Academics at Saint Mary's--Philosophy & Purpose » How We Grade & Assess (Rigor with Redemption)

How We Grade & Assess (Rigor with Redemption)

Rigor with Redemption ©
A School-Wide Program of Assessment & Grading to Report Student Learning and
Enhance Motivation & Achievement

Grading Purpose
Saint Mary’s assigns grades in order to communicate the level of a student’s academic achievement in relation to established criteria in each course. Grades are communications about a student’s academic achievement and are not intended to communicate about a student’s habits of scholarship—that is, effort, conduct, ability, or potential. (Please see Paragraph #4 below for how Saint Mary’s communicates about Habits of Scholarship.) While diligent study and effort are expected from each student, it is the quality of the student’s performances on summative assessments that determine the grades the student achieves.
Teachers develop their own grading practices in compliance with school policies and in collaboration with their department colleagues. While mathematical computation may help inform a teacher’s judgment, grading is more than a process of mathematical computation. It is a professional judgment of student performance measured against course criteria (as expressed in course outlines/syllabi).
Saint Mary’s uses PowerSchool, a school information system that allows students and parents to access the student’s grades in real time.  For that reason, Saint Mary’s teachers update their grades at least twice a month so that grades are current.  Each grading period is six weeks long. Midterm and final grades figure in the calculation of a student’s grade-point average (GPA) and are official. They are used for determining students’ Honors, probationary, and eligibility status. A summative (i.e., final) grade reflecting student academic performance is reported at the end of each term. Until then, grades are reflections of progress.
Students’ effort, conduct, responsibility, punctuality, behavior—the processes by which a student learns—and progress are reported in a separate “Habits of Scholarship” mark (E, M, U). These marks are intended for students, parents, and school officials to provide more specific, discrete information to students, parents, and school officials, to guide student learning, and to inform decisions regarding appropriate student course placement and involvement in co-curricular programs. The Habits of Scholarship marks are reported every three (3) weeks in PowerSchool. They are not included on transcripts.

Program of Assessments
Students will be assessed with a combination of formative & summative assessments of various types.  Formative assessments—informal and formal performances and products—are designed to improve learning and do not count in determining students’ final grades in a course.  Summative assessments are designed to be a measure of a student’s level of learning, and they are evidence used to determine a student’s final grade. 
Required Major Assessments 
At the start of each term teachers will identify for students the major assessments of the course.  These assessments, be they examinations, papers, projects, or performances, are essential.  Students must complete and submit all major assessments as a condition of passing the course.  Failure to complete and submit any of the major assessments will result in a final, permanent grade of I (Incomplete), indicating that the student failed to complete the course.  This I grade is the equivalent of an F, and the student must repeat the course. Students will have a finite amount of time to submit late major assessments in order to receive credit as having fulfilled the requirements of the assessment. Major assessments that are not submitted on time have finite deadlines for late submissions. (See “Late Work,” below.)  In addition, certain classes (eg, English) devote step-by-step in-class support and time for students to complete their major assessments and thus already provide ample time and opportunity for work to be completed. In these cases, rewritten papers and projects are not accepted. Teachers present such conditions explicitly by teachers at the start of the course. See “Summative Projects, Papers, & Performances” regarding exceptions to how major assessments in these classes are treated.
Common Major Assessments with Common Rubrics
Teachers provide rubrics—criteria by which assessments are evaluated—for all major assessments. Common major assessments will be used in courses taught by two or more teachers to ensure consistency and reliability in instruction and assessment. Uniform rubrics will be used in survey courses taught by two or more teachers to ensure consistency and reliability in instruction and assessment. 
Time Provided for Assessments  
Except in cases wherein a student has documentation completed by a certified to diagnose learning disabilities, students take all in-class assessments in the classroom of their teacher at the time determined by the teacher. When practicable, in-class timed assessments are designed so that time-and-a-half is provided for all students. 
Student Narrative Self-Evaluations
At the mid-point of every term students are expected to write a narrative self-evaluation of their performance in each class; these paragraph-long narratives will be available for students, parents, administrators, counselors, and teachers to review in order to assist students. Thoughtful self-evaluations are important elements of Saint Mary’s academic program; their contents are taken seriously. 
Students will be asked periodically—after certain major assessments, for example—to reflect in writing on their academic performance and their habits of scholarship in order for the student and the teacher to assist students in enhancing their learning.

