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Grading Student Progress

Resources for making local decisions regarding grading student progress.

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California educators and families have made great efforts to meet the teaching and learning challenges brought by the pandemic and the need to shift to teaching in a virtual environment. The diverse and unique challenges have been met with thoughtfulness and flexibility and may continue to have an ongoing influence on teaching and learning beyond the reaches of this pandemic. As educators and schools continue to respond to distance learning needs, there is an opportunity to reflect on how student progress is measured and consider how to shift to more equitable grading systems and policies, whether the instructional setting is in person, virtual, or hybrid.

This section contains links to information and resources that local educational agencies (LEAs) and others have created as they have addressed the intersecting issues of equity and grading in a distance learning or hybrid (distance learning and physical) educational environment. The California Department of Education is providing this information as a resource to LEAs making determinations about grading student progress.

The Policy Analysis for California Education Practice Brief What Grading and Assessment Practices Could Schools Use in the Year Ahead External link opens in new window or tab. (September 2020) notes that “the current disruption in education presents a unique opportunity to move closer to grading practices that provide better information about student achievement.” It includes five research-based approaches to grading that may be especially helpful when in-person learning is disrupted and student access to technology and learning supports may be unequal:

  1. Replace grading quantities, such as the extent to which students have completed assignments, with grading qualities in student work that reflect students’ current achievement level at the time of the report.

  2. Use flexibility in timing the collection of evidence for grading decisions so students are graded on the learning they do, not when they do it.

  3. Report current evidence of student achievement.

  4. Use multiple measures for assessing and reporting student achievement on any learning goal.

  5. Use performance assessments to allow students to demonstrate mastery of complex content.


More detail can be found for each suggestion in the full Practice Brief. It is important to note that concepts in the Practice Brief External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) require professional learning and support from leadership to implement. District leadership should include the appropriate allocations in their budget planning to support professional learning.

The National School Boards Association article Accurate and Equitable Grading External link opens in new window or tab. (February 2020) presents an argument for shifting to “more equitable” grading practices that:

  • Value knowledge over environment or behavior
  • Support a growth mindset
  • Simplify and make grades more transparent
  • Build soft skills

The practices in the article may be helpful in considering a shift to grades “based on students’ mastery of course content and standards versus extra credit, homework, and behavior.” A discussion of implementation strategies from districts who have successfully shifted their grading policies is included.

The California School Boards Association report The Uncertain Road Ahead: Reopening Schools in the time of COVID-19 External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) (June 2020) notes the need for assessment options and grading policies that take distance or blended learning into account and that students, families, and educators will be expecting a different approach than when schooling was first disrupted in spring 2020. The publication offers some guiding questions and considerations for school board members as they plan to meet this need.

In October 2020, San Diego Unified School District adopted an expanded standards-based grading policy External link opens in new window or tab.. The modifications were prompted due to conversations with stakeholders around issues related to the pandemic and social justice and are informed by research on equitable grading practices. The new policy

  • separates behavior and non-academic and behavior factors from academic grades;

  • provides for revision and reassessment so that students have increased opportunities to demonstrate mastery of standards; and

  • is captured in a Grading Policies: Then and Now External link opens in new window or tab. chart which illustrates the evolution of the grading policy from 2018, to the “hold harmless” policy of spring 2020, and the revised policy, which will be implemented gradually.

West Contra Costa Unified School District adopted a distance learning grading policy External link opens in new window or tab. in September 2020: The policy:

  • specifies that grading does not penalize students for late work or unexcused absences; and

  • includes equity-focused aspects of the regular grading policy such as

    • students have the opportunity to demonstrate mastery in a variety of ways; and

    • teachers may include additional information such as observations and student work samples when reporting grades to parents.

The district also signed an Memorandum of Understanding External link opens in new window or tab. with the local teachers’ union to “commit to collectively delve more deeply into equitable grading practices and the methods by which we communicate student growth, development and mastery of grade level standards and content.”

While decisions related to grading student progress are local and varied, changes made to respond to distance learning challenges also bring opportunities to reexamine grading policies with a lens of equity and with the goal of improving the design, collection, and use of assessment information. For more information regarding the development, coordination, and implementation of statewide testing programs in California, including a link to extensive guidance on diagnostic and formative assessments, visit the CDE Testing Website.

Questions:   Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division | DistanceLearning@cde.ca.gov | 916-319-0881
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, February 2, 2021