Achievement Schools Truth in Grading

By Josh Czupryk

For the past year, we have struggled with the disconnect we saw between our students’ grades and where they performed on the TCAP. We followed a traditional system that gave our students grades based on a combination of their effort and what they learned. In reality, we did not share what we knew – that the majority of our students were behind their peers across the state in demonstrating what is expected for their grade level.

No longer are we going to have kids getting A’s, only to discover they’re “Below Basic” on the TCAP.

Coming into the 2013-14 academic year, we are committed to starting a conversation between students, families, and teachers that drives action through our grading system. We knew that adopting a version of Standards Based Grading meant we were venturing into uncharted territory. We also knew we would not create a grading system that was perfectly predictive of student performance on the TCAP in our first year. But we couldn’t wait. After much debate, we decided our students and families couldn’t wait for us to create a perfect system before starting this dialogue.

Therefore, when we started this journey, we asked ourselves what we believed about grades. We had the following four answers:

  • Grades should reflect learning—what concepts and skills a student has mastered, not effort.
  • Grades should drive conversations between students, families, and teachers.
  • Grades should lead to action by telling us each student’s areas of strength and areas that need more improvement.
  • Our grading scale should hold our students to the same high bar for learning that is held for them by the state.

As a result of these beliefs, we developed a grading system where our teachers will assess students on grade level expectations in multiple ways (e.g. traditional tests, projects, conversations with rubrics, demonstrations) and record student performance. These measures will be communicated to students and their families eight times a year with an overall projection of how the student is currently performing and a more detailed look at how a student is doing in reading and math by sharing student performance by domain (for example – geometry, measurement, algebra, etc.). The idea is for students, families, and teachers to sit down with these grade reports and to talk about areas where the student is excelling and can extend their learning and to talk about areas where the student has not yet met expectations and will need to revisit the skill or concept with the teacher’s assistance.

We recognize this is a significant change from the way we graded last year. We know our new grading scale looks very different than it did last year. We also know demonstrating an average of 70 percent mastery or higher of grade level skills and concepts on a variety of assessments is something to celebrate as this is, on average, the score you would need to get to be “proficient” (or on grade level) on the TCAP assessment. As we said in a letter home to parents, if you have questions about these changes, please stop in to speak with your student’s principal or teacher – they are eager to start the conversation!

As always, we are excited about the journey we are on with our students and our families and we will remain committed to making decisions that ensure our students get what they need to succeed. We look forward to sitting down with all of our families after report cards are released on October 25 to talk about our students and the steps we are all going to take to make sure they show Tennessee and the nation what they are capable of achieving.

The bottom line is this—we’re going to have truth and openness in grading, and we’re going to grade what our kids have learned. No family deserves to be shocked and disappointed when grades don’t honestly reflect grade level proficiency and students’ readiness for the next academic challenge on their horizon.

For more information, see the Standards Based Grading Parent Letter and FAQ we created for parents today, check out the Standards Based Grading slide deck, and email us at