 References Allen, J.D. (2005). Grades as valid measures of academic achievement of classroom learning. Clearing House, 78(5), 218-223. Boston, Carol. (2003) High school report cards. ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 481 815) Retrieved November 28, 2007 from ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center database). Carlson, L. (2003). Beyond assessment to best grading practice: practical guidelines. Measuring Up: Assessment Issues for Teachers, Counselors, and Administrators. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 480 071) Retrieved October 30, 2007 from ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center database). Durham, Q. (2006) The realities of classroom testing and grading: A guide to performance issues. Massachusetts: Rowman and Littlefied Education. Durm, Mark, W. (1993). An A is not an A is not an A: A history of grading. The Educational Forum. Retrieved November 27, 2007 from http://www.indiana.edu/~educy520/sec6342/week_07/durm93.pdf Guskey, T. (2001). Helping standards make the grade. Educational Leadership, 59(1), 20-27. Gusky, T. (2006) It wasn’t fair! Educators’ recollections of their experiences as students with grading. American Educational Research Association. 1-3 Huhn, C. (2005). How many points is this worth? Educational Leadership, 63(3), 81-82. Javerbaum, M. (2006). Inconsistent grading policies unfair. [Electronic version]. The Paly Voice, p 1. Nunely, K. (2004). If we must use grades, let’s make them reliable. Retrieved November 20, 2007, from http://help4teachers.com/reliablegrades.htm Sraiheen, A. & Lesisko, L. J. (2006). Grade inflation: An elementary and secondary perspective. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 490 038) Retrieved November 1, 2007 from ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center database).

Grading Systems at the Secondary Level, p.32

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). Grading for success. Educational Leadership 58(6), 12-15. Trowbridge, S. (2007). Educational rituals: Questioning how we educate our children. Phi Delta Kappan, 88(5), 395-398. Wormeli, R. (2006). Accountability: Teaching through assessment and feedback, not grading. American Secondary Education, 34(3), 14-27

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