Is Your District Changing its Grading Policy? Here’s the Real Reason Why.

All across the country, teachers are suddenly learning that their grading practices are rubbish.

“What does a 72 even mean?” they are asked in PowerPoint presentations delivered by well-paid consultants from Gates and Nellie Mae-sponsored nonprofits. “The problem is that it doesn’t mean anything.

Then they find out that it’s actually even worse than that.  Teachers, the consultants explain to the teachers, have been factoring behavior into the grades they assign and it is damaging children irreparably. (Of course, you should be grading behavior, they say – all that social emotional stuff is very valuable data  – but you must keep it separate.)

Finally, teachers are told that the real issue at hand is ethics.  Our current practice of assigning A’s and B’s is simply wrong.  (Just ask grading “expert” Douglas Reeves – and be sure to overlook his own history of significant ethical breaches.)

Teachers, of course, who are painfully accustomed to hearing that most of what they do is wrong, listen patiently for the 1000th time to find out what they must do in order to be right.

And at last they are introduced to the solution, which has been in search of all these grading problems from the beginning: competency-based grading.  Of course.

Forget that 1-100 scale that allows teachers dangerous levels of subjectivism.  Instead, reduce the whole thing to a much simpler, much more standardized system of 1-4.

And stop scoring subjects too.  Instead, assign each student a score for each and every one of those handy standards we’ve given you. Nevermind when parents don’t have a clue what you’re talking about when you tell them their child is getting a 2 in “CC:ELA:4:RF.3a: Use combined knowledge of all letter-sound correspondences, syllabication patterns, and morphology (e.g. roots and affixes) to read accurately unfamiliar multisyllabic words in context and out of context.”)



Trust us – this system is much more transparent than the one you were using.

Soon enough, you can forget that big-end-of-year-test too. Instead, you can assess your students whenever you like – daily, hourly even – and you can even make your own assessments if your district allows, as long as they are properly aligned and approved by your higher ups, and as long as you enter all the data into the “learning management system” that has been purchased for you with money that could have been used to hire more teachers, but wasn’t because this is far more important.

Oh and by the way?  If all that ongoing assessing and scoring feels like too much, as long as your district has purchased 1:1 digital devices (and they will) you can use our learning management system to assign online learning playlists, assessments and assignments. If you go this route (which you should), you can feel free to sit back and be the “guide on the side” that you’re really meant to be anyway.


This is what the shift in your district grading policy is really all about: laying the groundwork for the corporate-driven shift to “personalized learning,” where digital devices can be put in front of each child and data can be mined for the millions of dollars it is worth.

For your friends who don’t believe it, I say simply: follow the money.

 I assure you: it’s really not about the kids.




Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

16 thoughts on “Is Your District Changing its Grading Policy? Here’s the Real Reason Why.”

  1. Oh, this look at the 1-4 “standards” grading push which came into our low-income schools about 8 years ago makes my stomach churn all over again. Your explanation that this shift is being put into place as a precursor to “personalized learning” helps me understand why it was EVER pushed in the first place. The 1-100 points A, B, C, D, F grading scale I was using, and which had worked quite well for me and millions of other students for decades, was much more logical than subjective. The 1-4 “standards” grading system, on the other had, always felt to be purely subjective. Over and over teachers “guessed” the rating scale for confusingly written standards, and the clincher was that a “1” did not mean a D, but a 0, and yet very, very few teachers ever understood that. 1s were handed out right and left….


    1. Can’t agree more with the subjectivity of the 1-4 grading…it’s guesswork all the way, even with a rubric. 1-100 has far more objective points to consider where in the end the average is quite reasonable and accurate. The latter is entirely based on objective measures to begin with. I also find the question about a 72 rather ridiculous. Right there the presenter is beginning to convince his/her audience of teachers that whatever they think it means, is wrong. This smacks of classic intimidation and bully tactics. It’s a one-way dialog – they don’t allow other opinions to be given the light of day.

      Great job Emily!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. You realize that probably 60% of all the grades,, teacher can give, in the 1- 100 scale, are technic as lly F’ so right? Your students have a +/- 40% possibility of passing, but yeah this works for everyone. No student can come back from a 10/ 100, so teachers started inflating grades to make up for this! 10 year high school teacher


  2. Competency based grading, like most of the innovations teachers whine about, was originally invented by a teacher. If everyone was doing competency-based grading and administration came along and told us to start grading on a 100 point scale and include homework and behavior in the grade, we’d freak about that, too.


  3. Thanks for writing this! Below is an op-ed about just such a shift, posted a few days before your piece. This is what’s happening in Baltimore County, with its on-steroids digital initiative known as STAT, for Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow.

    “What’s Behind BCPS’ New Grading Policy?

    Anyone wondering where this policy — homework not counted, no grades lower than 50 points, ‘competency-based’ goals — originates?

    Definitely not just from thoughtful internal focus groups.

    Try organizations funded by education technology-related companies such as Discovery Education, Follett, Microsoft or SAFARI Montage–all doing business with Baltimore County Public Schools.


      1. Yes I think that professor that changed the named to the T name, is talking about our district! Our son is literally a “junior” although they don’t call it that but is doing 8th grade English…literally the bottom of the sheet says 8th grade, however they say he assesses at level 7 of 8 levels which would be junior level. We moved here in December of 2015 from the lower 48 and one of the pulls was this award winning school. We had no clue……

        Liked by 1 person

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