Grading practices tweaked in Dist. 86

A year after implementing a new set of grading practices, teachers in Hinsdale High School District 86 have made some adjustments.

The most significant change this school year has been the elimination of a 50 percent floor for all assignments in an “equal interval” grading scale, Chris Covino, assistant superintendent for academics, told board members at their Feb. 9 meeting. The goal of the new framework, he said, was to make grades more accurate, actionable and accountable.

“To be honest, last year it was not doing all these things as well as we thought it could,” he said.

Granting students a grade of 50 percent instead of zero for a “F” on missing assignments was designed to not be overly punitive to students.

“That’s what the research tells us to do — not to have a ‘F’ range, even when assignments are turned in, that is six times greater than every other score range,” Covino said.

Some students took advantage of the practice, Covino noted. Now only those students who attempt to complete the assignment according to teacher expectations and directions will receive a 50 percent for an F.

“So, if I put in the work, I’m going to get the equal integral scale. If I don’t do the work, it’s a zero,” he said.

The district also has stopped differentiating between missing assignments and missing “essential” assignments, as the latter was redundant.

Another component of the new grading practices involved standardizing how courses weigh summative assignments, like tests and labs, and formative assignments, like homework and class participation. Twenty-nine percent of course teams revised common grade category weights for 2022-23 based on 2021-22 experiences.

This year, 70 percent of courses assign 70 percent of a grade to summative assessments and 30 percent to formative assessments, down from 75 percent last year. Eleven percent of courses are at an 80/20 split, up from 9 percent this year.

“We did not say, ‘You must do this.’ We said, ‘Look at your kids and serve them best by the scale that you create in your course,’ ” Covino said.

At the start of this school year, 74 percent of all district course teams had identical grade weight categories for like courses.

“We’re proud that we have this type of alignment and this type of expectation that we can provide students and families,” he said.

Department teams are continuing to work on aligning grading practices as part of their overall course alignment, with each at a different place.

“Some departments are much farther along than others,” Covino said.

Providing teacher training on assessment practices, including the difference between summative and formative assessments and relearning and reassessment, is a critical component, he stressed.

“I think it’s misinterpreted as a retake,” Covino said of reassessments. “We’ve used the word ‘retake’ a lot. That implies redoing the same thing you did before and with nothing in between, with no learning that happens in between.

“Really, when we talk about relearning and reassessment, they’re not two separate things. They’re two things, one leads to the other,” he continued. “After relearning is completed, reassessment can happened, because there is no true benefit if you haven’t done something to get better at it.”

Every team has created at least one opportunity for reassessment, all of which are contingent on relearning, he noted.

The online program of studies has a hyperlink for many courses that shows how grades are determined in that class, and class syllabuses explain what summative and formative assessments will be.

Covino reminded parents that by using the Infinite Campus portal they can see every assignment given, with missing work highlighted in red.

“This is a grade breakdown that every parent has access to — with two clicks — in any course,” he said.

Covino also reported that the first semester grade distribution tracks closely to pre-pandemic levels.

“They’re not perfect, but they’re strong,” he said. “Seventy-one percent of all grades at South are A’s and B’s. Eighty-five percent of all grades at Central are A’s and B’s.”

Final exams continue to have minimal impact on semester grades, Covino said.

“We need to talk about what final exams should and must do,” he said. “You’re not hearing me say we shouldn’t have final exams, but I do think it’s worth a conversation, which we hope to have in the next month with community members and PTAC, about what final exams should and must do for us as an organization and for students specifically in their learning.”

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean