Book Review: Elements of Grading

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be moderating an online discussion about assessment and grading, which has really got me excited.  While I think of myself as knowledgeable in this area, and others have praised my ability to speak about it, I can’t hold a candle to the way that some accomplished researchers and writers handle it.

Thanks to the good folks at Solution Tree, some of the foremost experts in the field of assessment will be joining us for the Voicethread conversation October 6-8.  First among these is Doug Reeves, whose work I have been reading for most of my professional life.  In fact, after reading Ken O’Connor’s “The Mindful School”, I immediately grabbed a copy of Reeves’ “Accountability for Learning” and devoured it.

While some of his work has been aimed at administrators and district leaders, Doug’s most recent book, “Elements of Grading: A Guide to Effective Practice” is a truly useful book for teachers.  He writes in a style that teachers can relate to, and he backs up everything with sound research and references.  Some of what you will find in this book is beyond the scope of what an individual teacher can do in her classroom, but most of the issues and questions that he discusses are within the wheelhouse of teachers and PLTs.

From the Introduction, Reeves describes a clear mission for what grades ought to be in the form of four “boundaries”:

  1. Grades must be accurate.
  2. Grades must be fair.
  3. Grades must be specific.
  4. Grades must be timely.

From there, Reeves lays out the importance of grading and the implications for discussions and changes to grading.  In the second chapter, which I read and re-read several times, he makes the case for how critical the current grading debate is and how it can be compared to changes in the medical profession over the last 60 years.  He suggests a simple exercise to help teachers assess their own philosophy on assessment:

“Ask your colleagues to complete the following sentence:  The differences between a student who earns A’s and B’s and the student who earns D’s and F’s are…

This really struck me as a powerful way to force each of us to think about how we look at students, and then discuss the similarities and differences within our school.

Aware of the burden that this type of change places on teachers, though, Reeves includes an entire chapter on ways that busy teachers can implement grading reform in their own classes.  He even addresses the issue of Special Education students and the concerns that teachers have about equitable grading for them.

Elements of Grading ends with advice for administrators about how to successfully conduct these conversations in their schools without alienating large parts of their faculty.  At 140 pages, this book is a quick read that is perfectly suitable for a PLT-based book study.  I strongly recommend it for those educators who want to examine their own grading practices and influence the views of others.  What do you think?

One thought on “Book Review: Elements of Grading

  1. I am looking forward to the Voicethread discussion on assessment and have placed Reeves’s book on my ‘to read’ list.
    I spent some time pondering the question you quoted above from his book, and came up with many answers. Eventually, I decided that asking educators the difference between A/B & D/F students is much like asking doctors what is the difference between their healthy and sick patients. Some have been sick since birth, others have illnesses related to life’s choices. For many, the two are not mutually exclusive. There are varying degrees of how critical the condition and prognosis.
    Because each case is different, the multi-faceted myriad of reasons for illness vs. health is difficult generalize about, and ultimately it’s less important to me to do so as a teacher than to recognize the most important thing, and maybe the only thing, they all have in common. It’s one simple truth: the one group needs our help more.


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