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How School Leaders Should Approach Grading and Assessment





By Brian GatensSmiling Student Participates in Class

As an educator, your approach to assessing student progress — commonly referred to as grading — is one of those core practices that will reveal much about how you view teaching and learning. Below, I’ve summarized four key tenets that guide my philosophy on grading and assessment. I’ll explore each of these topics in greater depth in a series of future blog posts.

So, consider this my four-point guide to grading.

1. Make it Public and Prominent

The philosophy and structure of how students’ performance fits into their overall school experience should be public and transparent. The school’s general grading policies should be published on your website and you should state specifically how you apply this philosophy in your classroom.

2. Use the Three P’s

Your school’s approach to assessment should focus on three areas of a student’s academic work:

  • Process. How well does the child understand the class activities designed to teach her to do certain things? For example, can she apply the process of editing to her writing pieces?
  • Progress. How far has the student advanced in his understanding of key class topics? Regardless of a child’s base skill level at the start of an academic year, the teacher should be able to speak of how his ability has increased (or decreased) over time.
  • Performance. What can the child now do as a result of her progress and increased understanding of the process attached to the class goals?  For example, can she take a series of mathematical problems, presented in word form, and solve them?

3. Use Both Formative and Summative Assessments

Student performance results, whether based on tests, quizzes, presentations or rubric, can be split into two types:

  • Formative assessments give the instructor feedback on a student’s current performance and then enable the instructor to adjust instruction and activities as necessary.
  • Summative assessments enable the teacher to attach a final, and usually quantitative, number on a student’s overall performance.

4. Avoid the Curve

Grading on a curve appeals to teachers as it allows them to split the students along a bell curve. This makes some sense as it breaks the students into the highest- and lowest-performing groups and then distributes grades accordingly. The problem with grading on a curve is that the students’ grades are never truly based upon their work, but their work in relation to the performance of their peers.

Curve grading also lets the teacher off the hook of having to reach all students. Doing this enables the teacher to deify the top performers, acknowledge the middle group and cement the academic status of the lowest-performing group. Grades should never be used to solidify academic status or standing, but instead should be used to offer guides to progress and show opportunities for future growth.

Choosing how to assess student performance, relaying that to students and parents, and then putting it into practice plays a vital role in the overall success of your school, and I look forward to expanding upon the different approaches in future posts.


An educator for two decades, Brian Gatens is superintendent/principal at Norwood Public School in Norwood, N.J.  Gatens has worked at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. He has been a classroom teacher, vice principal, principal and now superintendent/principal.

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