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As an 11th grade English teacher using equitable grading practices (including a four-point scale, standards-based grading, report card grades created exclusively from summative assessment, and a comprehensive retake policy), I recognize it’s my responsibility to inform students, parents, administrators, counselors, and other teachers about these practices that can differ greatly from traditional grading. From past mistakes, I realize that failing to adequately communicate these practices will result not only in misunderstandings and conflict, but also in my limited effectiveness to inform students and parents about students’ academic achievement (which is my goal when reporting report card grades).
So I plan ahead by creating a grading communication plan to address each group within my intended audience–with particular focus on students and parents.
Introductory Video and Email
When it comes to communicating with parents about my grading practices, my first contact comes at the beginning of the school year in the form of my online syllabus and short explanatory video. Here’s the video I use to preview my grading practices, which is linked on my Canvas homepage.
Grading Purpose in My Classroom – Watch Video
But I know this won’t reach everyone, and even if it did, parents, like students, generally lack significant interest in the specifics of my grading practices until the first time grades are sent home. For this reason, I send my initial parent email explaining my grading practices a couple days before the first progress report is sent home.
The email, show below, focuses on four key ideas: my classroom grading purpose, my 100% summative assessment policy, the purpose of homework and classwork, and my retake policy (see the template here).
Dear Parents and Guardians,
I’m excited to have your student in my English class this year! I’m emailing to inform you of some of the grading practices and policies I use so you can better interpret your child’s report card grades in my class throughout the school year.
More than anything, I’d like you to know that the purpose of grades in all of my classes is to represent student learning of priority standards. These come from the AP or Common Core State Standards (depending on the course), and they are what I feel are the most important skills that students must learn in the course.
Because I want to ensure grades are fair and accurate, they are created 100% from students’ performance on summative assessments. That means things like effort, behavior, and homework/classwork are not part of the grade because like I mentioned above, I want their grades to only represent student learning.
But don’t worry: Just because I don’t grade practice doesn’t mean students won’t be doing any. Students will be practicing English skills everyday in class and sometimes outside of class to improve their skills and eventually display those skills on summative assessments. I record practices as complete or incomplete in Canvas (often with feedback) so that you can see how much they’ve been practicing to prepare for success on the summative assessments.
Finally, I’d like to inform you that I realize students don’t always learn at the same rate and that sometimes they need extra time and practice to be successful. That is why I allow all students to retake any assessment without a penalty if they are unsatisfied with their results until the end of the semester. Of course a big part of retakes is learning from mistakes, so feedback and additional practice will be a big part of this process.
I’m excited to work alongside your student to help them attain success in my class. I’m confident that these grading practices and policies will help this to happen in a meaningful way. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns.
Josh Kunnath, Ed.D.
2nd Parent Email: 1st Quarter Report Card
This year, I’m sending similar emails before the first and third quarter report cards. By proactively emailing parents before the arrival of report cards, I’m hoping to help parents to frame their report card conversations with their kids around learning. These emails are also meant to reiterate my key grading practices and policies as well as answer a commonly asked question: How can students improve their grades?
The full first quarter email is below (see the template here).
Dear Parents and Guardians,
The first quarter of the school year is already finished, and you will be receiving your student’s report card home this weekend. This email is meant to help you understand your student’s grade in AP English Language. It also provides steps for your child to take if you/they aren’t happy with their current grade.
Report Card Grade Meaning
The letter grade you see on the report card for this class represents your child’s learning on two important AP standards: identifying claims and evidence and identifying rhetorical situation. Our work in the first quarter was primarily focused on understanding and developing skills for these standards. It’s important that students achieve proficiency on these two standards to succeed in the class and pass the AP test at the end of the year.
Because I want to ensure grades are fair and accurate, report card grades are created 100% from students’ performance on summative assessments. And although practice has no part in the grade, it plays an important role in the class. Like the sports and activities in which many of your students participate, the practice in this class is meant to prepare them for success on the summative event. This quarter, I’ve seen a strong connection between student practice completion and success on summative assessments. In fact, all students who achieved the top performance levels (proficient or mastery) on the summative assessments have completed 90% to 100% of their practice before the summative assessment. So if your student hasn’t achieved an A or B in the class, first ask them if they’ve completed all of the practice to prepare for the assessments (you can see the practice completion percent in the Canvas gradebook).
Retaking Past Assessments
But sometimes simply completing the practice isn’t enough. Time is often an important part of the learning process. And even though we’ve moved on to the second quarter, I will continue to allow students to retake previous summative assessments if they need to. This is because I understand students learn at different rates, and as I mentioned before, these skills are important for their success in the class. But before retaking, students must first complete another practice to further improve their skills. After, we will schedule a retake.
I hope this helps to clarify the meaning of grades in this class. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns.
Josh Kunnath, EdD
Overall, the parent response has been overwhelmingly positive. The vast majority of parents that I hear from are thankful for the communication and embrace the focus on learning over the obsession with point collection.
But once in a while, a parent of a student with a low grade will push back on these changes from traditional grading practices. Although I was once frustrated by these interactions, I now look at these infrequent events as opportunities to engage in dialogue about the importance of the standards for their student’s future success and how my grading practices aim to communicate the student’s current progress in the learning progression.
And I’ve yet to talk to a parent who isn’t receptive to my goal of creating grades exclusively about learning along with providing students with necessary supports and multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery.