District 86 tweaks its grading practices

After altering grading practices for the 2021-22 school year, educators in Hinsdale High School District 86 are making some modifications for the 2022-23 school year.

“In general, we were always looking to evaluate the system we put into place,” said Chris Covino, assistant superintendent for academics. “Really, I think the urgency for revision came directly from our department chairs through their department meetings from their teachers. They had spent a year with the changes that we had made and wanted us to consider some revisions to those.”

Hinsdale Central Principal Bill Walsh emphasized that teaching and learning are not stagnant processes.

“I think every year as a classroom teacher you evaluate what worked, what didn’t work and you make changes,” he said.

Last year the district introduced an “ME” — missing and essential — indicator for work students had not turned in. This year, an “M” will represent all missing work, and missing work will no longer automatically translate to an incomplete grade.

Last year missing assignments were calculated at 50 percent in the total grade.

“We weren’t going to penalize someone six times more by giving them a zero,” Covino said of the motivation behind that decision.

This year missing assignments and assessments that are not taken will receive zero points. Students who complete an assignment in good faith to the best of their ability will be graded on a 50-100 point scale. In some instances, students were handing in assignments with their name written across the top to get the 50 points, Covino said.

That manipulation became more common as the semester progressed, Walsh said.

“They figured the lowest denominator they were going to get. I think they were being human,” he said.

Course teams also had the opportunity to evaluate the way classes are weighted between summative and formative assessments. Following that process, about 75 percent of courses now have a 70/30 summative/formative weight, Covino said.

While the district does not have a universal policy for work handed in late, course teams have developed practices. Different types of assignments must be considered when developing late work policies, Covino said, contrasting the final draft of an essay assigned two months ago with a worksheet assigned yesterday.

“Each course team will have a late work policy they will spell out in the syllabus,” Covino said, noting there will be deadlines for completing late work. “We need to be flexible, but we also need to set parameters, to hold students accountable.”

While community members’ complaints about the grading changes were part of the conversation, Walsh said the most critical input came from teachers.

“In my humble opinion, as principals, the teachers are our voice on this,” he said. “They are the ones instructing.”

The goal of having a coherent and aligned grading system with clear expectations and grades that report what students know and can do — which prompted the changes made for the 2021-22 school year — has not changed, Covino said. But that does not mean the conversation around grading is over.

“This is an ongoing issue, which is why we have to keep talking about it, which is why we keep making incremental changes and reassessing,” Covino said.

Walsh agreed.

“I can guarantee at the end of this year we will decide what did and did not work within this framework,” he said.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean