Letter to the Editor: Principal Derose

A defense of the new grading policies, by principal Shawn DeRose

Letter to the Editor: Principal Derose

As principal, it is important that I stay informed about issues that are top of mind among our students, our families, and our community. And right now, it seems that high school grading practices are in the spotlight. In fact, grading practices across FCPS have been all over the news lately. Over the last few weeks there have been several stories in local newspapers, including the Washington Post, and there were two articles about Annandale’s grading policies in the last issue of the A-Blast.

At Annandale, we believe that grades should tell us what a student has learned, not the amount of time or effort they put into a class. Grades should not be determined by a student’s organizational skills or their work habits. Rather, grades should be a true reflection of whether or not a student has mastered the material. For this reason, our Instructional Council spent all of last year examining our grading practices and deciding the best way to ensure they are aligned with our belief that grading is communication of learning.

During this year-long discussion around our grading practices, we solicited input from teachers, students, and parents. We also researched the impact different grading practices have on student learning and motivation. As a result, our Instructional Council outlined three grading practices that Annandale would implement in the 2022-23 school year. Our three-pronged approach includes: 1) continuing a rolling gradebook 2) retakes for full credit and 3) a summative gradebook.

At Annandale, we believe students learn at varying paces and our adoption of a rolling gradebook supports this belief. In a rolling gradebook, the final grade is determined by a combination of all assignments and assessments given throughout the year, not an average of quarter marks. Instead of using nine weeks to mark “the end of learning,” a rolling gradebook records long-term progress as the year goes on, not just short-term achievement in each quarter. It also provides a more accurate reflection of the student grade at any given point in time, and at the end of the year.

Another way we honor that students learn at varying paces is our approach to retakes. At Annandale, we believe some students may want or need additional practice in order to learn. So, we provide opportunities for any student to retake summative assessments for full credit. And because learning is our priority, we do not penalize students for retaking by capping the maximum score they can earn.

Finally, a summative gradebook ensures that grades truly reflect our students’ understanding of content rather than effort, work habits, or completion. This means that 90% of a student’s grade is based on the learning they demonstrate on summative assessments. The practice assignments students complete in order to do that learning, or the formative assessments, count for the other 10%.

Some students have shared that our emphasis on summative assessments creates stress. I recognize that a 90% weight may make some students uncomfortable. But I believe students will quickly learn that our approach will actually reduce stress. With our former approach, many students’ progress on their learning was masked – or hidden – by grading practices that placed greater emphasis on participation, work habits, or work completion, than on demonstrating their understanding of content knowledge and skills.

A summative gradebook gives students ownership of their learning by making transparent the exact areas in which a student excels or struggles. The practice, or the formative assessments, give students a low-stake view of how they are doing before they take the summative assessment. They are weighted low to allow students to make mistakes, and learn from them, without penalty to their grade. And, if students take the summative assessment and don’t perform as expected, they have the opportunity to retake it for full credit.

Others have had questions about how this new policy impacts students who might not be good test-takers. And what I would say to that is, at Annandale, our teachers work closely in teams to ensure that assessments are indeed accurate reflections of student learning, and that our instruction sufficiently prepares students to demonstrate that learning. It is important to remember that not all summative assessments are multiple-choice tests. Teachers and teams are providing students multiple ways to demonstrate their learning, whether through written assignments, projects, presentations of learning, or a standardized test.

Teachers and students should work closely together to monitor student progress. If a student ever feels that their assessment results are not an accurate demonstration of their learning, we encourage them to have a conversation with the teacher. Whenever possible, teachers will work with students to ensure their learning has been measured accurately. And when students are not successful the first time around, there is lots of support to help them prepare for a retake. Teachers provide support and targeted intervention to students through PRIDE Time, after school, and even in class. In addition, all students have access to Tutor.com to support their learning outside of school.

At Annandale, we are always trying to get better. We will continue to have conversations about our grading policies and how we can best support students and their learning. I encourage any students or families that have questions about the work we are doing to reach out to the teacher, counselor, administrator, or me, and have a conversation. The more we communicate, the more we can work together to support our students’ success. And, as with everything we do, we will continue to get better, together.

Shawn DeRose, Principal