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Grading in Special Education (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

The discussion in this book will focus on how to assign grades to special education students for their work in regular education classes. Sometimes the regular education teacher has responsibility for assigning grades to all the students in her class, both regular and special needs. Other times, the regular education teacher and a special education teacher work together to assign those grades. In both cases, there are several important issues: what to “count” and how to count it, how to ensure that the grades are interpretable, and how to treat all students fairly. Bursuck and colleagues discuss the importance of grading decisions for special education students in regular classrooms (Bursuck et al., 1996, p. 301): “Classroom grades earned by students with disabilities provide a direct measure of the successful performance of the students and an indirect measure of the success of integration efforts in general.”

Various authors have noted that simply grading special education students in the same manner as their regular education classmates does not work very well. When this is the policy, most of the special education students pass their classes but end up with very low grade point averages (Donahoe & Zigmond, 1990). They go to school, they do their work, and they end up “D” students. This very quickly frustrates both the students and their teachers, and it does not communicate clearly to parents about how the students are doing in school.

Grading policies may or may not be helpful for special education students. In a survey of school superintendents, Polloway and colleagues (Polloway et al., 1994) found that 65% of districts had a formal grading policy, although compliance with the policy was required for only 78% of those districts. For the rest, the grading policy was only recommended. Sixty percent of those districts with grading policies had a policy on modifications for students with disabilities. Using the IEP was the most frequently noted of these.

But if the classroom grading system is to be adapted for special education students, what specifically should a teacher do? Grading adaptations for these students can be made in two ways: by changing the nature of grades for individual assignments or by changing the methods of arriving at and reporting report card grades. Table 8-1 presents a list of 10 adaptations Bursuck and colleagues used in a series of studies, surveying teachers (Bursuck et al., 1996) and students (Bursuck et al., 1999) about their use of these methods and their perceptions of fairness. This is not a list of recommended practices, but a list that aims to represent the range of real practices. The list was developed from preliminary open-ended surveys of regular and special education teachers, a review of literature, consultation with experts, and a pilot study with teachers. Consistent with the philosophy of this book, these adaptations should be evaluated on the degree to which they reflect the principles of good grading or reporting. The adaptations should be about student achievement, and they should result in grades that communicate clear, interpretable information to students and parents.

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