Homework Intended as Practice 
(Formative Work Completed Independent of Class)
The term “homework” is a general term for a variety of learning activities and assessments that students are expected to complete outside of class time. These can be either formative or summative in nature, and are identified as such by the teacher when they are assigned. Formative activities are designed to build content knowledge and/or develop skills through practice (worksheets, homework sets, free writing, etc.). Summative activities are work products—papers, projects, pieces, presentations—designed to measure students’ level of mastery of content and/or skills. Students’ consistency and completion of homework is reflected in the Habits of Scholarship mark.  Summative assessments are part of a student’s final achievement grade.
Saint Mary’s allows a small percentage of the achievement grade to be comprised of practice-oriented homework, which is evaluated based on its completion. Teachers may value homework up to ten percent (10%) of the achievement grade for freshmen and sophomores and up to five percent (5%) of the achievement grade for juniors and seniors is allowed.  This may be included in the grade determination in one of two ways:
  • Teachers may include the completion of practice-oriented homework in a category entitled “Homework” in the grade book. 
  • Teachers may raise a student’s grade on unit exams/assessments by a maximum of one-third of a grade (for example, from a B- to a B) if the student has completed—on time, by the assigned due dates--all homework designed as practice.

Plagiarism or any other form of cheating on practice-oriented homework will be addressed by the teacher on a case-by-case basis and reported to the Dean of Academics.  

Summative Projects, Papers, & Performances  
Every course requires students to exhibit their knowledge and skills by completing key projects, papers, other products, or performances. These products and performances, produced under the guidance of teachers, are summative assessments.
Revision and re-writing are built into the processes by which they are created. Saint Mary’s teachers actively teach the process of creating these products and performances. Moreover, teachers provide class time for students to develop and revise them, establish deadlines for the completion of preliminary steps in the creation of the product, and they are available during A-Block to provide supplemental guidance.  For these reasons, re-writing or revising these types of summative assessments will not be offered.  
Some teachers employ a “Mastery approach” to learning and assessment. This is a process by which students’ products and performances must achieve a level of proficiency (a grade of B or B+) or mastery (a grade of A- of A) or the student must revise and improve the work.  
Re-Testing Policy
[Except for English papers] Any of the major summative exams, identified by the teacher at the start of the term—except for the final exam assessment—can be retaken once for full replacement of the original grade if the student provides evidence of having followed the teacher’s prescribed course of study and having demonstrated appropriate Habits of Scholarship. The teacher has the choice to offer students a retake of part or all of the assessment, the results of which replace the prior assessment’s grade. This choice is a matter of each teacher’s professional judgment.
The following conditions pertain to this policy:
  1. There will be one (1) opportunity to retest per summative assessment.
  2. Any student has a right to re-test if provided there is evidence of observable, consistent habits of scholarship on the part of the student. To that end, students must show evidence that they completed the required study steps as part of their course of study in order to qualify to be retested. For example, they have taken notes on all lectures and readings, annotated the assigned course readings, completed all evening study on time, submitted all homework products on time, engaged in classroom study activities, and attended A-Block review sessions as appropriate. This may be reflected in the student’s Habits of Scholarship mark.
  3. Students who exhibit proficiency on an exam (i.e., a grade of B or better) must discuss with their teacher if they wish to retake the exam and may be advised by the teacher not to retake an assessment.  This is because such students have exhibited proficiency on the initial exam, and, given the demands on student study time, the retake may have negligible effect on the student’s overall learning (and grade) in the course. Moreover, subsequent course assessments provide opportunities to show mastery. (See point #6 below.)
  4. Students must take the retest opportunity during A Block within five school days of the return of the original exam at a time of the teacher’s choosing. 
  5. Teachers have the discretion to offer students a retake of part or all of the assessment, the results of which replace the portion of the exam that was retested even if the student performs less well on the retake
  6. When a teacher’s program of assessment is designed so that a subsequent major exam is an assessment of students’ cumulative knowledge and skills, subsequent exams diminish or eliminate the validity of previous major exams.  In other words, retesting is already incorporated into this program of assessments, so after-school re-testing is unnecessary.

Late Work 
Assessments Other Than Tests
Submitting work in a timely manner is a basic expectation of all Saint Mary’s students. It is expected that students complete and submit all work, assessments, tests, and quizzes on the date announced by the teacher.  In the rare instance that unforeseen problems arise and a student cannot submit work on or before the due date, the student must contact the teacher as soon as the conflict is recognized, prior to the due date, either in person or by email.  The teacher will establish new due date for submission. Except for extraordinary cases (eg., medical or family emergency), late submissions must be made within three (3) school days of the original due date. If the student meets these conditions there will be no grade reduction applied to the assessment as a penalty. 

