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Redefining grading at SLP high school

Anya Panday is a junior at SLPHS and an intern with the communications department. As the Editor-in-Chief of the SLPHS student-run newspaper, Echo, she is committed to the representation of student voice within the district. As an intern for the communications department, she develops a story for each SLP Communicator to incorporate student voice into the district’s communications. This article is Anya's first article in the SLP Communicator.

The beginning of the school year typically brings about various changes: teachers, classes, friends, and more. Along with these changes, St. Louis Park High School (SLPHS) has rolled out new grading practices more consistent with the school’s core mission, Strategic Plan, and best practices. Most notably, the new practices include an optional 50% grading floor, an official 80/20 summative-formative split, and consistency in grading practices between teachers of the same department. The grading floor means that if a student misses an assignment, they will not receive anything lower than 50% in the grade book. The 80-20 split means that tests and projects are collectively worth 80% of a grade, while assignments, quizzes, and homework collectively make up the other 20% of a student's grade. 

The new grading practices are aiding SLPHS in furthering the district mission, specifically with SLPHS’ core values. SLPHS is committed to the brilliance of the school community and others, as well as high expectations for students. SLPHS is encouraging the demonstration of knowledge by placing more emphasis on final summatives, which in turn heightens the expectations for students regarding the way they show their knowledge in class, pushing students to achieve the full potential of their brilliance.

The grading practices at SLPHS are created using a collaborative process, a central part being the grading design team. English teacher Callie Hefstad, who collaborated with the design team, said she was invited to give the design team her background knowledge on grading policies to aid their development of new practices.


“(The new practices) stem from the grading design team,” Hefstad said. “They’ve been looking at research, what best practices for grading are, and what other schools around the region are doing. They pitched their idea to add-in (new grading practices), and they asked me to be a part of it because I’ve done different grading practices at other schools -- specifically standards-based grading.”

One primary concern of previous grading practices is the probability of a student failing a class. The odds of a student failing a class is 60%, or 6/10. Historically, it has been easier for a student to fail than for them to pass. If a student performs poorly on a test or misses assignments, the zeros in their grade book begin to pile up, and it’s hard to raise their grade because you have to make up 60% of your grade from 0% to have a chance of passing. Understanding the impact this has had on students and wanting to encourage students not to stop trying after failing a test or missing an assignment, SLPHS implemented a 50% grading floor. This promotes best practice grading because it doesn’t automatically give students an “easy A” or pass them. Still, it doesn’t punish them as severely for making a mistake or not understanding a topic. It’s much easier to make up 10% than 60%, which encourages learners to keep striving for improvements.

Hefstad said the grading design team was also concerned about the probability of a student failing. From the teacher's perspective, she said they wanted to offer more ways for a student to succeed rather than fail.

“I’ve also implemented the 50% grading floor since I’ve been here and been an outlier in that way,” Hefstad said. “I started to (work) with them, and we decided the 50% floor idea is what we want to move towards. When you look mathematically at our grading practices and (see) the fact that we have more ways for students to fail rather than succeed, it just doesn’t make sense. What the grading floor does is offer students more opportunity to succeed in many ways.”

While many are excited about the growth at SLPHS surrounding best practices for grading, there is a part of the new grading system that raises concerns among some students. The logic behind the 80/20 summative-formative split is to emphasize demonstrating knowledge. Not every student benefits from assignments in the same way because not every student learns the same way, thus, there is less emphasis on completing smaller assignments. If a student can understand a concept without the assignments, it makes sense not to have their grade rely on completing them.

On the other hand, not every student demonstrates their knowledge the same way. If the student isn’t a good test taker but did all the assignments that should prepare them for the test, their grade shouldn’t be tanked by the test. While the 50% grading floor mitigates some of this effect, some students were still concerned about the inclusivity of different learning styles when they first learned of the new practice. The 80/20 split doesn’t place more emphasis on testing performance; instead, it encourages teachers to branch out into promoting new learning styles through project and discussion-based summatives. With the newfound importance of summatives, teachers have realized students' grades cannot be 80% dependent on tests and have begun to include, rather than exclude, other kinds of learning styles to demonstrate knowledge. 

Overall, while the new grading practices at SLPHS may take a bit for students to adjust to, the practices are ultimately put in place to better the equity of the traditional grading systems within schools and to help students succeed within their learning styles.