Dealing with Unfriendly Gradebooks

Last week was parent-teacher conferences. As I previously mentioned, I expected conferences to be somewhat more challenging due to how grades are reported this year compared to last year. The bad news is that I was right. The good news is that since I anticipated this, I was able to mitigate its effect.

When sharing reports from our gradebook system with parents, I noticed that regardless of what I was saying, if they could see the grade sheet their eyes would start scanning it and their finger would involuntary point to the 0% (F) in a row. At that point, they weren’t listening about learning or mastery or their son or daughter; they were focused on this “zero” which may just mean that the student is still developing mastery of that specific standard.

To maintain focus during the conference, I created paper templates (one for regular; one for honors) to defer visibility of these “grades” until the appropriate point:


This low-tech solution to a high-tech problem was very effective; my conversations with the template were much more productive than those prematurely focused on 0% (F). Since I didn’t always remember to use the template, I ended up with an informal qualitative study of parent reaction.

In addition, for Regular Physics, I displayed a spreadsheet on my computer that focused on the targets and the 1-4 scores on the weekly targets quizzes:


Parents seemed to readily grasp the 1-4 scale and the target quiz structure when presented in this manner. Parents and I discussed this report first before I ever presented the official grade sheet.

I share these examples because I know that many of us struggle with clearly presenting student learning with our less-than-ideal gradebook systems. For me, I was fairly successful by focusing the conference on student learning with supplemental information and low-tech modifications to standard reports. If you have developed an effective way to deal with your less-than-ideal gradebook system, please share in the comments!

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