What’s Fair and Meaningful for Grading Students with Disabilities?

Guskey_t120x148 Jung_l120x148Grading students with disabilities can present a Sophie’s Choice for educators:

Failing students with disabilities who have shown tremendous effort and progress clearly seems unfair. Giving passing marks to students who have not met prescribed performance standards also seems wrong.

In fact, as Thomas Guskey and Lee Ann Jung write in “Grading Exceptional Learners,” when students receive inflated grades based on material that is not appropriate to their skill level, they actually lose motivation (Ring & Reetz, 2000).

How can educators create fair and meaningful grades for students with disabilities, those receiving intensive intervention in an RTI model, or even students struggling because they are English language learners?

At ASCD’s Teaching and Learning Conference, Gusky and Jung demonstrate a five-step model (PDF) for grading and reporting achievement of struggling students, including determining appropriate expectations, necessary adaptations or modifications, criteria on which to base grades, and how to communicate expectations and the meaning of grades to parents and students.

The 2010 ASCD Teaching and Learning conference session “Fair and Meaningful Grades for Students with Disabilities” will be presented Friday, October 29, 2010. Recordings of this presentation will be available for purchase after the event.


  1. As a special education teacher, this is an issue I run into each year. Although my students have learning disabilities and read below grade level, they are expected to take grade level state assessments. The only way to prepare them for the state assessments, is to engage them in grade level material. Since students are unable to read grade level material, completing course work is a major struggle for the students. Accommodations including: text books on CDs, adapted homework/ classwork assignments, and alternative tests are given to students to help make them successful in the classroom. The adapted homework and tests focus on the core content being taught to measure the students’ understanding of the new concepts. Since minimal accommodations are being made, my district feels students’ grades are fair and meaningful.

  2. I completely understand where you are coming from. The biggest problem I face is that teachers are more than willing to give a satisfactory grade, regardless of effort or ability, to students with disabilities just so they do not have to deal with making adjustments to the curriculum.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here