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Sneak Peek: Project 180, Day 166

Here is a preview of our grading policy that we will implement next year in all sophomore language arts courses, both regular and honors. Of course, the Focus Standards will vary some between regular and honors courses, but our grading approach will be uniform. And while we certainly do not claim to have arrived at “the” way to grade, we do feel as if we have come up with an approach that more accurately communicates student growth and proficiency. We are excited to learn and grow with our kids next year, and we feel that this is a great launching point to do so. We would love any feedback that you are willing to offer.

Biggest change from Project 180? I am no longer handing kids an “A” as they walk through the door next year. Why? Well, it was never my intention to continue down that path. My giving an “A” this year was what I felt to be a necessary, radical move to take grades off the table and swing the pendulum to the opposite end, calling attention to the myriad issues surrounding traditional grading practices. I wanted to discover if kids would work, if kids could learn without the threat of a grade hanging over their heads. And while my anecdotes and SBA results (96.5%) are not scientifically conclusive, they do point to the possibility that we can step away from tradition, that we can take risks and kids can still learn.

But next year will be different. Following a hunch and advice from Aaron Blackwelder, I decided to let kids self-select and defend grades at the end of a term. I wish now that this is what I had done this year, but we live and we learn. And I learned a lot this year. Another factor that influenced my decision to abandon the “gifted A” was that I wanted to provide a path for others to follow, and for most it was a leap too long, so I closed the gap, and others can now follow with more confidence. More to come on how this year has influenced the path ahead, but for now, I am pleased to announce that my grade-level team has joined the journey to turn grading upside down. Welcome aboard Jenna Tamura and Maddie Alderete.

Happy Tuesday, all. A special thank you to Aaron Blackwelder for his courage and wisdom.  And another special thank you to Jenna and Maddie for their hard work and dedication.

Cheney High School Grade 10 English Language Arts Grading Policies


The tenth-grade ELA teachers at CHS utilize a non-traditional grading approach. Our desire is not only to provide a system that more accurately communicates achievement and progress but also to provide a system that empowers students to take greater ownership and responsibility over their learning. The details of our approach are outlined below.

Focus Standards

Each semester there will be 10 – 12 Focus Standards adapted from the Common Core State Standards that will be at the center of our work for the grading period. 4 – 6 of the Focus Standards will be designated as “Must-Meet” standards.

Must-Meet Standards

Each semester there will be 4 – 6 Must-Meet Standards that students must meet to earn credit. If they do not demonstrate proficiency by the end of the grading period, they will be given an Unsatisfactory until they demonstrate proficiency with these standards.  Students will earn credit once they meet Washington State Proficiency Levels on the Smarter Balanced Assessment at which time their grades will be changed to Satisfactory, giving them credit for the course with no effect on their GPA.

Final Grades

Students who meet the designated Must-Meet Standards will select and defend a grade at the end of the term. Students will present their grade selections and evidence (see below) during an end-of-term conference with their teacher. The students will answer two central questions during the conference.

  1. What evidence do you have that you met the focus standards.
  2. What evidence do you have that you achieved growth with the focus standards?

Students who do not meet the designated Must-Meet Standards will be given an Unsatisfactory until they demonstrate proficiency (see above).


Our grading approach relies heavily upon evidence that students collect over the term to demonstrate proficiency and growth with the term’s focus standards. Students will maintain an “evidence portfolio” that houses all major assignments and assessments. These documents will be the necessary formal evidence for students to defend their selection of grades. However, this is not the only form of evidence that students may use to defend their selected grades.


Skyward will be used as a means to report progress. Progress will be presented in two ways:  Completion and Performance.

Completion will be used to report on practice. It will be presented with a 3-point scale.

3 = Complete. 2 = Near Miss. 1 = Far Miss. 0 = Missing

Performance will be used to report on proficiency. It will be presented with a 3-point scale.

3 = Proficient. 2 = Near Miss. 1 = Far Miss. 0 = Missing

Mid-term Grades

Mid-term grades are simply a formal progress report. As with final grades, students will select and defend a grade, but unlike the final grade, there will not be time for a conference. However, there will be a formal mid-term progress report, which students will complete and share at home. A parent signature will be required.

Key Terms

Proficiency – demonstrates success with standard

Growth – demonstrates continued progress with standard

Mastery – consistently demonstrates progress above standard

Practice – informal feedback opportunities designed to develop the skills necessary to achieve proficiency with the focus standards

Performance – formal feedback opportunities designed to demonstrate proficiency with the focus standards

Satisfactory grade – Under teacher discretion, a student may be given an “S” (Satisfactory) grade that awards credit for the class, but does not impact a student’s GPA in a positive or negative way.  If a student progresses through a class and displays effort and adequate understanding of content, but due to a variety of circumstances, would not be able to earn a passing grade, an “S” grade may be given.  (Cheney High School Grading Policy)

Unsatisfactory grade – Under teacher discretion, a student may be given a “U” (Unsatisfactory) grade that does not award credit for the class, but also does not impact a student’s GPA in a positive or negative way.  If a student does not progress through a class, display reasonable effort, and adequate understanding of content, a “U” grade may be given.  A “U” grade may be changed to a letter grade, including an “S” grade, when a teacher determines that a student has adequately completed the class.  (Cheney High School Grading Policy)

3 Replies to “Sneak Peek: Project 180, Day 166”

  • Monte, I’ve got my own reflective post coming up soon and I appreciate being able to see a preview of your thinking here! I am thinking along similar lines differentiating between focus standards and must meet standards.

    I’m also thinking about making a PBL-type distinction between surface, deep, and transfer success criteria. Using my Descriptive Grading Criteria (which I modified an old edition of Ken O’Connor’s 15 Fixes), I might have these descriptions correspond to a C, B, and A grade respectively. Similarly, just meeting must meet standards and meeting/extending all focus standards would correspond to a C and a A grade. Anything below would be an incomplete.

    Below is a link to my Descriptive Grading Criteria right now. These descriptions are what students use for their end-of-term conference, letter, or video. I don’t want to end up with any more than four descriptions still, so I’ll likely be scrapping or combining some to incorporate some of the ideas from above.

    Descriptive Grading Criteria:

    • Thank you, Arthur. We have yet to create docs or construct our “language” for helping kids in the self-select process, and this definitely gives us some food for thought. I love the A, B, C approach; it is in line with what we have been tossing around. Will share with my team this week. Thank you for your input and help. Always appreciated.

  • Wow! Looks like Cheney HS is on to something. I love the policy of giving an “Unsatisfactory” to students and expecting them to make up the “Must-Meet” standards.

    A couple things to consider:

    1. At what point do you determine if a student can simply make up/revise work to meet proficiency to earn credit or require him repeat the class? My colleagues and I are currently wrestling with this concept now.

    2. Why differentiate between “Near Miss” and “Far Miss” if either is going to require a student to make up/redo/revise work? Do you have clear descriptors of the two levels?

    Keep the blogs coming. I look forward to them each morning.

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