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What's in a grade?

Dallas Dance explains Baltimore County schools' new report cards.

Misunderstandings about the Baltimore County Public Schools' grading and reporting policy and procedures are becoming widespread following changes this year. Here is some clarity.

The need to facilitate deeper learning for every student has prompted a number of changes in our classrooms, including our approach to grading. We believe grades should provide equitable, accurate, specific and timely information on student progress toward course expectations.

Simply put, the same work completed in two different classrooms should receive the same grade. Fairness makes grades meaningful. Otherwise, we are not being honest with students about their progress so that we can take their learning to the next level and prepare them to graduate globally competitive and ready for college and careers.

Grades should tell us what a student knows and can do in a course. Conduct and skills are critical and belong on the report card, but they should not distort the academic grade. Separating the academic grade from the conduct grade holds students accountable for both.

Learning outcomes should be so clear that students can use the feedback provided on their assignments and assessments to determine where they are in relation to the standards or learning targets and where they need to go next. There should be no mystery around their current level of performance and why they received a certain grade.

That is why parents and students will see report cards this year that provide an achievement grade and a conduct grade for each marking period. The conduct grade will be separate because essential future-ready skills like completing work on time, behaving appropriately, participating in class and working cooperatively with adults and peers do not tell us how well students have learned academic content.

Those skills will be scored on a scale from 0 to 3 on the report card, using the Baltimore County Public Schools Skills and Conduct Indicator Rubric, which evaluates student effort, preparation, participation, communication, and interaction in alignment with best practices. The rubric is part of the report card, which also indicates absences, tardies, early dismissals and attendance because students need to be in class every day and on time.

In this way, behavior now counts more than ever, and report cards will more accurately reflect the full range of knowledge and skills demonstrated by each student.

Through the BCPS One online gradebook, parents and students can view scores and feedback on all assignments and assessments, including pre-tests, homework and practice work. Again, homework will be collected and scored. Results from homework and other practice work will be used to help teachers adjust instruction to meet individual student needs.

This approach to grading achievement and using a rubric to grade conduct is the result of two years of study, preparation and feedback involving all facets of Team BCPS — teachers, school and system leaders, students, advisory councils, and members of the teachers' and administrators' bargaining units. In 2014, BCPS convened the District Grading Committee to review Board Policy 5210 on Grading and Reporting, which had not been updated since 1997. The committee recommended updates based on their analysis of current research and practices.

Professional development on best practices in grading and reporting began in early 2015 and continued throughout the 2015-2016 school year, giving staff and leaders the opportunity to learn about and provide feedback on grading practices that promote deep learning.

The District Grading Committee is continuing to meet to ensure support and guidance for administrators and teachers as they evolve their grading practices to become more equitable and accurate, and to support our core focus on student growth. We welcome your feedback.

Dallas Dance is superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools. His email is ddance@bcps.org. The BCPS Grading and Reporting web page can be found at bcps.org.

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