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Policy Project Draft: Promoting Transparent Middle School Grading Policies for Equitable Academic Outcomes

Edward Gonzalez

California State University, Bakersfield



The instructional core is the intersection involving the student, the content, and the teacher. Elmore states that the instructional core must anchor any school or district level instructional improvement practice to create effective change. (p. 22).  Furthermore, changes are often difficult to facilitate and our biggest problems are rooted deep within institutional structures. These structures are often taken for granted and require dialogue, assessment, and feedback for effective change to take place. Absent proper evaluation, any policy or program has the potential to become what Moon, Butcher, & Bird call “sinister caricatures” of policies and practices gone wrong (p. 39).  

This policy paper is centered around the grading policy of the Bakersfield City School District (BCSD).  Currently, BCSD does not have a uniform grading method. According to BCSD School Board policy f. BP 605.7 – Pupil Records, the superintendent has the authority to establish and appraise a regular uniform grading/evaluation system. Through an investigation of two middle schools and district leadership meetings, it is evident that grading is often a school site and school department decision.  This policy paper is meant to explore specific policies that: raise student achievement, are replicable, and promote equality for all learners.


BCSD is the largest elementary school district in California. Any changes made to policy that affects the instructional core will have a direct influence on 30,000 students and 1,453 teachers across 42 school sites. 88% of the students are considered to be socioeconomically disadvantaged and 33% are English Language Learners. According to the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (2016) 21% of students are proficient in grade level mathematics  and 31 are proficient in grade level language arts.


Middle school grades are a key indicator for success in high school and later success in college (Allensworth, Gwynne, Moore, & de la Torre, 2014). College readiness begins at the middle school level, as does failure and high school dropout rates. According to Allensworth et al. students with F’s at the middle school level are more likely to fail in high school and later drop out.

The research on grades is also clear that lower socioeconomic and minority students earn and receive lower grades than more affluent or Caucasian and Asian students (Rauschenberg, 2014). Within lower socioeconomic and minority groups there is also a disparity in achievement, for example female language learners at the 12th grade level have significantly higher grades than males, but are outperformed outside of their demographic. Rauschenberg states that these grading differences are expressed more clearly in student characteristics, rather than district or school characteristics.


One of the new measures of achievement in education is standards based grading. Standards based grading eschews traditional letter grading based on individual assignments for grades based on individual standards and substandards. A traditional A-F grading scale is based on time and work provided by teachers. A standards based grading scale does not rely on time. For example, if a student does not learn a standard until the end of the school year, they are not penalized but rather rewarded for this achievement. Townsley and Varga (2018) found that grades remained unchanged when a system transitioned to standards based grading and ACT scores were lower.  The researchers reasoned that exam scores dropped because the students became accustomed to taking exams multiple times, however, they did not specifically test or control for this variable.

Teacher perceptions are crucial in grading practices. Link (2018) found a relationship between teachers’ perceptions of grading practices such as behavior and grades, relation to grade level, district, and training (p. 62). This relationship is worrisome for education because it shows that less prepared teachers are more likely to factor behavior into grades, which can be a poor and discriminatory practice. This is an issue directly affecting Bakersfield City School District where 33% of teachers have been teaching for less than five years, and 10% of teachers on an emergency credential (Bakersfield City School District SARC, 2016).

Even as underprepared teachers enter the field of education, universities are researching the implementation of standards based grading within preservice teacher courses. The applicability of standards based grading extends beyond middle school and into the university through improved “triangulation of assessment, curriculum, and instruction” (p. 23). More novel grading practices such as Fuzzy Theory, based on computer science principles, have also demonstrated increased user friendliness for both teachers and students in live and online settings  (Rankovic, 2010).


Changing to different system of grading requires a shift in mindset and practices for teachers and students. Kunnatch (2017) writes “the research finds that teachers must create grades with a meaning that is transparent and can be communicated to students and parents (p. 54).” Grading should not be a construct created by the teacher, school, or district, but a form of feedback that is easily understood by students. This type of shift in grading invariably requires professional development and alignment of administrative practices and technology software used to manage grades..

In order for grading policy changes to be efficient, schools and institutions must use standardized methods regardless of the system (Christie, Grainger, Dahlgren, Call, & Heck, 2015). The strength of systemic changes in grading policy lies in the uniformity of its users and the ability for users to use established protocols for their own individual purposes. Successful transition into a grading policy also requires the new policy to be more efficient for its users. According to Potts (2012), students will readily accept a new system if: “grading was less stressful for students, improved student writing skills, and less time consuming” (p. 29).

