A comment on the previous post asked for some detail about standards-based grading. I thought about replying in the comments, but perhaps the idea deserves a post of its own.
In a nutshell, standards-based grading is a system where teachers evaluate students in reference to the standards and only report their achievement. What does that mean? It means, for example, that it doesn't matter if a kid couldn't complete a set of addition problems right the first time (or second time or...). What matters is that the kid demonstrates that s/he can do it at some point. All of the misfires...the practice...don't count as part of the grade, and grades are never averaged.
There are some benefits to this sort of system vs. the sort of grading we all grew up with and know well. It takes away the "reward: punishment" aspect of grading systems. As one teacher mentioned to me this morning, her kids don't care about grades anymore. Instead, they're focused on learning. It increases student motivation, especially for typically low to middle level achieving kids. It allows teachers to better communicate with parents about the whole "So, how's my kid doing?" concept. A classic example to consider is below (I don't know why the background is black...but if you click on it, it will be white and easier to read). All of the students have the same average (60%), but very different performances on the task. Which one would you want to pack your parachute?
Most people pick "B" as this is the kid who most consistently packs the parachute correctly. "A" has a decent average, but you can't tell that the kid really gets what s/he needs to do. "C" started off strong, but for whatever reason, isn't performing well now.
The difficulties? Most teachers are unwilling to judge students solely based on achievement---so those other factors such as effort, work ethic, participation, and so on need a separate reporting area. The biggest hurdle is figuring out what to do with late work. On one hand, you can't evaluate what a kid doesn't turn in...and on the other, if a kid does the assignment well, but not on time, can you really penalize their achievement? Another aspect to consider is how the grade will be viewed by different users. If we return to the parachute idea, for example, which kid would be a good college candidate---is it still "B"? Colleges are typically looking for those students who catch on right away.
The bottom line is that you can still report letter grades---this is really about rethinking what those symbols stand for. Right now, if a kid gets a "B" in social studies, we don't really know what that means. Did the kid show up and do homework consistently? Did s/he just ace the tests, but was a butt in class and the teacher knocked the grade down? Or perhaps this is a kid who really didn't get the material but tried hard, so the teacher kicked up the grade. How do we know that the grade reflects what a kid knows and can do? In our current system, we don't.
The issue is also broader than how teachers evaluate work. Grades are currency, as a friend of mine likes to point out: they buy things. They buy athletic eligibility. They buy college entrance. They buy lower rates for car insurance. And more. Parents, kids, community members, and students all look at grades differently. Those little letters means various things to each user. We need some communication around that.
Many districts in Washington already use standards-based grading and reporting. Mine is definitely behind the pack, but our elementaries have been dipping their toes into the pool for the last few years. The bone of contention with them is the amount of time needed for reporting in the new grading system. Secondary teachers here are going to first be introduced to the concept of standards-based grading...we'll deal with reporting formats later. Should be a good fight.