New universal grading policies spark debate

The policies, a part of the districts Grading for Learning initiative, are designed to make grading uniform, but may not work for all

Teachers implemented major shifts in school-wide grading practices at the start of the 2022-23 school year. With the year’s first midterms and conferences taking place, students and staff are feeling the impacts of these universal new rules – for better or for worse.

Among the policies announced at the start of the school year was that formative assessments could no longer be worth more than 30% of a student’s grade, while summative assessments were required to be weighted at 70% or more.

Additionally, any form of extra credit has been prohibited and teachers are now required to allow retakes on all summative assessments. One-third of BHS teachers  experimented with these new practices as a part of the district-wide Grading for Learning program last school year.

The new policies are intended to make grading reflect what a student knows at the end of a unit or course and not reward or penalize students for things like behavior, attendance, participation, or work that is unrelated to standards. The policy distributed to teachers explains that “equitable and consistent grading practices give all students the opportunity to succeed”.

The University of Minnesota has pushed to allow increased weight of formative assessments, which is why CIS classes are exempted from the required 70/30 split. This is aimed to encourage students to invest in an actual process, in which skills are developed over time and mastered, rather than just demonstrated on a final paper.

“In order to have a dynamic, risk-taking writing classroom,” the U of M policy statement explains, “it is essential that students understand the importance of engagement in the process, not just the production of a final essay.”

Peter Sommers, who teaches CIS Writing, agrees with the U of M’s standpoint.

“I tried using the school’s policy of not counting formative assessments last year, or counting them for less than I currently do, and I found students (often because of a poverty of aspiration and motivation) did not value or engage in the writing process,” said Sommers. “This undermined their ability to practice and grow as writers, and it undermined their accountability to their peers’ growth as well as their own. ”

Even though most teachers are using these new non-negotiables, some are skeptical of the impact they are having on learning.

“Retakes slow down learning when you allow them,” one teacher said, “because students are more focused on relearning old information than learning the material that is currently being taught. In the best interest of my classes, it doesn’t work. Segments don’t connect and are not built off previous units. […] The only times I have allowed them, the students who were allowed to retake typically have scored lower on their retakes.”

Members of the BHS administration were asked to comment on the new assessment framework but did not respond to emails from The Hoofprint.

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Aver McCallum

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