The Evolution of K-12 Grading in a Post-Pandemic Education System
May 11th, 2022
With schools reopening all across the world, it has become immensely clear that that education system is unlikely to completely return to its pre-COVID format. So, the debate regarding the educational approach in a post-COVID world rages on.
A survey conducted by EdWeek Research Center during the pandemic revealed diminishing student engagement, rising learning loss, increasing levels of student absenteeism, declining teacher morale, and increasing exhaustion as schools worked to get a grip on remote and hybrid learning models. However, this survey of educators also revealed certain predictions for the future of the education industry. Nearly 70% of the respondents believed that the efforts to provide a wide range of remote learning options to students will most likely continue after the pandemic ends.
Several aspects of K-12 education will get redefined as a result. One such aspect among them is how students will be assessed and graded going forward.
Why the Need to Redefine the Grading System
According to a 2018 TNTP study, students were spending over 500 hours each school year on assignments that were not appropriate for their grade, with instructions that were insufficient and not challenging enough. It was equivalent to almost six months of lost class time in each core subject. Additionally, it showed a disparity in the success rates on grade-level work. The study revealed that 4 out of 10 classrooms that had a majority of students of color never received a single grade-level assignment.
The performance of students has been traditionally assessed on the basis of class tests, year-end exams, assignments and projects. But, this kind of grading system is fallible and faces many challenges, such as:
- Lack of transparency in the assessment system
- Limited use of classroom assessment techniques
- Rigidity to a certain extent.
However, the urgent need to make some changes in grading became apparent during the pandemic-led school closures. Educators grappled with how to fairly grade students while they were living through an unprecedented disruption to their education.
A recent L.A. Times analysis of LA Unified’s assessment data revealed that the grades of students in Los Angeles fell significantly during school closures. Additionally, the prior gap in grades (before the pandemic) between Black and Latino students and their white and Asian counterparts increased by as much as 21 percentage points.
Thus, everyone involved in the education industry got a peek into the flaws of the grading system. They also saw how it affected some low-income students living in crowded home conditions with limited means to learning resources and spotty internet access. It encouraged them to talk about crucial changes needed for students to overcome opportunities to learn, lost during the pandemic, when they finally return to the classroom.
How to Bring About Changes in the Grading System
1. Offer Students Flexibility and Support
Although the grades declined significantly after the onset of the pandemic, educators found that students could improve their scores when given some extra opportunities. For instance, when educators offered students several extra weeks to make up their work in the fall of 2020-21, it led to an improvement in almost 15,000 grades.
Many school districts across California also took some steps to revise their grading while addressing the diversity of demographics. For instance, West Contra Costa Unified (a majority Latino institution) issued a memo that encouraged secondary teachers to offer students a five-day grace period to turn in work and got rid of zeroes in the grade books.
2. Create Effective Rubrics
When educators create effective rubrics, they can identify thematic gaps in student learning and adapt their teaching methods accordingly. While rubrics allow students to learn what is expected of them, they help educators to grade more efficiently, assess student work against a set standard, and communicate feedback readily with each student.
Moreover, if all educators use a rubric in the same way, it will make the student assessment process more consistent. It will eventually lead to the promotion of horizontal and vertical alignment across departments and districts.
3. Provide Ongoing and Timely Feedback
Grading is just one part of the assessment process. For students to learn and grow, feedback is crucial. It allows students to see these tasks as learning tools and not just evaluation methods that mark the end of learning. When educators and students are on the same page that assessments are meant to strengthen learning and identify any learning gaps, they can work together to remedy those problems.
Apart from ongoing feedback during learning, it is also crucial that it is offered in a timely manner. When a student receives feedback immediately after showing proof of learning, they respond more positively and are able to direct their learning accordingly. On the other hand, if this feedback is delayed for long, the student will not be able to connect it with the learning moment.
Thus, formative assessments should be made part of the grading process. They will let educators know if students have understood and assimilated concepts and not worry about quantifying their performance on a scale. And, once the results reveal that the students have grasped the concepts, the assessment will become summative.
Reimagining grading practices means that we need to focus on how students are performing and feeling throughout the school day and year. It will help identify areas where the student needs to improve and how educators can support that. Redefining this system also means that students receive sufficient opportunities to assess and evaluate their own work, and use the evaluation to improve outcomes. When students can communicate with their educators in non-judgmental and non-punitive contexts, they will get the right kind of support to excel.
Educators now need to focus on offering students flexibility, support, and instant and ongoing feedback, and grade them based on effective rubrics to propel learning.