The school board will decide tonight whether grades should be more "standards-based," including more descriptive feedback and more chances to improve.
Jamey Moore, director of standards and assessment, will introduce the idea to the board, which will allow middle school and high school students more time to make up work and re-test for "zero" grades.
Teachers at each grade level will give at least 20 formative assessments per quarter, which determines if students are learning the material.
The tests are not graded and show what students "get or don't get, and to give the student feedback," Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.
The formative assessments will count as a portion of the overall letter grade in a class, but summative assessments - the traditional tests given at the end of a section - will be graded and counted as a majority of the final grade.
In middle schools and high schools, each school day will have an enhancement period that students can use to make up or get ahead on assignments. During this time, all "zeros" will be retested at the high school level.
Teacher and work groups at the schools helped to decide these changes. If the changes are approved, Moore will create a brochure for teachers, parents and students with questions.
The idea isn't new. Educators began writing articles in support of standards-based grading years ago, and Dyer cites two featured in the Educational Leadership magazine published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
"These article connect why we think assessment is important in our effort to making learning more engaging and relevant," Dyer said. "And to develop soft skills like creativity, working collaboratively and tolerance."
In "Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading," written by Colorado math teacher Patricia Scriffiny in 2008, teachers can give grades meaning, reduce paperwork and control the grading process. Although traditional letter grades inherently contain positive and negative meanings, standards-based grades actually use words - advanced, proficient, partially proficient - to record what students know.
"Systematic and extensive feedback on assignments sends students the message that they can and should do homework as practice," Scriffiny wrote. "A typical homework assignment for my students consists of a small collection of problems, each of which is linked to a learning objective. At first, I make those connections for my students, but eventually they make them on their own."
In "A Well-Rounded Education for a Flat World," written by New York education consultant Richard Hersh in 2009, classrooms should emphasize skills and engagement.
"Content is necessary but not sufficient," he wrote. "Because teaching time is finite and content virtually infinite, skills that allow one to continue learning and to make judgments about the meaning, adequacy and accuracy of content are more important than ever."
When classroom teaching is reformed based on these ideas, officials should rethink assessment, he said.
"Final and midterm tests are not enough; nor are standardized tests helpful as learning tools," he wrote. "Assessment must be timely and appropriate to inform students and teachers during, not after, learning."