Failure to communicate with the teacher in the prescribed manner will result in a grade of Incomplete (I), which is the equivalent of an F. Because the acquisition of core knowledge and skills is the purpose of homework and assessments, no late work past the agreed-upon late-submission date will be accepted. Instances of submitting work late without the teacher’s prior approval will negatively affect the student’s habits of scholarship mark. 
Missed Quizzes & Tests
Students are expected to take all tests and quizzes on the dates they are scheduled. Students who miss a scheduled test or quiz for a valid reason (eg, illness, approved family emergency) must reschedule with the teacher within three (3) school days of the student’s return from the absence.  A student who fails to take a missed quiz or test will receive an “I” for the assessment and have the assessment marked as missing.  An “I” on quizzes will not keep a student from passing.  An “I” on major tests and assessments—evidence of essential knowledge and skills taught in the course--will result in a student receiving no course credit (a final mark of I (Incomplete), which is a failing grade.  (See “Required Major Assessments,” above.)  
Repeated instances of a student missing scheduled tests will initiate an inquiry by the administration regarding the pattern of absences and may result in discussions with parents regarding the student’s interest in meeting the school’s academic expectations.  
Interventions for Students Who Repeatedly Miss Deadlines for Assessments 
  1. Repeated instances of submitting work late in any or all classes will be reported to the student’s counselor and to the administration and will result in the loss of the student’s co-curricular eligibility until the student adopts and maintains adequate habits of scholarship. That determination will be made by the Administration (the Assistant Principal for Academics) in consultation with the student’s teachers, counselor, and co-curricular coach/moderator. 
  2. Additional instances of a student failing to submit work (in any course) by assigned due dates are evidence that the student’s poor habits of scholarship are inadequate for the student to successfully negotiate Saint Mary’s academic program.
  3. Repeated instances of a student missing scheduled quizzes or tests will initiate an inquiry by the administration regarding the pattern of absences. 
  4. Acute examples of missed work deadlines (point #2) or missed test/quiz administrations (point #3) will initiate discussions with parents regarding the student’s ability or interest in meeting the school’s academic expectations and may result in the dismissal of the student from Saint Mary’s.
Extra Credit
Additional opportunities for students to show evidence of improved learning are offered through the school’s process for major assessments to be retaken.  Consequently, no extra credit is offered.
Any student who is found to have cheated on an assessment will receive a grade of I for that assessment, will receive U mark for the grading period for their Habits of Scholarship, will be reported to the Assistant Principal for Academics, and is liable to have their co-curricular eligibility suspended. (Cheating, including plagiarism, is clearly defined in the Student & Parent Handbook.) Work on any major assessment—those identified at the beginning of each course--that is discovered to be a product of cheating will render the offending student liable to lose course credit. That determination will be made by the Administration in consultation with the teacher.  To avoid a loss of course credit, the offending student will be required to complete the assessment.  The manner in which the re-done assessment is assessed will be made by the Administration in consultation with the teacher.
Plagiarism or any other form of cheating on practice-oriented homework will be determined by the teacher and reported to the administration.  

Grading & Reporting at Saint Mary’s
Saint Mary’s reports grades in order to communicate the level of each student’s academic achievement as measured against course learning outcomes (reflected in each unit plans). Conduct, effort, and attendance are important habits of scholarship, but they are not reflections of academic achievement. Consequently, those criteria are reported separately in the Habits of Scholarship mark.
Recording Grades
Saint Mary’s reports two grades on report cards: a grade that communicates about the student’s academic achievement, a grade that communicates about the student’s habit of scholarship. 
Academic Achievement Grade
Saint Mary’s employs a twelve-point letter-grade scale for reporting student academic achievement, plus marks of I and W.  (A=4.0, A- = 3.7, B+ = 3.3, B= 3.0, B- = 2.7, C+ = 2.3, C= 2.0, C- = 1.7, D+ = 1.3,  D = 1.0, D- = 0.7, F = 0.0, I = 0.0, W = no value). 
Habits of Scholarship Mark
Every student receives a separate Habits of Scholarship” mark (E = Excellent, M = Meets Expectations, U = Does Not Meet Expectations) for each class, which is a report of academic behaviors and orientations that contribute to, but are not a communication of, academic achievement Habits of Scholarship marks report on the process by which a student learns and perhaps the progress a student makes). Habits of Scholarship marks are updated every two weeks. Teachers include comment for each student who receives a U mark at the midterm and final grading periods.
While the Habits of Scholarship marks are not included on transcripts, they provide critical information regarding the processes by which students learn.  They give students, parents, and school officials specific, discrete information to guide student learning. For that reason, U marks may affect a student’s future course placement.  For example, any student wishing to take an Honors or Advanced Placement course must receive marks of M (“Meets Standards”) or E (“Exceeds Standards”) in all courses. Students with two U marks (Does Not Meet Standards) in any grading period will be placed on academic probation and will meet with their counselor or an administrator in order to eliminate the behaviors that contributed to receiving unsatisfactory marks. Students who earn three or more U marks at the midterm and final grading period will be placed on academic ineligibility.  

