Students shouldn’t be awarded extra credit for bringing in school supplies. Teachers shouldn’t deduct points as a penalty for talking in class. And if a student misses points on an assignment, they should be given the opportunity to try again and reclaim points to increase their overall score.

These are the tenets of Alamo Heights Independent School District’s new grading policy, rolled out at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year. Some parents have called it a significant shift in the traditional grading philosophy. AHISD leaders describe it as a big step toward ensuring all grades accurately reflect what a student knows.

Texas doesn’t have a uniform grading policy among school districts. Individual districts set their own scoring policies, defining which classes earn more points in the overall calculation. Earlier this year, North East ISD trustees approved their own grading policy revamp, changing the way GPAs were calculated for high school students.

Two years ago, Alamo Heights ISD’s school board directed staff to review how the district’s educators were assigning grades. At the time, inconsistencies were common between grade levels, classes, and teachers.

“Each teacher could handle grading differently, so we had to learn all the different rubrics for all the different classes,” said parent Michelle Harrison, who sat on the committee to update the grading policy. “Then you add in having multiple kids in the system, and you’re having to learn seven different grading styles for each child.”

To tackle this problem, the district brought together teachers, parents, and students to draft a new policy. Together, the more than 160 stakeholders settled on two key priorities: Grades should accurately reflect a student’s understanding of a subject matter, they concluded, and they should help boost a student’s confidence, not tear it down.

These priorities,what AHISD calls the “true north” of the grading policy redesign, realigned each of the district’s six campuses’ operations. The biggest change came when teachers began to offer students an opportunity to redo assignments and earn a better grade.

This new policy varies slightly based on a student’s grade level, but the general concept remains the same. Students who want to reassess for a better grade must sign a contract with a teacher, work to relearn the content, and accept the resulting grade, whether it is higher or lower than the original score. Contracts outline required “performance growth opportunities” that students must complete to relearn material.

For example, if a student wants to redo a quiz, they might have to attend lunch tutoring, turn in missing assignments, and complete quiz corrections. At the high school, students can earn up to a 90 for their improved grade.

“It honors the extra work that students and teachers are putting in, but it also respects the fact that there are some kids that made a 100 the first time and their hard work should be recognized also,” said Jimmie Walker, executive director of curriculum and instruction..

The ceiling also works to limit stress among students who already achieved high scores, Harrison said.

She described her son, a sophomore, as a perfectionist and credited the policy with helping him understand time and stress management. When he scores an 86, he has to evaluate whether it is worth the extra work to earn four more points.

“It’s setting him up to understand how to balance his time,” she said. “He has to choose between putting in a few more hours to get a few more points or spending his time elsewhere. It’s his choice.”

Not all assignments are available for reassessment. Long-term projects that give students multiple opportunities for feedback are exempt, as are semester cumulative exams. In general, students are allowed one redo attempt, however there are exceptions in extenuating circumstances.

These limits help teachers manage the new work required of them, said Yadira Palacios, who oversees curriculum and instruction at the junior school .

Parent Amy Goforth was part of the team that helped craft the new grading policy. Parents, students, and instructors heavily debated the right way to offer opportunities to retest. Goforth recalled one student remarking that adults don’t get opportunities to redo work projects – a notion Goforth disagreed with.

“[The policy] mirrors what it is like in the workplace,” Goforth said. “You’re not going to get fired if you turn in a project that isn’t perfect. Your boss is going to say, ‘Work some more on that,’ and then you try again.”

Any concern that the new policy would inflate the overall GPA of Alamo Heights students has been unfounded in the 2019-20 school year’s first semester, Walker said. The district’s overall GPA has remained steady and now that all teachers are implementing the same policy, the system feels more fair, parents said.

Another major change in AHISD’s grading policy revamp was the removal of subjective elements from students’ numeric scores. Some teachers awarded or subtracted points for behavior such as talking in class, tardiness, or neatness of projects. None of these reflected a student’s understanding of curriculum, Walker said.

That’s why AHISD expanded the comment section on report cards, allowing teachers to write more detailed comments on such subjective elements as work ethic, collaboration, or presence.

While the major work to retrain teachers on grading policies is over, district leaders expect to continue the discussion in the coming years. The policy is fluid, Walker emphasized, and AHISD will likely have to answer new questions as they arise.

“It’s a learning experience for us, too,” she said.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the Rivard Report.