Grading for Learning

So much of what we teachers say about grading refers to a personal context that is generally not shared fully during a discussion about a particular aspect of grading. We all know our own “big picture,” but the person on the other end of the conversation may have a different frame of reference.

To avoid that pitfall, I’m posting my classroom guidelines here for reference. Anyone who reads these guidelines will have a clearer understanding of where I’m coming from in blog discussions.

These guidelines were written in the Spring of 2000, after I attended a two-day ASCD Institute on Grading for Learning with Ken O’Connor in Albuquerque, NM. Although not then adopted school or district-wide, my principal, and the school district director of curriculum and instruction, approved their use.

I’m indebted to Ken O’Connor for helping me legitimize much of what I believed about grading. Ken later used these guidelines as an exemplar in an ASCD training handbook. As Ken has said, “There’s no one right way to grade, only sound and unsound grading practices.”

8th Grade Social Studies/Mr. Hugh O’Donnell

Grading, Homework, and Discipline

Guidelines that Enhance Learning

“Marks” or “scores” refer to individual tests, assignments, performances, or products. “Grade” refers to an overall evaluation of learning at an appropriate point such as report card time.

Grading Guidelines:

1. All grading procedures relate to “intended learning outcomes” as stated in Oregon State and Hillsboro School District curriculum standards.

2. Grades will be based on individual achievement of learning goals and will not be affected by issues such as effort, attitude, and participation. These factors will be reported separately. In addition, individual grades will be given for group work rather than an overall group grade.

3. Assessments that are used to monitor student learning in progress and/or adjust teaching, such as in-class practice assignments, discussions, and other forms of descriptive feedback (“formative assessment”) to students about their learning, will not be factored into grades. Only assessments that take place after learning is supposed to have occurred (“summative assessment”) will be used for grading purposes. I will, however, keep a record of formative assessment scores to validate my judgment in grading.

4. New information showing additional learning about any given standard will replace old information. Grades will reflect the most recent learning. Old scores relating to that standard will be discarded.

5. Where a combination of scores is used to determine a letter grade, I will make sure that they are descriptive of achievement only. For example, I will not include zeros (for late or missing assignments) in achievement statistics because they are both non-descriptive of learning, and extreme as values. I will use the median average (or middle score) as a general indicator of achievement unless there is an unusual circumstance, and then I will consider relative importance of the learning goals achieved and recency of scores.

6. If there is insufficient evidence of achievement, I will assign an “incomplete” and expect the student to make arrangements to make-up or repeat the learning experiences missed.

7. Students will be graded relative to published standards and not in comparison to each other.

8. All assessments, both formative and summative, will match their respective learning goals. Grades will always be based on quality assessments.

9. Students will always know how their grades are formulated.

10. Students will often take part in the assessment process because recent research indicates that student-involved formative assessment is the most powerful innovation in the facilitation of learning that we currently know of.

Grading Scales:

If prevailing median scores for learning goals are in the range of 90 to 100 percent, a grade of A will be given. The cutoffs for B, C, and D, respectively will be 80%, 70%, and 60%. Less than 60% will be considered F. Although I will never give a letter grade lower than the median score indicates, I may award a letter grade higher than the numbers indicate if there is sufficient additional non-numerical evidence of greater learning, such as performance rubrics or scoring guides which don’t easily convert to percentages.

Homework Guidelines:

Please see attached Hillsboro School Board Policy on homework for a comprehensive view.

We will not have homework every day. Most of our formative assessment activities will take place in the classroom with my coaching. I will expect students to work on long-term assignments with extended deadlines at home. My homework hotline message will inform you of what we have covered in class for the day and our plans for the week. It may vary from our actual schedule because I must submit the entire week’s plan on Monday and I must be flexible covering our course goals during the rest of the week. I welcome your calls regarding makeup opportunities. My phone numbers and email addresses appear at the end of this document.

Makeup Work:

The Hillsboro District policy for makeup work is to give students the “number of days absent plus one” as time to make up work. I regard this as a guideline, not an inflexible rule. If a student is well enough to work at home, it is to their benefit to stay current from home. (I will never require less time than the District guideline, in any case.) If the student is too ill to stay current, even the stated amount of time may not be sufficient and may generate great stress for the student. We will agree, parents and students both, on mutually acceptable target dates for completion of work. If a student is indisposed up to and beyond a grading period, we shall make arrangements with the principal for a fair opportunity to make up work.

Late Work:

I expect a student to be timely because it benefits them in their achievement of learning goals, and it helps me. Chronic lateness of work will be dealt with as a behavioral problem — not a grade reduction — with a variety of remedies, including parental notification, a record of missed assignments in my formative assessment log, and staying after school (with parental permission and transportation support from the school) to complete assignments. I do not anticipate much of a problem with this since most of our assignments will be completed during class.

Behavior Guidelines:

Please consult the student handbook for details on school rules. I promote the concept of mutual respect and students are able to relate this to their conduct. Additionally, I clarify my expectations by reference to the Golden Rule, which states that we should treat others as we would like to be treated. Students understand these references and apply them to their classroom behavior, my expectations and procedures. In rare cases where disciplinary action is required, I follow the Discipline Plan outlined in the student handbook.

Progress Reports:

In addition to scheduled school-wide progress reports, I will notify parents when a grade of D or F appears to be forthcoming, and/or when there is a marked or sudden change in a student’s performance or attitude.

Hugh O’Donnell
8th Grade Social Studies

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) published my guidelines in slightly different form in March 2003, in Guide for Instructional Leaders Action Tool: Guide 2, Ed. Ken O’Connor ($89.95 for members; $109.95 for non-members).


Ken O’Connor, How to Grade for Learning: Linking Grades to Standards, 3rd Ed., Corwin, 2009.

Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, and Chappuis, Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing It Right – Using It Well, Assessment Training Institute, 2004.

Ken O’Connor, A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, 2nd Ed., Pearson, 2010.

Black & Wiliam, “Inside the Black Box,” Kappan, 1998

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