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More Thoughts on Grading

Scott Seaman
Apr 24, 2020

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AWSP supports OSPI and the collective workgroup’s guidance for grading. The guidelines are the right thing at the right time. They give districts a clear framework while maintaining the flexibility for districts to find the right solution for their students and community. The guidance was developed with input from a huge array of stakeholders, including our own Associate Directors Kurt Hatch, Gina Yonts, and Scott Friedman. The key message from OSPI and the guiding workgroup: DO NO HARM

Our own membership is all over the board on this topic. Many people are seeing their thinking evolve each passing day. Despite the disparity in thinking, we can confidently say our membership is 100% committed to doing right for kids, and in this case, that means ensuring whatever comes from guidance and/or policy, we should all err on not harming kids with grades. Period. Adults need to let go of their conventional thinking and experience and truly recognize the unprecedented times we (that means all of us) now find ourselves in as we make decisions impacting kids.

Grading has always been the last frontier of change in the education reform movement. We could probably argue it might be one of the toughest systems to change, especially at the secondary level, which is deeply entangled with higher education. We know we need to move to K-12 to standards and competency-based systems. Many districts have made great strides in this direction for K-8, with grades 9-12 persisting as the main challenge. We know what we need to do, but we have never been forced uniformly into addressing this issue.

We also know there’s never going to be universal agreement on any grading guidance or much of anything during this time for that matter. However, one of the silver linings in this pandemic is the opportunity to reexamine everything, from whether any single test should carry so much weight (read my “I’m more than a test score” blog post), to what grading could and should look like now and into the future.

Inequities in our grading systems have existed for over a century; deeply rooted from inception, complex, and massively inequitable. Our students have always had different advantages and disadvantages throughout the P-16 system in access, opportunities, expectations, and privilege. While these inequities didn’t just crop up suddenly with the shutdown, they have finally been magnified and amplified. From the guidance report:

“But grading systems also shine a spotlight on the inequities of an education system that despite real progress, still functions in high correlation to family income and access to enrichment activities."

As we already alluded to, we have very smart, caring, compassionate leaders all across the state with differing views. The one thing we can all agree on is students should not be harmed as a result of the pandemic. Nobody is getting an F, and pass/fail is eliminated. We even argue that you should do everything in your power to avoid giving “Incomplete” grades as well. Although an “I” is a better option than an “F” or “NC”, and it can keep some accountability of the teaching and learning relationship alive, it should be a last resort. Again from the report:

“For these reasons and after much thoughtful counsel from education stakeholders, I have made the decision to eliminate the pass/fail grading option as a matter of state policy. It is neither equitable, informative of student learning, nor is there a guarantee that it won’t harm students in future educational pursuits.”

The pandemic has shaken our economy, our health care system, our way of life, and the education system we all care so deeply about. COVID-19 is shining a bright spotlight on all the inequities in our system, and when we’re back inside our schools (whatever that might look like in the future) and life starts resuming to “normal”, it’s important we remember the lessons we learned and keep fighting to eliminate inequitable systems across the state and country. Whether they exist from inertia, deeply rooted historical practices, macroeconomic factors, implicit bias, racism, or geography, we must keep working to remove inequities and barriers for each and every child across our state. 

In the meantime, let’s keep talking about what we need to do to give every student the education they deserve. Let’s change our talk from what’s not possible to what is possible. Let’s keep doors open and hope alive for kids. Let’s engage our students, parents, and community partners to reimagine what education should look like now and in the future. Let’s continue to reach out to higher ed and make a truly cohesive P-16 system that makes continuing education possible for all. And finally, let’s show some grace and understanding for our students, our families, our educators, our leaders, and our policymakers; we’re all walking this journey together with no map to guide us. This is an opportunity for us to be courageous for our kids.

We can’t imagine you’ve read this far and haven’t actually read the guidance, but you’ll find the link below and great video overview from Superintendent Reykdal. And remember, #WeGotThis.


Grading Guidance



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  • Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People | Banaji & Greenwald (2013)
  • Building Equity: Policies and Practices to Empower All Learners | Smith, Frey, Pumpian & Fisher (2017)
  • Case Studies on Diversity and Social Justice Education | Gorski & Pothini (2013)
  • Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Children in the Classroom | Forbes (2012) 

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