D87 School Board Implements New Grading Policies
March 23, 2022
In the past year, the District 87 School Board has passed and implemented a set of grading policies throughout all schools in the district. The policies in place include numerous changes to the existing methods, informed by years of research. They have met an altogether mixed response from students, staff, and parents. Looking forward, further changes to the grading system may be on the horizon.
The new policies are a series of district-wide standards for which grading in all classes in District 87 should conform. According to a letter from District 87 to parents, the grading policies are intended to “make sure grades are a meaningful communication of student learning and achievement.” Paraphrasing from the letter, these policies are:
- More retake opportunities
- No penalty for late work within a timeframe
- No group grades
- No extra credit
- An extra point for AP/honors classes in terms of GPA
- Easily accessible syllabi
- Formative assessments may be worth 20 percent or less of a term grade
- Summative assessments may be worth 80 percent or more of a term grade
- Honor roll is based on GPA only and a failing grade no longer disqualifies a student
- Academic dishonesty will be met with dean’s consequences and require the student to retake the assignment
- In the event of an unexcused absence, the student must be able to participate in missed assignments
- Teachers may opt to use the Not Submitted (NS) code for missing assignments, which is equivalent to a 50%
All of these policies were driven by a central belief articulated in a release from District 87: “the purpose of grades is to provide clear and accurate indicators of student learning that are aligned to learning standards and provide feedback to students and other stakeholders at a given moment in time.”
Neither these policies nor the belief statement backing them were created by the Board out of thin air—both were the result of years of research and consideration by a group of teachers and administrators known as the Grading Policy Research Committee.
The Grading Policy Research Committee is the group which defined the belief statement and the policies in place today. This committee, including several administrators and teachers, is led by Ms. Melissa Creech, Executive Director for Teaching and Learning Innovation and Instruction.
Ms. Creech said, “The Grading Policy Research Committee was started several years ago to really talk about the purpose of grades, our grading beliefs, and to make recommendations for making sure that our grades were aligning with our purpose and belief statements.” It was composed of “20 to 30 teachers and administrators” over the course of three years. Ms. Creech was “not on the committee when it first formed” and “took over the leadership of that committee” in 2020.
However, Ms. Kimberly Gwizdala, English Department Chair and English teacher at Glenbard West, has been on the committee from the start, when it was formed in September of 2018.
Over the course of the next three years, the committee would eventually develop the policies seen today. According to Ms. Gwizdala, “We knew going into the year that this was going to be a priority for us to start examining grade books, examining how we report out grades, and making sure that there’s more consistency in the areas that are needed.”
We knew going into the year that this was going to be a priority for us to start examining grade books, examining how we report out grades, and making sure that there’s more consistency in the areas that are needed.”
— Ms. Gwizdala
During the first year, the intent was to understand what was going on in the world of grading. Ms. Gwizdala said, “First year was: let’s understand the conversation with regard to grading and what’s out there. What’s the research telling us? What are the proposals? What are the suggestions? What do we know that works and what do we know that, oftentimes, falls short?” During that first year, “book studies” were one way by which the committee became acquainted with the existing conversation on the subject of grades, during which the committee read books and articles from authors in the field of grading. Additionally, there was a subcommittee that had “engage[d] in conversations with schools who were perhaps a few steps ahead of us in terms of the work.”
The findings of the first year are summed up in the following statements, transcribed verbatim from a document compiled by Ms. Gwizdala. The full names of authors and associated books or articles were expanded from the last names listed based on information from Ms. Gwizdala and Ms. Creech.