Grading policy efficiency can also include the use of improved methods of peer collaboration using technology. Heng, Robinson, and Park (2014) studied the reliability, validity, and perceived effects of students in massive open online courses (MOOCs). Reviewing 1,825 assignments within a single course the researchers found “students believe grading is fair and beneficial, and peer-grading is well-received.” Furthermore, the authors concluded that peer grading “tends to be more valid than self-grading (p. 11).”

The efficiency of any new grading system also depend on the ability of grading scales to transfer to standard grading scales. At the university level, one such model is the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) which operates within the European Union (Lieponiene & Kulvietiene (2011). This ability to transfer grades across scales is not only a strength, but a requirement because the primary goal of many school districts is college and career readiness. Colleges and universities operate on traditional grading scales with acceptance processes based on those same traditional grades.

Political Feasibility

The Bakersfield City School District (BCSD) superintendent has the ability to unilaterally create uniform grading policy through BCSD School Board policy f. BP 605.7. BCSDt has 1,453 teachers making the political reality of a grade reform a potential for conflict with the Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association. Such a major reform would exhaust administrative and board bargaining capital that it would need to be part of a larger movement within the district.

To create the necessary conditions where teachers embrace grading changes, cultural shifts must occur. Standards based grading must also include a shift towards alternative assignments, a renewed focus on student levels and ability, and a new focus on student motivation (Isnawati, 2017). Any major shift will require large amounts of funding for professional development. The necessary hardware and technology infrastructure is currently in place to support a standards based shift (Twyman, 2014). Most of the technology such as laptops, wifi and network connectivity, and staff development already began under the previous superintendent Dr. Robert Arias.

Local school districts in the San Joaquin Valley have shifted their entire grading policy away from traditional A-F grades (Ash, 2012). Lindsay Unified School District, about 50 minutes north of Bakersfield, began a transition into a standards based system in 2009-2010. The standards based grading came along with other reforms ushered in by Superintendent Tom Rooney, which included: removing the middle school and creating neighborhood schools, creating new school district positions, and focusing on student-driven learning.


Bird, E., Butcher, J., Moon, B. (2001). Leading Professional Development in Education OU

Reader: 1st Edition. New York, New York. Routledge.

Bjelica, M., Rankovic, D. (2010). The use of Fuzzy Theory in grading of students in math.

Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education. 11(1), 13-20.

Christie, M., Grainger, P., Dahlgren, R., Call, K., Heck., D. (2015). Improving the quality of

assessment grading tools in master of education courses: a comparative case study in the scholarship of teaching and learning. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 15(5), 22-35.

Heng, L. Robinson, A.C., Park, J.Y. (2014). Peer grading in a MOOC: reliability, validity, and

perceived effects. Journal Asynchronous Learning Networks. 18(2), 2014.

Isnawati, I. (2017). Teachers’ grading decision making. The Association for the Teaching of

English as a Foreign Language in Indonesia. 28(2), 155-169

Kunnatch, J., (2017). Creating meaningful grades. Journal of School Administration Research

and Development. 2(1), 53-56.

Lieponiene, J., Kulvietiene, R. (2011). The grades transfer from one grading scale to other

algorithmization. Informatics in Education. 10(2), 233-244.

Link, L. (2018). Teachers’ perceptions of grading practices: how pre-service training makes a

difference. Journal of Research in Education. 28(1), 62-91.

Potts, G. (2012). A simple alternative to grading. The Journal of the Virginia Community

Colleges. (15)1, 29-42

Rauschenberg, S. (2014). How consistent are course grades? An examination of differential

grading. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22(92), 2-41.

Shalhope Kalnin, J. (2014). Proficiency-based grading: can we practice what they preach?

Association of Independent Liberal Arts Colleges for Teacher Education. 11(1), 19-36.

Townsley, M., Varga, M. (2018). Getting High School Students Ready for College: A

Quantitative Study of Standards-Based Grading Practices. Journal of Education. 28(1,.


Twyman, J. (2014). Competency-based education: supporting personalized learning. Center on

Innovations in Learning. Temple University.


Below you can find the following presentation artifacts:

  1. The conference and professional development handouts on virtual reality (VR). Feel free to download and share.
  2. Following the handout is copy of the conference presentation.
  3. Link to a student-made virtual reality museum.
  4. Professional renderings from
  5. a 6th grade student-created tutorial for my free workflow.
  6. A Minecraft inspired scene created by another 6th grade student.



