On assessment: measure what you value instead of valuing only what you can measure.

Andy Hargreaves

The Case Against Total Points and Category Weights

Traditional digital gradebook applications limit what we can measure. Built around the concept of totaling up points from various assignments — whether as a single fraction, or as differently weighted categories — each assignment is counted as a fraction of the whole. Depending on your age this may be how you were assessed as a student from K-20. Assessing students using this method is problematic for a number of reasons:

  • Everything Counts​
    • Difficult to consider more recent, consistent evidence. ​
    • Students start the course with a perfect score, and every assessment is an opportunity to lose marks​
    • Students can’t outrun early failure even with recent success​
  • Differentiation is Difficult
    • Assignments are weighted equally for the entire class, rather than using determination to identify which assignments provided each individual student with the best opportunity for them to demonstrate mastery
  • Students are assessed based on an assignment’s numeric grade, rather than assignments being an opportunity for the students to demonstrate levels of mastery of Overall Expectations
    • No assessment is perfect, but when we provide a single numeric grade on a complex assignment that covers a variety of expectations, we are assessing the student’s ability to complete that project (eg. make a poster, write an essay, construct a model)
    • Providing a level of achievement on a single expectation, or a cluster of expectations, allows that project to be a vehicle for the student to demonstrate mastery of the curriculum expectations

Grading in this fashion stands in contradiction to many of the foundational concepts presented in Growing Success, and yet it’s the standard functionality behind many current grading applications:

What about the achievement chart categories; shouldn’t we use these as category weights?

The document is intended to ensure that policy is clear, consistent, and well aligned across panels and across school boards and schools, and that every student in the system benefits from the same high-quality process for assessing, evaluating, and reporting achievement.

Growing Success, Page 2

Despite the fact that Growing Success was written in an attempt to provide more consistency in grading practices, both between different subjects, across different classrooms, and within different school boards, the language utilized to describe the process of assessment is open to interpretation.

On page 16 of Growing Success we find a list describing how the achievement chart within each curriculum document should be used:

The purposes of the achievement chart are to:

  • provide a common framework that encompasses all curriculum expectations for all subjects/courses across grades;
  • guide the development of high-quality assessment tasks and tools (including rubrics);
  • help teachers to plan instruction for learning;
  • provide a basis for consistent and meaningful feedback to students in relation to provincial content and performance standards;
  • establish categories and criteria with which to assess and evaluate students’ learning.

That last bullet makes it seem as if the four sections of the achievement chart could be used as categories like what we see in a traditional grading program; but note that those programs treat categories as separate and discreet, while further down we are reminded that those categories “should be considered as interrelated, reflecting the wholeness and interconnectedness of learning”. This statement should be seen as an indictment against separating these four categories out in a gradebook as separate weighted categories.

The Achievement Chart was not meant to be the sole means by which we recorded student performance: students are evaluated and assessed based on the overall expectations contained in each discipline’s curriculum document. The achievement chart lists the skills that a student uses to demonstrate their mastery of those overall expectations.

Educators can use the achievement chart to ensure they are designing rich, authentic tasks that offer opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning in diverse ways, but their final grade should not be primarily calculated based on their ability to know, inquire, communicate, and apply. For this reason, a student’s achievement should be calculated based on the Overall Expectations, and not on their mastery of the four quadrants of the achievement chart.

Overall Expectation Based Grading

Growing Success indicates that evaluation focuses on a student’s achievement of the overall expectations, and rather than calculating all of the evidence provided by a student, should focus on their more recent and consistent achievement. Creative and judicious differentiation in instruction and assessment for all students indicates that perhaps different evidence should be utilized not only for each overall expectation, but for each individual student.

We see this call for judicious differentiation echoed in the shared beliefs from Learning for All. Not only does “each student (have) their own unique pattern of learning”, but we must recognize that “fairness is not sameness”:


With that in mind, our gradebook practices need to be flexible enough to allow us to individualize what data we will be using to calculate a grade for each Overall Expectation. We know from Growing Success that a variety of data should be utilized in the determination of a report card grade, and that we should value not only products, but observations and conversations as well.

We refer to this as triangulation of assessment data. Oftentimes this concept is represented as an equilateral triangle, inferring that we should attempt to strike a balance between the three types of assessment data. This is a worthwhile conversation point if we are attempting to move our practice from one that values products over all else, but doesn’t go far enough to honour those unique patterns of learning we acknowledge from Learning for All.

If we recognize that some students will fare better in conversation than when faced with creating a product, than where possible, we should visualize each student as a unique triangle, where different values are applied to different assessment data based on a student’s unique strengths.

This requires something different than a calculator. Ultimately Growing Success calls on educators to determine a grade, rather than merely calculate one. Calculation is far easier. Setting all the necessary presets into a gradebook application and pointing at the resulting total is a far less complex process than what Ontario’s assessment policy asks of educators.

A number line depicting calculation and determination, with a map marker closer to determination.

How we are using PowerTeacher Pro to align to Growing Success

The authors of Growing Success didn’t write their document with gradebook applications in mind. Interpreting how a pedagogical philosophy can be made tangible and applicable in real-world contexts is difficult work. The following configurations help to set the stage for educators to apply these assessment best-practices into their work; and provide multiple opportunities for the teacher to exercise “judicious differentiation and creativity”.