Elements for Consideration in Reporting Habits of Scholarship Marks:
  • Effort – Does the student exhibit consistent, adequate effort in pursuit of academic achievement
  • Attendance/Punctuality  – Is the student on time and in class when he/she should be (independent of factors like illness or emergency)?
  • Responsibility – Does the student submit schoolwork and other assessments on time? Does the student communicate with the teacher when issues arise?  Does the student come to A-Block when he/she needs help
  • Engagement – Is the student attentive in class and an active participant in class learning activities
  • Improvement – Has the student shown improvement* over time (independent of his/her academic achievement)? 
*An A student could show little improvement, or a struggling student could show significant improvement.
  • Behavior – Is the student’s conduct in class good? Is he/she respectful of teacher and peers?  Does he/she follow instructions? Is he/she distracted by electronic devices? Is the student distracting others? 
Students will receive a U (Unsatisfactory) mark in a grading period for the following behaviors:
•    Any form of cheating
•    Repeated failure to submit work (formative or summative)
•    Failure to submit any major assessment
•    Repeated instances of submitting work late
•    Repeated failure to bring materials (iPad, notes, reading material, etc) to class
•    Excessive absences for reasons other than verified health issues
•    Repeated off-task behavior or misbehavior requiring teacher intervention
•    Disengagement from class activities
Teacher Comments
For any student who earns a U, teachers will write a brief (one sentence), personalized comment that provides context for the mark. Such comments are proven by research to guide student approaches to learning more than marks or letter grades alone and communicate effectively about student progress in class.  
Letter Grades for Reporting Assessments and for Final Grades   
Saint Mary’s teachers translate students’ performances on assessments into one of thirteen letter symbols for reporting student performance. (A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D+, D, D-, F or I). These same letter grades are used for reporting students’ final grades. 
Grades Translated to Numerical Value Ranges
To assist teachers in computing final grades, Saint Mary’s letter-grade symbols correspond in the PowerSchool grade book on a 50-point scale from 50 to 98:  A = 98, A- = 91, B+ = 88, B = 85, B- = 81, C+ = 78, C = 75, C- = 71, D+ 68, D = 65, D- = 61, F = 55 / I = 49. No scores between 0 and 48, inclusive, are reported. 
Note: Grades on assessments at Saint Mary’s do not necessarily correspond to the percentage-grade scales commonly used by American high schools. Such grade scales falsely project a veneer of objectivity in grading.  Percentage breakdowns do not apply for many types of assessments.  In other cases, such as forced-choice (multiple choice) tests, the level of difficulty of the test items dictates the grade breakdowns, not a pre-set percentage scale. 
Grade of I (Incomplete)
The mark of “I” is reported for any assessment that (a)a student fails to submit, (b) is incomplete, or (c) is a product of cheating.  The “I” mark indicates that the student has not provided evidence of learning, thus preventing the teacher from making a determination of the student’s level of achievement of the course outcomes being assessed. The mark of “I” is the equivalent of an “F.” 
A final summative grade of “I” will be assigned at the end of the term when a student does not complete all the essential assessments for the course as determined by each academic department. Under normal circumstances, this grade of “I” is a permanent grade. The “I” grade is the equivalent of an “F” grade and is calculated in the student’s GPA. 
Grade of W (Withdrawn)
A mark of W is reported by the administration when a student is withdrawn from a class due to excessive absences for any reason before the end of the tenth week. Any student who exceeds 8 absences before the end of the tenth week will receive a W. (Please see Section 10.4, “Maximum Absences.”) Students whose absences exceed 8 in the final two weeks of the term will be removed from the class and receive a grade of I (Incomplete), which is the equivalent of an F. Students and parents may not withdraw from a class. Only the school administration determines when a student is to be withdrawn. 
Building a Standards-Referenced Grade Book
Standards-Referenced Grading Categories — Conventional grade books are created following one of two methods: (1) separating assessment types into different categories (Quizzes, Tests, Papers, Labs, etc.) each of which comprise a portion of the total grade, and (2) total points. Neither method adequately communicates specific information regarding a student’s learning, nor do they allow teachers, students, and parents to diagnose students’ strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, the points-based method emphasizes the acquisition of points to earn a grade and diminishes mastery of core knowledge and skills. 
