|Abstract:||As a result of the national shift to a more standards-based model for education, principals across the country are leading organizational change in all aspects of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and leadership for student learning. One reform initiative, entitled standards-based grading (SBG), attempts to reimagine the way schools measure and communicate student progress toward learning (Guskey, 2009). Although this approach is gaining traction and more schools are adopting this method for measuring and communicating student learning (Guskey et al., 2011; Jung & Guskey, 2011; Marzano & Heflebower, 2011), there is a void in the literature that documents how principals create and use policies to govern the implementation of standards-based grading, specifically in high schools. Although many districts give principals autonomy around the rollout of SBG within their schools, most districts have not published a common definition or guidelines for policy and implementation practices for this reform initiative. In the absence of a common definition, district policy, or implementation guidelines for SBG, principals are left to interpret, create policy, and implement this shift in grading practices based on their unique understandings and interpretations.
To better understand this phenomenon, this qualitative research study sought to examine and understand how 10 public high school principals from six states created policies, implemented, and sustained the use of standards-based grading in their schools. Three research questions framed this study: (a) from principals’ perspectives, how has the implementation of standards-based grading promoted improved student learning; (b) what core systems and structures must be in place to implement standards-based grading and what process did principals use to create and communicate the policies governing standards-based grading in their high schools; and (c) what factors have advanced or hindered the implementation of standards-based grading in high schools? To guide data collection and analysis, the Transformation of Intentions (Hall, 1995; Hall & McGinty, 1997) conceptual framework was used to explore how high school principals led the policy creation process used to govern the implementation of standards-based grading. I explored three aspects of the Transformation of Intentions framework: intentions, process intentions, and content intentions.
Findings revealed that principals decided to implement standards-based grading ultimately to improve student learning, teacher practice, improve the validity and reliability of grading, and to communicate student learning more clearly to stakeholder groups. The principals reported that school-wide systems and structures, such as the use of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), time built into the master schedule for intervention and acceleration of student learning, progress monitoring, and the establishment of common language, beliefs, and consistent practices school-wide must all be in place to support the adoption of grading reform measures. Finally, in addition to the identification of recommended policies and practices associated with sustained implementation of standards-based grading, results showed the need to include teachers and other stakeholder groups in all decision and implementation processes. Implications from this study focused on principals garnering support to lead grading reform from central office and implications for principal leadership, teacher practice, the student and parent experience, and postsecondary institutions.