- A student should never reach a place where there is no point in doing any more work because failure is inevitable. (Susan Brookhart, Starting the Conversation About Grading)
- Grades should reflect growth and learning. It [sic] should weigh recent performance and growth, instead of averaging performance over time. (Thomas Guskey, Five Obstacles to Grading Reform and On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting; Douglas Reeves, Taking the Grading Conversation Public; Rick Wormeli & Ken O’Connor, Reporting Student Learning)
- Grades should reflect knowledge and understanding and not be used to reward compliance or homework completion. (Thomas Guskey, Five Obstacles to Grading Reform and On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting; Douglas Reeves, Taking The Grading Conversation Public; Rick Wormeli & Ken O’Connor, Reporting Student Learning; Rick Wormeli, Retakes & Redos Done Right and Fair isn’t Always Equal)
- A student grade should demonstrate understanding or skill proficiency, and the grade should not also measure if they tried hard, came late to class, or if they missed multiple classes prior to demonstrating their learning. (Rick Wormeli, Retakes & Redos Done Right and Fair isn’t Always Equal; Thomas Guskey, Five Obstacles to Grading Reform and On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting)
- Grading practices must be consistent among all teachers in a course. (Thomas Guskey & Jane Bailey, Five Obstacles to Grading Reform)
- A grading scale should be equitable across all levels of achievement. (Douglas Reeves, Taking the Grading Conversation Public; Thomas Guskey, Five Obstacles to Grading Reform and On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting; Susan Brookhart, Starting the Conversation About Grading)
- The primary audiences for the message conveyed in grades are students and their parents; grading policies should aim to give them useful, timely, actionable information. Teachers, administrators, and other educators are secondary audiences. (Susan Brookhart, Starting the Conversation About Grading)
Though these statements contain traces of the modern belief statement, the committee’s work was not done yet. During the second year, the committee began to “develop an articulated purpose of a grade” by “trying to get a bunch of administrators and teachers together to articulate that,” according to Ms. Gwizdala. Additionally, the committee “started to gather data to see what was actually happening within our school” to consider the situation at the time from the perspectives of stakeholders.
[W]e got to that place in the second year where we made the note here that grades are clear and accurate indicators of student learning aligned to standards providing feedback to students and other stakeholders at a given moment in time.”
— Ms. Gwizdala
“Ultimately, we got to that place in the second year where we made the note here that grades are clear and accurate indicators of student learning aligned to standards providing feedback to students and other stakeholders at a given moment in time,” said Ms. Gwizdala. It was at this point that the committee finally reached the belief statement which would eventually be released in 2021 with the policies.
Moving forward, the committee “started to have conversations about, ‘Okay, so we have this research, we have this purpose. Now let’s look to see what it would look like in terms of policies,’” said Ms. Gwizdala.
In developing the specific policies, the committee intended to “make sure that grades are always about learning” and “mak[e] sure that the grade doesn’t contain other things that are not about learning,” said Ms. Creech.
Several examples of this were apparent before the new policies. For instance, Assistant Principal of Instruction and a member of the committee, Mr. Benjamin Peterselli, said, “Extra credit is a method by which one can improve one’s grade without increasing their learning.” Cheating on an assignment used to result in a score of 0 and disciplinary consequences. If a student cheats, though disciplinary action should be taken for their behavior, “we don’t know what their level of learning is,” said Mr. Peterselli. Additionally, Mr. Peterselli said formative assignments were “practice” and that the final summative experience was a more accurate reflection of learning as a culmination of all the work and understanding gained along the way. All of these issues and more were considered in the formation of the final policies.
Ms. Gwizdala said that the committee “[didn’t] ever want to mandate that every single PLC or teacher needs to act the same exact way,” but at the same time they recognized that grades “[have] an impact on how [students] see the classes and, sometimes, how they see themselves.” The committee believed it was important that “everybody, no matter what class you’re in, what class you teach, can agree that grades should be an indicator of learning” at the very least, because that was “foundational” to making any further steps.
At the same time, according to Mr. Sutton, President of the Glenbard Education Association and driver’s education teacher at Glenbard West, the policies “ensur[ed] that each individual PLC could decide which changes they wanted to make to their course’s grading policy,” allowing certain leeways in some of the statements while maintaining consistency for each individual course. For example, usage of the NS code is not mandatory and, though teachers may not penalize late work within a certain window, it remains up to the PLCs how long of a window to provide.
By the time the 2021-2022 school year rolled around, the committee had presented its recommendations to the School Board and the Board had chosen to implement them.
When the policies were proposed and when they went into effect at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, they received varying responses from students, parents, and staff. Throughout the process, surveys and other methods were used to gauge the sentiment among stakeholders.
