Dear MC,

Since our teachers are now giving letter grades instead of number grades in classes, the question came up about whether we are going to use letter grades on report cards as well. We haven't done this in the past. I know that lots of our old numerical grades weren't really indicative of student learning; I don't think just using letter grades on its own is either, but I'm not sure what implications I'm not thinking about if we make that switch now.

Mulling over midterms



Dear Mulling over midterms,

Switching to letter grades from 1-100 scale is a possible first step along the path to a more mastery-focused approach to grading . . . we have another grade-conscious school making this very shift this year, as a first step toward a genuine mastery grading practice. Using letter grades is a first step in a continuum—and it might be a good place to be for this school year.

Another matter: Schools are supposed to have a grading policy that is written and produced on demand by students/families who want to know the basis for their grades. So any change, from what the grades are for, to what marks are being used, should be indicated in a grading policy that students and families can see and know about.

Here is DOE guidance on grading policies, updated for this school year. Also linked is their guidance specifically for schools using mastery-based grading practices.

When the mastery lightbulb turns on, it is tempting to shift a bunch of practices all at once, but incremental change can be a sensible way to move forward. The most important thing is to message each shift in practice/policy clearly to teachers, students, parents, and other stakeholders—be clear about exactly what is changing, and why. Being sensitive to where stakeholders are is a great practice--kudos to you for knowing what next step is appropriate for your school!