Below is the presentation for session. This will be a brief ten minutes covering research and strategies for implementing the virtual-reality into the classroom.

The following site is our student-made virtual reality museum.


A professional “mystery contest” project uploaded by a user to

Another professional project on

How to export and import into SketchFab as told by a 6th grader.


A Minecraft inspired scene created by a 6th grader. Load the scene on your phone and then view in a Google Cardboard or VR viewer.

So you made it this far…and the world is coming to an end! To complete this stop you will make an image or video using a zombie or robot augmented reality app and then tweet it to #EDTE4200. Yes you can include a friend on this mission and make it count for both of you!

If you are on an Android based phone download the following fake news app from the Google Play Store:

If you are on an iPhone, download the following augmented reality app from iTunes:


Real World Example

    The video clip above was created using NewsBooth in the Apple Store.  Green screen technology is all the rage but the easiest way to put kids in front of the camera without having any technology ability is this app which superimposes the title headers onto video.  

   Throughout the year one of our enrichment activities was the creation of hoax news stories. The stories were either done as a creative exercise or were aligned to historical prompts. For example when writing on Mesopotamia students were asked to create a short story based on a student who created a time machine for the science fair and went back to ancient Iraq. Another popular prompt included students writing about finding a specific ancient artifact in the school yard and then infusing their tale with the history. In the video above students were asked to create a video for a school-wide anti-bullying campaign.


  1. The process is cheap because you only need one recording device for the class.

  2. Every part of the project is created by the students.

  3. It is easy to align the videos to specific standards if you use a prompt.


  1. You will have to train students to work cooperatively because without it your extrovert students will dominate the technology.

Rolling out the Technology (Beginners)

The best way to have students work on a project like this is through cooperative learning. It is important to have the script done before you begin creating the video. By giving students a voice or platform for different talents you can create cooperative learning groups based on skills.

   In one position it was not possible to immediately jump into cooperative learning; that was okay because it meant I needed buy-in from a majority of the classroom.  My way to engage my class was by hand-selecting students who showed an interest and then helping direct them as everyone else was finishing up regular “busy work.” By the time we were finished with the end product the interest of the rest of the class had peaked. In the end it was easier for me to introduce the value of cooperative learning and roles. Using an old beat-up iphone I was able to have students create their videos during recess and outside of precious instructional time.

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Real World Example

The example above was created by an English language learner and uses the paid subscription website GoAnimate. The website includes the ability to create a classroom where students can create videos online within a closed environment. With GoAnimate teachers reserve the right to publish to websites such as YouTube.         

   It is possible to use animation as a vehicle for instruction in the core areas. For example if students are learning about theme they can create an animation based around key concepts and vocabulary. If you work in groups, animation has the potential to be a “station” where students rotate creating short clips incorporating a writing skill. Animation software has the ability to authentically engage students if they are familiar enough with the website to use it creatively.

   I have seen language learners gain more respect based on the videos they created either because of their creativity or because the video demonstrated their intelligence. Keep in mind that just like in regular lessons you will need to include scaffolds, one-on-one, and small-group instruction in order for all learners to reach their potential.


  1. The technology does not require drawing skills.
  2.  Voice to text is exciting technology that tends to engage all learners.
  3.  Students can use Google Translate to help them make videos.
  4. You can use animation across all subject areas.
  5. Typically it is easy to share the videos to YouTube or to a blog.


  1. Language learners will still require scaffolds, small-group instruction, and one-on-one support.
  2. Initially it can be overwhelming for some students because the software is foreign to them.

1. Animation can give a voice to students who are not vocal in your class. Animation gives insight into introvert students and creative storytellers. If you have multiple languages in your classroom it is possible to create videos in these languages.

2. Most animating software is text to speech and already gives you the artwork to manipulate. In this sense you are only animating and not illustrating. The most important component is the dialogue, so I advise you spend a lot of time working on this before you begin animating.

3. You can incorporate animation into any core area. Animation can be centered around themes, vocabulary, or concepts.

Rolling out the Technology (Beginners)

    I have found that one of the best ways to engage language learners with animation is to pair them up with another student who speaks English and have them make an English and foreign language version of the same concept.  In this way the student is still getting practice in English, while providing comfort with the home language, and producing unique 21st Century work.  Depending on the level of English acquisition a student can also gain added support from Google Translate.

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