According to Ms. Creech, students frequently responded in the most recent rounds of district-wide surveys that “the changes positively impacted both their learning and reducing their stress level.”
[I]t gives students the opportunity to really show teachers what they’ve learned”
— Ms. Moffatt
Ms. Hannah Moffatt, junior at Glenbard West, voiced strong support for the policies, saying it “gives students the opportunity to really show teachers what they’ve learned” and allows grades to reflect “how much students know and not just how they were—how they performed on a given day.” Additionally, she noted that the unpenalized late work policy was “really helpful” because “students of all performance levels” have moments when “an assignment will slip [their] mind.”
Test scores are kind of relative to how you’re feeling that day, how you were feeling up until that day, how you studied for the test—it depends on your home life and your school life.”
— Ms. Zimmer
However, Ms. Jenna Zimmer, junior at Glenbard West, opposed specifically the summative-formative weighting policies implemented. She said, “Test scores are kind of relative to how you’re feeling that day, how you were feeling up until that day, how you studied for the test—it depends on your home life and your school life” in addition to variables like diet, sleep, and other factors. Ms. Zimmer reached the conclusion that these errors can make test scores, now often the biggest influence on grades with the new summative-formative weighting, “very skewed and kind of unreliable.” She continued, “You could know the knowledge, and then be tested on it on a bad day and get a horrible grade.”
Mr. Ruthvik Mattupalli, senior at Glenbard West, voiced support for the extra credit section of the new policies, saying that “the old extra credit policy targeted a person’s willingness to commit” rather than their learning.
Mr. Charlie Van Ek, junior at Glenbard West, supported this specific policy on different grounds, citing that “there’s some extra credit that teachers would give that [he] didn’t think was super fair” in the vein of, “attend this festival,” or, “go see this performance.” As some students may not have access or be able to fulfill the requirements, he thought extra credit may have been inequitable. He maintained, however, that there was still extra credit which “[went] deeper into the topic” and ultimately aided learning, but was still removed.
Considering the parent perspective, in the district-wide surveys, “the things that the families said were really similar to what the students said,” said Ms. Creech.
Ms. Melissa Williams, parent of two Glenbard West students as well as Math Department Chair and precalculus teacher, expressed support for the policies, saying in an email, “It’s hard to argue with giving students a reason to go back and learn content that they haven’t yet mastered (through retake opportunities) or not penalizing students’ grades for non-academic reasons (like late work penalties, for example).”
Mr. Patrick McCluskey, parent of three Glenbard West students and math teacher, expressed that the new policies “give [students] every opportunity to be successful.” Additionally, he believed they allowed students “to learn the material” regardless of whether they “learn quickly” or “learn at a slower pace.”
Additionally, Ms. Tracy Dohrer, parent of one Glenbard West student and Spanish teacher, also supported the retake policies, saying, “Everybody has a bad day once in a while or you feel like you’re prepared as much as you could and the test just didn’t go your way.”
On the other hand, at a District 87 School Board meeting on August 9, 2021, Ms. Susie Warden, parent of a Glenbard West senior, questioned whether the policies were “motivating our kids or just letting them pass through.” When reached out to follow up on her statements, Ms. Warden stood by what she said.
Though an effort was made to reach parents through online forums, no replies were received from parents of any currently-enrolled students.
On the topic of teacher responses, the district-wide surveys indicated many teachers “felt like the grading practices they had this year made them more closely aligned to our beliefs about grading,” according to Ms. Creech.
Mr. Sutton said the new grading system “has not been a major issue for most of our educators” because “[m]ost teachers understand the freedom that they still have in deciding what the grading policy for each course looks like.”
I think a lot of teachers in the English department have been utilizing that approach with writing because you’ll be a better writer if you utilize feedback, revise, and submit again.”
— Ms. Fritts
Considering the policy on retakes, Ms. Carolyn Fritts, English 1 Honors teacher, said, “In our 1 H PLC, we have been utilizing the revision policy on summatives for a while. […] I think a lot of teachers in the English department have been utilizing that approach with writing because you’ll be a better writer if you utilize feedback, revise, and submit again.”
