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Rethinking Grading Pilot Overview

Rethinking Grading Cohort 2022-2024 includes Melrose High School, Monument Mountain Regional High School, Revere High School, Springfield International Charter School, and South Shore Vocational Technical High School


Schools have assessed student learning and growth with essentially the same grading system for over a hundred years. Since this system was created, the field has learned so much more about the way students learn and what type of learning leads to success in life. What we know now is that the current system does not assess true student learning. The experimentation with alternative learning models that occurred throughout the pandemic opened opportunities to closely examine and reconsider the way that we measure and report on student learning. Consistent with the efforts of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to promote Deeper Learning practices and models, the Rethinking Grading Pilot is an attempt to begin examining how communities across the Commonwealth support true student learning and growth, and to envision a new world for MA schools. It's time to rethink grading.

Rethinking grading is a challenging endeavor, often far more challenging than we realize when we begin the journey. Why? Because at its heart, grading is a reflection of our deepest values and beliefs. While grading manifests as a technocratic practice-involving a ledger sheet of averages and percentages, rubrics, GPAs, credit hours, MCAS scores, attendance, and tardiness rates-the work of rethinking grading is fundamentally cultural. Rethinking grading comes down to community vision and aspirations, and if "done right," it is about aligning reporting on learning (grading) to what we know about the learning process, child and adolescent development, and the demands of career, college, and community life.

To begin, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is supporting five Massachusetts high schools to rethink the grading paradigm through the Rethinking Grading Pilot. With individualized and comprehensive support from reDesign and the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy, these five schools are on a journey to build equity-centered systems at their schools that assess true student learning. We view this process as bold, pattern-breaking work that creates an opportunity to:

  • Prepare young people to thrive, with rewarding and economically stable lives, as full members of their communities;
  • Address the systemic inequities embedded in the design of our current grading systems; and
  • Design systems of assessment that ensure learners have the opportunity to engage in meaningful, relevant, deeper learning activities as the pathway to developing and demonstrating increasing competency.

Rethinking Grading Cohort's Vision for Student Learning in Massachusetts:

The future of student learning in Massachusetts…

Looks Like…
students taking ownership of their learning experience and being empowered to use their voice. Upon entering a classroom, you see students moving freely about the room, collaborating and engaging in rich dialogue. You see students actively engaged in accessing the scaffolds needed to fully engage in their learning. Risk-taking is a norm, and students are not hesitating to try new things.
Sounds Like…
the lively and vibrant buzz of student enthusiasm and curiosity. You can hear free-flowing dialogue with an exchange of ideas and opinions and equity of voice. You hear students leaning into learning through questioning, laughter, and active listening. You hear students sharing affirming peer feedback with each other that pushes their learning.
Feels Like…
a welcoming and empowering space for all learners. Joy, fun, and excitement fill all corners of the room, and you experience an electrifying energy. Students feel motivated to engage with each other as a community of learners. Students feel connected, like they belong, and that they are cared for. The atmosphere feels positive and non-stressful, and it is a psychologically safe space for every student.

Details and Logistics of the Rethinking Grading Pilot

  • Each high school has received a sizable grant from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to carry out the pilot work. The grant spans three fiscal years from 2022 through 2024.
  • A requirement of the grant is that each school allocates one full-time position (one FTE) to run the pilot work. We call these individuals the Rethinking Grading Fellows. Their job is to carry out all tasks and pilot initiatives as well as champion this work within their school community and support the larger pilot impact.
  • Cohort members meet twice a year for in-person network convenings led by the Rennie Center, engage with hosted site visits to other schools and communities deep in this work, and attend quarterly discussion sessions with their peers to address challenges and build community.
  • Each school receives individualized and comprehensive assistance from field experts at reDesign that includes leadership coaching and development, supporting school and community focus groups, and facilitating pilot teams of practitioners.
  • Rennie and reDesign are investigating state- and district-level policy around grading and assessment and conducting research into other schools and communities that have successfully moved the needle on rethinking grading. The team will produce state-level guidance and share the lessons learned and best practices to promote a larger impact beyond the five pilot schools.

Rethinking Grading Pilot: Supports, Actions, Outcome

rethinking grading pilot

network sessions
hosted site visits
fellow discussion session
dese liasion support

School based fellows and school teams

school district competency based system of grading for all students

Last Updated: January 5, 2023

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Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
135 Santilli Highway, Everett, MA 02149

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


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