Going Gradeless in a Score-Obsessed Learning Environment

A first look at guidance from Going Gradeless by Elise Burns and David Frangiosa

(Day 19 of my 30-Day Writing Challenge)

Yesterday, I was thrilled to find out that David Frangiosa, the co-author of Going Gradeless, read my article “What Purpose Does a Grade Serve?” His feedback was constructive and inspired me to purchase the book he co-authored with Elise Burns.

I read chapter seven, “Aligning Progress with a Traditional Model,” this morning. Since I am already a fan of standards-based and mastery learning, I was looking for answers to specific questions about how to implement such a model when the system is clearly not defined to work that way. I am now committed to not grading by total points anymore. I want data to make data-driven decisions, and the kids deserve to make data-driven decisions as much as I do.

That said, I want to avoid entering information more than once, because mistakes are made and the process is inefficient. Yes, mistakes happen, but in a score-obsessed environment, I will look like a fool if I make them. Therefore, no data from spreadsheets converted into “traditional” grades for me!

I love Excel, but I learned the hard way when I worked in customer service and keyed orders faxed in from customers that mistakes are made and can be costly. Once we could accept orders from customers through EDI (Electronic Data Interchange), I breathed a sigh of relief. Mistakes were their problem, not mine. 😄

Additionally, students need to review relevant information about their progress in one place. Handing them a spreadsheet to compare to the traditional grade makes no sense. It will only confuse them and waste precious time.

Guidance from Burns and Frangiosa

Define the Process Standards for Each Course

The authors started by defining the process standards. Their example was based on their Physics classes. I am fortunate to have objectives available for AP® Lit to design process standards for that course. I am also fortunate to have the state standards aligned system to help me with my other English course. In Creative Writing and Journalism, however, I need to hone the objectives a bit. I can do that.

The authors advise teachers to communicate these process standards clearly on day 1. I can do that too.

Employ Rubrics to Evaluate Incremental Progress

The rubrics related to progress are designed to evaluate “incremental improvement over the course of the year” (p. 62). For example, fewer standard scores at the Advanced level are required to earn an “A+” for the first marking period than in subsequent marking periods. That makes sense. “Our goal is growth!” the authors emphasize on page 64.

Learning is incremental. We are moving away from the “one and done” notion of scoring, toward demonstrating progress toward mastery.

Conference with Students about Progress

The rubrics are conversation starters. If a student wants to advance to a new level, ask the student what he or she wants to work on to improve. As noted on page 64, students are “identifying two skills that are weak and making them stronger in demonstrable and clearly implementable ways.”

Teachers can track that progress and communicate with students and families more effectively if everything is in one place and understandable.

Hacking the Current System to Make It Work

No, I’m not talking about hacking code, although I have done that in a previous life with Moodle. Moodle encourages it; it is an open-source system, after all.

Instead, I am now considering ways to implement standards-based grading within the existing LMS. I need to investigate its current capabilities more. I will write about that in another post.

What I Have Uncovered So Far

After reading chapter seven, I logged in to our LMS and was pleasantly surprised to find that our courses are already available. I accessed the first section of the AP® Lit course.

On the sidebar, I saw “Mastery.” I clicked the link to open the Mastery page. The system message reported that there were no learning objectives associated with the course, which is what I expected.

I could not figure out how to add learning objectives to a course. It turns out this feature has not been turned on in our instance of the LMS.

Our IT directed received an email this morning asking if it would be possible to turn on this feature. Stay tuned for his answer!

What I Need to Do Now

  • Define the process standards for each course.
  • Post the process standards to the Google Site I have created.


  • Create the rubrics that align standards progress to the school’s grade scale and proficiency levels by marking period.
  • Ensure all assignments are aligned to the process standards for data collection purposes.
  • Pray our IT Director will allow us to add course learning objectives.

Update: Our IT Director said yes! Yee-Haw! 🤠

Please let me know if you have other ideas.

Thank you for letting me participate in the conversation, and for reading this, my nineteenth post in my 30-Day Writing Challenge.

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