Additionally, regarding the policy on academic dishonesty, Ms. Fritts argued that, while “there should be a school consequence for dishonesty,” “the teachers still need something to assess,” as a student who plagiarized is “not giving [teachers] a sample of [their] writing” to grade.
Mr. Kyle Neiss, AP English Language and Composition teacher, noted a similar lack of change with the revision policy, saying, “I’ve always […] been supportive of retake policies in years past. I used to have a folder downstairs where kids could come and retake as well, so it’s not really that new, I think, for the team that I’m a part of.
“I’m really happy with where our grading policy is heading. My goal has always been to have the kids focused more on their development and learning and improvement as opposed to the grade, which is really hard and I think a lot of these policies maybe make that a little bit easier.”
[D]etention is not an appropriate repercussion for, ‘Oh, I have absolutely no integrity in my course.’”
— Mr. Medic
On the other hand, Mr. Bruce Medic, physics teacher, expressed concerns on various policies. Though the retake policies did not bring much change in his classes, as “[their] already-in-place policies fit within those guidelines,” Mr. Medic believed the academic dishonesty policy “takes away from the teacher’s ability to maintain their course” and “sends the wrong message to the students,” arguing that “detention is not an appropriate repercussion for, ‘Oh, I have absolutely no integrity in my course.’” Additionally, considering the summative-formative weighting section, Mr. Medic “think[s] trying to break anything academically into, ‘This is completely summative, this completely formative,’ is not really doable.”
Regarding the grading policies as a whole, Mr. Medic remarked, “You’re trying to make a blanket statement across an entire school and any policy that is applied equally to English, to math, to science, to different sciences—biology, chemistry, physics—to social studies, to gym—all of these courses are so different. To try and put specific labels and structures in place that are appropriate to every single curriculum, I don’t consider possible. I think every course is different—every teacher is different.”
Though most teachers who were asked about their views on the grading policies responded, some teachers declined to comment on the subject.
Currently, the Grading Policy Research Committee is looking to propose a couple more changes in the way we see grades.
“We currently say that grades are all 5-4-3-2-1, and so what we’re proposing for next year is that grades will be A-B-C-D-F,” said Ms. Creech. Another “unique Glenbard thing” which may be changed is the 5.0 scale, as “we’re on a 5.0 scale and really the rest of the world is on a 4.0 scale,” according to Ms. Creech. This leads to some confusion for students, as most colleges are on the 4.0 scale. Though neither of these switches would result in any concrete change in terms of what grade a student has earned, these proposals aim to make grades more “clear and consistent for our students” when they try to use their grades to make college or scholarship decisions, according to Ms. Creech.
When asked if they had any suggestions moving forward regarding the grading policies, many respondents expressed general satisfaction. Some, however, did propose some improvements.
Making a suggestion, Mr. Medic felt there were “[f]ar too many top-down decisions and not enough from the teachers themselves, which I think would be a far more appropriate method.”
I think anyone within education knows that everything is a process and we require feedback to continue to grow and get better”
— Ms. Gwizdala
“I think that the ‘NS’ is a good idea, but needs some more specific requirements around it,” said Ms. Gina Casey, parent of a Glenbard West student and Spanish and French teacher. She remarked that it was “hard for [her] to justify” giving poorly done work a grade less than 50 percent while giving missing work a 50 percent with the NS code. “Put ‘NS’ in for 1 week, then after the 1 week, the grade becomes a ‘0,’” suggested Ms. Casey.
Ms. Dohrer made a similar suggestion, proposing that the “NS could have a little bit of a lower point value” because, as it is now, “[i]t’s entirely possible that a student who came and sat for the test gets a lower grade than someone who just didn’t take it at all.”
“I think anyone within education knows that everything is a process and we require feedback to continue to grow and get better,” said Ms. Gwizdala.
“We don’t always get it right and it’s always going to be a work in progress, but we are aspiring to do better,” said Mr. Peterselli. He believed it was “a noble mission” to make an effort in the direction of making grades “accurate reflections of student learning.” Ms. Creech made it clear the impacts of the policies, as indicated by surveys and observations, will inform any steps taken in terms of grading. Moving forward, time will tell how District 87 grading standards will be developed.