Making Grades–Secondary

Nicole Eredics and Renay Marquez

Renay: As soon as a student moves into the age where teachers pass out a syllabus, grades become a ‘thing’. Concretely, grades are broken out usually by percentages. An example of grading might look something like this:

  • Classwork————————-15%
  • Homework———————– 10%
  • Quizzes —————————-20%
  • Tests ——————————–20%
  • Projects —————————-30%
  • Participation/Citizenship —-5%

This probably won’t work for a student with a disability. I’d say about half the students I support currently cannot fathom a Test, let alone a test that is modified. So what are the two things we need to consider?

…it’s important to remember that students with disabilities work towards their own personalized set of education goals.

Nicole Eredics

Nicole: Grading student achievement and performance is one of the most significant jobs of a teacher. While students without disabilities work towards meeting the goals of grade-level curriculum, it’s important to remember that students with disabilities work towards their own personalized set of education goals. This set of goals are created by the student’s school-based education team and recorded in the student’s education plan (IEP). Some goals may be grade-level, however, others will be appropriate to the student’s developmental and cognitive level. There are different ways in which student achievement and performance can be assessed for the purpose of grading. Munk, (2003) states that grading systems can measure:

  • How much effort was put forth when completing assignments;
  • How much progress has been made on the general curriculum;
  • How independently the work was completed;
  • How much improvement was made since the last marking period;
  • How performance compares to that of other students;
  • How much progress was made on individual IEP goals;
  • How well the student worked with classmates;
  • What classes the student should take in the future.

For students with disabilities (and for those without), the most effective way of measuring a student’s true progress is to use a variety of the above mentioned methods. Additionally, teachers can use different types of sources for collecting data on student achievement. This can include quizzes, tests, reports, and demonstrations.

When assessing and grading students with disabilities, Monk (2003) also cites that the following are some common strategies used properly assess student achievement in relation to the curriclum is:

  • prioritizing of content and related assignments for grading
  • considering student effort when calculating a grade
  • changing the weights that certain types of assignments count toward the grade or altering the grading scale used to assign letter grades

Click on each bullet point for related information that includes very helpful tools!

Students Below Grade Level (1-2 years)

Renay: In one’s mind, this should be the easiest group of students to grade. Except they are not. Many students are very sensitive at the secondary level, especially middle school about any perceptions or misconceptions of being ‘different’. No more is true than for some students with disabilities.

The challenge here lies in helping the student understand that receiving help is something everyone does need in class. Not just some who are different. And not just the students who always seem to ask the questions.

Making allowances and encouraging the student privately to learn to advocate for themselves has been given a lot of noted success. Watching the student and just seeing ‘what they do’ is also important. This is different than waiting for a student to fail. Just knowing that the student could be successful and then allowing the student to take a chance to build upon and contribute to class.

Watching the student and just seeing ‘what they do’ is also important. This is different than waiting for a student to fail.

Renay Marquez

Nicole: Just as Renay said, being proactive with students helps set them up for success. Conversations, observations, and encouragement all support student achievement. Additionally, students with and without disabilities should know what they are being graded on.

Depending on the level of understanding, students can be shown the grading rubric ahead of time to clarify expectations. Additionally, teachers can model expected learning outcomes. Teachers can give students at this level opportunities to be successful by providing cheat sheets, study sheets, pre-tests, and time for practice with a buddy. A site called, Scaffolded Math has a great selection of student cheat sheets!

Students Below Grade Level (3+ years)

For students who have less academic skills, students can fall into a range between awareness of their lack of skill and will do anything to detract from skills to a student who just doesn’t know what they might need.

Most often the hardest group to grade are the students who just don’t know what they might need. No amount of participation, no amount of studying is really going to help this student show that they can explain why they need to get under a table in an earthquake. Or that first responders are there to help them in case of an emergency. These also may be students who, because of disability experience fatigue related to their disability–homework may not be something they can do, even with support.

For these students who exist in this area, focusing on productivity within class is not necessarily useful.

We have used a version of this in practice

PromptMore than 1 Tardy/weekInfrequently tardy to class this grading periodNever tardy
PreparedRefuses to find materials needed for classNeeds prompts to remember some materialsHas supplies for class
ProductiveRefuses to work more and refuses help from both support and classroom teacherNeeds some prompts to stay on task
Puts in some effort 4 of 5 days in class without a pattern
Asks for help when things are unclear
Tries best every day
PoliteBeen sent out of class to office for behavior more than 3 times/ weekNeeds some reminders to be polite in classFollows school policy

While the guidelines can change from student to student, it’s meant to help the classroom teacher have a conversation with the case manager about the student’s progress, even when the material is out of reach for the student’s success. The chart can also help frame the conversation around students who may display class disrupting behaviors to again give the teacher a chance to reach out to the student and remind the student that they have control over their class grade, even when they cannot do all the things the class may ask of the student depending on the topic.

Nicole: Checklists, rubrics, and notes are a useful way of collecting data on student progress at this level as formal assessments might not be a realistic option. Depending on the student’s IEP goals, the teacher can provide the student with appropriate learning materials. For example, the student can watch a video on a tablet, listen to audio, or give an alternate assignment that still related to the class content but more appropriate to the student’s ability level.

Classes That Are Required to Move On?

Renay: I spend a lot of time talking with case managers about this point. I don’t always see what goes into the final result.

Classes that tend to be focused on prerequisites include Foreign Language and Math classes. Without foundations it is really hard to move on.

Open and honest communication of how much work will be needed by the student to succeed, even marginally in an advanced class of the next level, needs to occur. For students who have a limited working memory, this is quite a challenge, but shouldn’t bar them from the entry level of a class. But some students do not understand that moving on comes with its own risks.

At some point, a general education teacher who has taught a specific course for years may just feel like a “gatekeeper”. What critical skills are necessary to succeed at the next level?

Nicole: If a student is working on his or her own learning goals as stated in the IEP, then their progress through the courses will be in relation to their achievements. Be careful though, as the types of courses and progress throughout those courses can impact the type of high school diploma a student receives upon graduation. Finding courses that will meet the outcomes desired by the student and family is best done as far in advance as possible.

Links to things that might be helpful

Before you move onto the links, just a little side note:

We have not received any compensation for mentioning any of the below links. Renay has used at least one of these to help teachers with rubrics, especially when it comes to rubrics for students with disabilities to provide a similar format but explaining to the student what criteria was used to help generate their grade.


Information about using rubrics:

Have used this one with much success:

An article about 10 different rubric systems that are offered for a variety of activities.

An article about 5 different rubrics offered online. It evaluates the five and different things that may happen with the rubrics. Rubric Maker – Where to Create Free Rubrics Online

Assessment and Grading- research and information on assessing students with disabilities from the University of Kansas

April 8, 2019

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