Denton ISD’s new grading system prioritizes student learning

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Our Denton community has a long-standing commitment to innovation, creativity and student learning and has always placed a high level of trust with our district and teachers.

During the past week, community members have actively engaged in providing feedback regarding the district’s proposed grading changes. A healthy discourse is essential for any organization to improve, and we value the feedback of our stakeholders. The background and research materials are available on the Denton ISD website

The result of this new grading concept is that our teachers want more – not less. They want more accountability for learning, more self-discipline for our students, and ultimately a better prepared graduate. Time management skills and importance of deadlines will receive more attention, not less.

The DISD Board of Trustees participated in a two-hour review of the background that results in a shift in grading practices and procedures. This presentation was the result of more than two years of research by the district’s Academic Leadership Team, which consists of almost 40 secondary departmental chairs and curriculum specialists. 

Few would argue that some students learn faster than others, and almost all would agree that students need to be accountable for their learning. Most professions have an exam or certification requirement. Prospective employees are permitted to take these exams until a satisfactory score is achieved. This holds true for the bar exam, teacher certifications, air conditioner technicians, CPAs and many others.

Once successfully completed, the certification is the same regardless of the time required to master the standards.  Most believe students are motivated by grades, but they should be accountable for more. They should be accountable for their learning.

After much investigation, study and discourse, our teacher leaders want more for our students. Undoubtedly, a shift in grading is difficult for teachers, students, and their families. Our teachers recognize the challenge that lies ahead. Expectations for student work have been raised – not lowered.  It is no longer acceptable for a student to not learn what is expected. 

If they fail to meet deadlines or turn in work, our teachers will no longer simply accept laziness or irresponsibility. Students will be required to do the work. There will be consequences for such behavior; they will be working before school, after school, and other times when they have failed to meet the learning requirements. 

Under a traditional reporting system, a student could take a zero and never learn the material. No longer will that be acceptable. Accountability for learning has been raised – not lowered.

Teacher leaders have proposed to increase student achievement by focusing academic reporting on learning. Traditionally, this has been accomplished by focusing on the grade, not necessarily mastery of content.

Parents have not really known what a grade means. What is an A? How can my child improve? These questions have often been answered with responses such as, “Pay attention, submit your work on time and study harder.” This group recommends a better way to report what students actually know.  These leaders want to spend time addressing the deficiencies of our struggling learners while enriching the strengths of all students. 

In essence, our teachers want more, not less. They want more accountability for learning, more self -discipline, and ultimately a better prepared graduate for our community. Time management skills and the importance of deadlines will receive more attention, not less. 

All projects in the “real world” have deadlines, and we would be remiss if we did not teach our students the importance of such deadlines. However, when the deadlines cannot be met with the quality expected, what happens?

Initially supervisors provide support for completion, add resources for quality, and sometimes there is a negotiation for an extension of the deadline and, as a last resort – someone might lose their job. But it does not end there; successful businesses reflect on the project to evaluate the scope, sequence and quality of work. Unsuccessful businesses blame others, are not accountable, take what they can get and move on – with little regard for the employee or the customer.

Our students will confirm that the latter is unacceptable. It is not acceptable to take a zero. It is not acceptable to give less than your best.  Regarding deadlines; there is a difference between work, effort and apathy. Our students will see an emphasis on the work and effort and will become self-disciplined for their learning and behavior – rather than being disciplined by a grade.  Life lessons will be learned, and true accountability will follow. 

The ALT conducted this discourse for two years before submitting a final proposal. Our teaching staff should be applauded for their courageous steps. The rationale is supported by much research.  There is a great deal of work to do and it will not be easy. 

Our team will work at providing clarity on a sensitive topic. We will need the continued engagement of our community to design a reporting system mirroring our core beliefs and values, while allowing for teacher discernment in the assignment of grades.

Our district does not take the trust of our community for granted and we stand behind our mission of “empowering lifelong learners to be engaged citizens.” We have to hold them accountable with more than just a grade.

Dr. Jamie Wilson, Superintendent
Denton Independent School District


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