TIES TIPS Foundations of Inclusion
Talking About Grading with Parents or Guardians and Students for Inclusive Classrooms
Grading is an important component of an inclusive classroom. Parents or guardians and students need to understand the meaning of grades assigned to students with significant cognitive disabilities. Communication about the meaning of grades needs to be provided to everyone for inclusive classrooms - all parents, guardians, and students. When talking about grades, general education teachers and special education teachers need to have already agreed on the approach so that consistent information is provided. Both grading of assignments and report card grades should be discussed. Please refer to the other two TIPS in this series on grading:
The purpose of this TIPS is to provide suggestions to teachers about how to effectively communicate about how grades are assigned to student work and report cards and what they mean.
Clarity about what the grading system means and how it can be interpreted is needed for parents and students. For example, if a child earns an “A” in math, does it refer to criteria based on the product (e.g., the sum of scores on assignments), process (e.g., how a student did assignments), or student progress (e.g., change in performance)? Merging these criteria into a single grade can cause confusion for parents or guardians and students because it is difficult to determine which criterion carried more weight in the total grade (Jung & Guskey, 2007). For more information see the adaptations to grading section in TIPS 11: Grading for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities in Inclusive Classrooms. Agreement between general educators and special educators on the approach to be used for students with significant cognitive disabilities is essential in inclusive classrooms (William & Mary Training & Technical Assistance Center, 2015).
Evidence points to numerous myths about grading and what is actually the case (see Table 1).
Table 1. Myths and Facts about Grading Students with Disabilities, including Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities
Myth: Students with disabilities cannot legally receive a failing grade.
Fact: Student IEP status can appear on report cards but not on transcripts (Freedman, 2000).
Myth: Transcripts cannot identify the curriculum as being modified.
Fact: Schools can legally note curriculum modifications on transcripts, but cannot identify whether a student received accommodations (Freedman, 2000, 2005).
Myth: Using plus and minus letter grades better captures a student’s performance.
Fact: Studies have indicated that using +/- grades (e.g., A-, C+) does not result in greater accuracy or reliability when describing performance (Guskey, 2015).
Myth: Low and modified grades limit post-secondary options.
Fact: Post-secondary options are dependent upon high school diploma and college admissions policies in each state.
(Adapted from Jung & Guskey, 2010)
When thinking about how to talk to parents or guardians and students about grading and report cards, the first step is to be clear about the purpose of grades and how they are adapted (see Tip #11: Grading for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities in Inclusive Classrooms), as well as what they are addressing (see Tip #12: Standards-based Grading and Report Cards in Inclusive Elementary and Middle Schools). You should know the answers to questions like:
- “What information do we want to communicate?
- Who is the primary audience for that information?
- How would we like that information to be used?” (Guskey & Jung, 2006, p. 6)
The answers to these questions should make clear how grades and report cards are modified for students with significant cognitive disabilities in inclusive classrooms (Jung & Guskey, 2007).
It is critical that the IEP team, including parents or guardians and students, has an open and ongoing dialogue about grades and their meaning for students with significant cognitive disabilities. If different performance standards are used, then those criteria must be agreed to and shared with parents or guardians and students regularly. Having these conversations helps to clarify the basis for determining whether students are making sufficient progress and, if not, what adjustments to supports and services may be needed (Jung & Guskey, 2011; William & Mary Training & Technical Assistance Center, 2015).
It is not enough to have conversations about grading only in the IEP team meeting. Teachers should talk individually to parents and guardians of students with significant cognitive disabilities, parents, and guardians of classmates of students with significant cognitive disabilities, the student with significant cognitive disabilities, and classmates of students with significant cognitive disabilities. There may also be a need to talk to school administrators. Table 2 provides ideas for what, how, and when to talk about grading and report cards with these individuals. Regardless of who the conversation is with, it should be clear, objective, and jargon-free. Different grading rubrics may require multiple conversations. Remember to ensure the confidentiality of the student with significant cognitive disabilities (and other students) during these conversations.
Figure 2. Talking about Grades
Discuss whether there is agreement on the performance standards to be the basis of student’s grades for assignments and report cards; clarify the meaning of the grades if adjusted for the student with significant cognitive disabilities. Confirm that progress monitoring reports for IEP goals will be provided at least as often as report cards are provided (U.S. Department of Education, 2008).
