Grading Exceptional Learners


Notes from "Exceptional Learners & Grading; Practices to Support Student Learning " GISD 12/7/2015

Lee Ann Jung, PhD. "An Inclusive Model for Grading All Learners"

Grading- What about exceptional and struggling learners?

  • ANY student who is significantly behind grade level on a critical skill
  • Students with diagnosed disabilities
  • Students who are English learners
  • Students who have difficulty but do not qualify for special education

The difficulty lies in finding the balance between fair and meaningful.

(Donahue and Zigmond, 1990, Ring & Reetz, 2000)

"Exceptional learners do not receive adequate information about their performance." Students who are behind grade level need the best information about their performance.

  • "In early grades...exceptional learners receive grades similar to other students." (Progressing- How do we distinguish between kids who are truly progressing and those who aren't "getting it"?
  • "In middle grades...exceptional learners receive "modified grades" that inflate the grade and lower their motivation." Grades may inflated to motivate students. However, it will backfire if it is not connected to something he or she did to earn the grade.
  • "In upper grades...exceptional learners earn low passing grades, placing them at greatest risk for dropout." The stakes change- GPA, scholarships, etc.

When we use an Inclusive Grading Model, we MUST understand the difference between Accommodations and Modifications.

We MUST be clear on this:

  • Accommodations- do not fundamentally alter the grade-level standard. They "level the playing field". Accommodations do not change what you are measuring. The support is provided to the skill that is different than what you are measuring. Examples: driver's test- you can wear glasses, reading a test aloud for content level classes; not reading tests
  • Modifications- fundamentally alter the standard (Freedman, 2009). These do change what you are measuring. They "change the game". The support is provided to the skill you are measuring. Examples: Wearing your glasses during an eye exam.

We make modifications when students are significantly behind grade level- not just

because of disabilities.

Note: If we are leading students every step of the way through a task- helping them to "tread water" and they will crash if we are not "supporting" them, we are

probably providing modifications.

Accommodations OR Modifications?

  • Completing a task orally
  • Fewer questions
  • Extended time
  • Prompts and cues


  • Completing a task orally:

Accommodation- if you are not measuring a writing skill

Modification- if you are measuring a writing skill (not given enough to students who struggle with writing- allow students to have the same expectations, but demonstrate knowledge in a different way; video presentation, etc.

  • Fewer Questions:

Accommodation- if all questions they answer are measuring the same skill- if all questions are of comparable difficulty

Modification- If the difficult/harder questions are taken away; if you are calculating a percentage of questions correct, it is a modification

  • Extended Time:

Accommodation- when we are not measuring rate or speed

Modification- if we are measuring rate or speed (reading fluency, math fact fluency, etc.)

  • Prompts and Cues:

Accommodation- We prompt and cue something other than what we are measuring- may prompt math facts if you are measuring operations

Modification- if we provide support in what the test is measuring

Inclusive Grading Model (Jung & Guskey, 2010, 2012)

Step 1: For each grade level expectation, ask: Is this appropriate without adaptation?

If YES: Apply equal grading practices on the grade-level expectation- no change in grading needed.

If NO: Go to Step 2.

Step 2: For EACH adaptation needed, ask:

  • Is an accommodation needed?

Accommodations level the playing field. They do NOT change the standard. No

change in grading needed. Apply equal grading practices on the grade-level


  • Is a modification needed?

Modifications change the game. They fundamentally alter the standard. If YES, Move to Step 3.

Step 3: For EACH expectation requiring modification, determine the modified expectation. This is often the most difficult and time consuming step. Support is being provided for a student on what is being measured.

  • Very few students require modifications in all areas.
  • The need for modification is driven by data.
  • Modification is not permanent. It may change at any point. Modify as long as it is needed.
  • Set a comparably high goal.

Example: If a student can read grade-level words, but is very slow, you might modify

the reading rate.

Sample Reading Fluency goal: "Students will read passages containing grade-level words at 150 wpm." Modification- "When given a grade-level reading passage,

Maisie will read 80 words correctly per minute."

  • Prioritize- pick urgent expectations. It is impossible to set/write a goal for everything.
  • The modification should be available wherever the skill is being required- not just in the special education setting. We want to measure skill progress across multiple settings.

Step 4: Apply standard grading practices to MODIFIED EXPECTATIONS. Grade on modified expectation. When expectations need modifications, there is no need to measure on the grade level expectation.

  • On a student's report card, there may be a mixture of modified and non-modified grades. (Italicized grades are based on modified expectations.)
  • Example: Language Arts

LA 1- Strategies to read new words-3

LA 2- Vocabulary skills- 2

LA 3- Comprehension of material across the curriculum- 4

LA 4- Reading Fluency- 4

LA 5- Writing- 3

LA 6- Spelling- 3

  • We modified the expectation; not the grade. We have "picked up the ruler" and moved it.

Step 5: Communicate grades' meaning- Note the grades that are based on a modified standard. Carry notation over to transcript.

  • We can use an asterisk * to note "behind grade level".
  • Example: Language Arts

LA 1- Strategies to read new words- 3*

LA 2- Vocabulary skills- 2

LA 3- Comprehension of material across the curriculum- 4

LA 4- Reading Fluency- 4*

LA 5- Writing- 3

LA 6- Spelling- 3*

*= based on a modified expectation. For expectations that are modified, please see the attached page for a description of the criteria used to determine the grade.

  • If we see a low score on a modified expectation, our intervention needs to change.
  • Most students with evidence-based instruction will move forward toward grade level.

  • Commonly asked questions:
  1. Does the asterisk affect course credit? Identify minimum requirement for course credit. You must be able to do these things...... An asterisk indicates below grade level.
  2. What about GPA for modified content? Do we weight GPAs greater on courses with an asterisk? Was it a big or small modification? Policies need to be set by the district.
  3. Is that asterisk legal? Yes- The asterisk is legal to include on a report card, but it should NOT note a "disability"- The Office of Civil Rights has legal stipulations on what can be included on a transcript.

Additional Resources:

  1. Links to handouts, articles, and books on the topic of standards-based grading and supporting exceptional and struggling learners.

  2. Dr. Lee Ann Jung's personal website has resources and examples of her work in the areas of early intervention, intervention planning, progress monitoring, and grading exceptional learners.

  3. Twitter- #sblchat: Join the chat on Wednesday evenings at 9:00 pm EST
  4. Twitter- Follow @leeannjung

Books and Articles by Dr. Jung

A Practical Guide to Planning Interventions and Measuring Progress (2015)

Answers to Essential Questions about Standards, Assessment, Grading and Reporting with Dr. Thomas R. Guskey

Making the Most of Progress Monitoring, with Gerry Swan, Educational Leadership, June 2011

Grading Exceptional and Struggling Learners with Dr. LeeAnn Jung & Dr. Thomas R. Guskey

"The model presented in this book is the best one I know for approaching the difficult task of grading exceptional and struggling learners. It makes sense, and it honors principles of learning, instruction, and validity of measurement. Examples show how the model applies to a variety of struggling students. The book is clear and readable. I recommend it for teachers at all levels."

Susan M. Brookhart, Education Consultant

Brookhart Enterprises LLC, Helena, MT