Saint Mary’s builds grade-books differently than by these conventional methods. Saint Mary’s employs standards-referenced categories; that is, the grade categories are based on the core content and skills the students learn in the course; assessment results are placed in the grading category that aligns with the knowledge and skills each assessment measures. This allows readers of the grade book to see the students’ level of achievement in mastering each skill or content area (eg, factual knowledge, analysis, writing mechanics, measurement). This approach emphasizes learning over scoring.
Each academic department identifies the learning categories all teachers in that department will follow, and the value of each standards-referenced category comprises a portion of the final grade. Category Weights must be uniform within each department, thus ensuring alignment and consistency. 
Weighting Assessments in Grading Categories— Before the start of each course teachers develop the course’s entire assessment program. In doing so, the teacher knows the number of assessments that will comprise each category so that there is sufficient data to draw conclusions regarding student achievement in each content & skills category.
Within each category, assessments will vary in value. This is determined by identifying how many points each assessment is worth. (It is generally recommended that the minimum point value is 10.) These points have no relationship to how many test items are offered on an assessment.  The points are used to determine the percentage value each assessment has within that category.  The percentage value of any assessment in each category is determined by how many points it is worth as part of the total points of all assessments in that category. (For example, if one test is worth 20 points and the entire category has five assessments that total 100 points, that one test is worth 20% of that category.) Larger assessments, and/or assessments administered later in the course, are generally weighted more heavily than smaller assessments and those administered earlier in the course. 
Reporting Student Performance—  “Grading is a professional judgment of student performance measured against course criteria (as expressed in course outlines/syllabi). Teachers develop their own grading practices in compliance with school policies and in collaboration with their department colleagues. While mathematical computation may help inform a teacher’s judgment, grading is more than a process of mathematical computation. It is a professional judgment of student performance.” 
Saint Mary’s Grading Purpose
Computers do not determine grades. Teachers do. For this reason, teachers record student performance by entering a letter grade (A, B, C, D, F, or I) into the grade book. A student’s score on an assessment (be it a number or a percentage) is translated by the teacher—not the computer--into a letter grade. This liberates teachers from the grade ranges that are entered into computer grade-book systems. (There are many instances when the conventional 90=A, 80=B, 70=C, 60=D, 50=F percentage scale is not applicable. For example, a teacher who offers a five-question quiz may consider three correct answers to be the equivalent of a C grade, but if a teacher enters a 3 for that 5-question quiz, the computer will translate it into 60%, or D-. This variance significantly miscommunicates the actual level of student performance.)
Grade-Determination Methods in a Standards-Based Environment—Teachers are the final judges of student performance, and mathematical computation informs but does not determine a teacher’s judgment. For that reason, teachers may use a variety of ways to determine a student’s final grade. Measures of central tendency (mean median, or mode) are equally valid, as is trend analysis and the use of performance descriptors like rubrics.  Saint Mary’s grades students using course learning standards; it does not base grades on normative methods.  In other words, curving is never employed.
Averaging grades is a valid method when students have taken multiple tests, each of which assesses student mastery of discrete content knowledge that is not assessed by the other tests.  However, in an assessment environment in which tests are measures of cumulative knowledge, it may be appropriate to either weigh the most recent test more heavily or to diminish the value of the earlier assessments when determining the final grade.  Trend analysis—identifying the pattern of student performance over time—is a valid way to determine a summative grade. 
In reporting performance on formative assessments, it is essential that teachers report levels of performance (eg, comments, rubrics, or letter grades like A, B, C, D, F, I), not merely record that assessments were submitted (eg., a check mark).   
Teachers will communicate with all parents and students at the start of the course (via email) and with individual students and their parents when significant academic concerns arise.