Bring grading rubrics so that team members can compare the proposed basis for grades for the student with significant cognitive disabilities to the basis for grades for other students in the inclusive classroom.
During an IEP meeting prior to including the student with significant cognitive disabilities in the general education classroom.
Parents or guardians of students with significant cognitive disabilities
Remind parents or guardians of the rubric used to grade assignments and how report card grades are determined.
Show examples of graded assignments and the rubric used for developing the grade so that parents or guardians can easily see how each grade reflects the rubric.
At beginning of school year (either in person or through a note to parents) and during each parent-teacher conference
Parents or guardians of classmates
Remind parents or guardians of the rubric used to grade assignments and how report card grades are determined, then indicate that a different rubric is used for students with significant cognitive disabilities.
Bring grading rubrics to show the differences. Discuss with parents why the use of different rubrics is appropriate and how it does not have implications for outcomes for their child who does not have significant cognitive disabilities.
During first parent-teacher conference
Student with significant cognitive disabilities
Provide a simplified grading rubric to the student.
Simplify the rubric to a level appropriate for the student.
With each assignment.
General education peers
Explain the basis for grading through an example of the rubric for the student and for the student with significant cognitive disabilities.
Show grading rubrics and explain why the differences in them are appropriate.
During the first parent-teacher conference or during a one-on-one conversation with the general education peer.
Explain the need for separate grading criteria for the student with significant cognitive disabilities in the inclusive classroom. Also, communicate about modified criteria for report card grades for students with significant cognitive disabilities (unless there are state, district, or school rules that preclude these modified criteria).
If additional information is requested, provide examples of rubrics used for grading and explain how report card grades are developed.
At school meeting with administrators, or during an appointment with an administrator.
For a smooth inclusive classroom experience for everyone, there needs to be clear communication about grades and report cards. As these conversations occur, the confidentiality of students, particularly those with significant cognitive disabilities, needs to be maintained. If there are implications of modified grades and report cards (e.g., award ceremonies), these should be discussed as well.
Freedman, M. K. (2000). Testing, grading, and granting diplomas to special education students. In Special Report No. 18. LRP Publications.
Freedman, M. K. (2005). Student testing and the law: The requirements educators, parents, and officials should know. LRP Publications.
Guskey, T. R. (2015). On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting. Solution Tree Press.
Guskey, T. R., & Jung, L. A. (2006). The challenges of standards-based grading. Leadership Compass, 4(2), 6–10.
Jung, L. A., & Guskey, T. R. (2007). Standards-Based Grading and Reporting; a Model for Special Education. Teaching Exceptional Children, 40(48–53). https://doi.org/10.1177/004005990704000206
Jung, L. A., & Guskey, T. R. (2010). Grading exceptional learners. Educational Leadership, 67(5), 31–35.
Jung, L. A., & Guskey, T. R. (2011). Grading exceptional and struggling learners. Corwin Press.
William & Mary Training & Technical Assistance Center. (2015). Inclusive grading and progress-monitoring practices. Retrieved from https://education.wm.edu/centers/ttac/documents/packets/inclusivegrading.pdf
TIPS Series: Tip #13, August 2020
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Reyes, E. N., Wakeman, S., & Thurlow, M. (2020). Talking About Grading with Parents or Guardians and Students for Inclusive Classrooms (TIPS Series: Tip #13). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, TIES Center.
The information in this Brief is not an endorsement of any identified products. Products identified in this Brief are shared solely as examples to help communicate information about ways to reach the desired goals for students.
TIES Center is the national technical assistance center on inclusive practices and policies. Its purpose is to create sustainable changes in kindergarten-grade 8 school and district educational systems so that students with significant cognitive disabilities can fully engage in the same instructional and non-instructional activities as their general education peers, while being instructed in a way that meets individual learning needs. TIES Center is led by the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota, and includes the following additional collaborating partners: Arizona Department of Education, CAST, University of Cincinnati, University of Kentucky, University of North Carolina – Charlotte, and University of North Carolina – Greensboro.
TIES Center is supported through a Cooperative Agreement (#H326Y170004) with the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it. Project Officer: Susan Weigert
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