For each overall expectation we default to calculating only the most recent scores. This ensures that when an overall expectation is assessed multiple times we capture the student’s growth, rather than penalizing them for early failure. This number can be manipulated once data is entered on a student by student basis.

For each Assignment, educator’s anticipate which Overall Expectations the students may exhibit throughout the process. There is no harm in selecting too many expectations. If a student doesn’t demonstrate mastery in a giving expectation, it can be left blank without penalty.

Students are given levels of achievement (1, 2, 3, 4) — based on the achievement chart — for each of the overall expectations they have demonstrated. These levels on each assignment will ultimately be utilized in the calculation of a level of achievement on each of the Overall Expectations.

Diving deeper into Student Progress

These assessments are tabulated on the Overall Expectations (Standards) screen. When the level of achievement in an expectation is not consistent, the Professional Judgement Indicator (orange globe) will appear, indicating that further investigation may be necessary. Clicking the graph button in the Grade Inspector allows the educator to investigate further, and augment the grade as appropriate.

In the below example, on the last two assessments the student achieved a level 4, so the educator may augmenting the mark to no longer be impacted by the initial Level 1 the student achieved on an earlier assessment:

An image of the PJI indicator on the Grading, Standards screen.

To move past the small drawer shown above, educators can visit the Overall Expectations Progress screen either by clicking the “Show More…” button in the drawer, or by navigating to Students/Overall Expectations (Standards) Progress. From this screen they can more fully manipulate the data. In the below example, I am exempting an assignment I feel should not be part of this individual student’s calculation:

If instead, I would like to examine how the student is progressing through all the expectations within the strand, I can do that by clicking the gear, and selecting Progress Options. In the following image I’m comparing the achievement within the Oral Communication strand in an English course:

In the Overall Expectations Progress screen, I can see the number of occasions I’ve collected assessment data for each of the Overall Expectations, and can delve deeper to identify those students who are still struggling with a concept I have covered. If an educator has covered an expectation multiple times and numerous students are still struggling, this can provide additional opportunity for professional reflection.

At two points through the year, teachers will determine an appropriate grade to appear on the report card, by assessing the levels calculated on overall expectations and how they are being used in the service of a strand or subject grade.

The shift described above, to providing levels on expectations, versus providing numeric grades on assignments, does needs to cascade into how we communicate progress to students. Continuing to provide a more traditional grade on assignments while recording those items differently in a gradebook can lead to communication issues. The fact that we have a policy that espouses levels from an achievement chart, while then switching out those levels for letter grades and the problematic percentage scale on the report card is already inherently confusing. Perhaps Growing Success 2.0 will address that discrepancy. Until then, this policy that many still grapple with, and one that 11 years after its publication we continue to argue over, contains some incredibly forward-thinking ideas about assessment and evaluation. Providing the proper tools at a district level to help operationalize those philosophies is a powerful step.

Published by jarbenne

Jared Bennett is the Student Information System Consultant at Hamilton Wentworth District School Board.

Join the conversation


  1. Wow, I feel like this article was written just for me and the evaluation challenges I have been battling the past few months. I had no idea that PowerTeacher could be tweaked to record results like that, and THAT is exactly what I need. I also found a disconnect between my evaluations and feedback and students’ perspective of their progress and abilities. I am intrigued for more transparent solutions and tweaking the way students and parents view evaluations. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for the comment. The biggest hurdle is the initial set up, requiring the PowerSchool admin at your board to set up the expectations (which we can share). Once those are established users can start taking advantage of the additional functionality.

      1. Hi Jared,
        I am struggling with the overall expectations set up.
        I have just started a new Quadmester = new course = new students and would love to test this out. They have been submitting some assignments and discussions which I need to start assessing so your prompt aid would be much appreciated. Thank you!

        1. Hi Kelly. I have some friends who work at GEDSB. My understanding is that your PTP set up doesn’t have the Overall Expectations available, so when you navigate to Grading/Standards, you are probably only seeing the Learning Skills.

          This needs to be configured at a board level: individual teachers can’t configure the expectations. You’ll need to petition your IT department, but note it’s going to affect the interface for all the teachers at board, so there is some change-management work involved that will slow implementation. You might be out of luck for this quad-mester.

          You can do something somewhat similar in Brightspace though it doesn’t provide the same level of detail: https://hwdsb.tv/playlist/2503/

  2. Hello Jared, Thanks for these thoughts and showing a deeper level of functionality with PTP. This is the sort of information I would hope HWDSB would set up a system wide AER committee/working group to look at and work with. There are lots of AER-type “geeks” in our schools for whom this work of determining a grade is the direction we believe departments and schools should be moving towards. Any thoughts on how to make that happen? Cheers, Reg

    1. When we initially moved from PowerTeacher Gradebook to PowerTeacher Pro there was a group like this formed at Henderson and OP that assisted for a semester in both piloting the software and helping to make recommendations on the default configurations. From there — once the platform was available to all teachers — every secondary school was provisioned PD funding to establish a similar guiding coalition of internal champions. This looked different at each school: for example, at many schools a group of department heads and assessment internal champions met monthly with Karen Wilson and I to explore functionality, talk about the pedagogy, and suggest improvements to the software. We also ran PD sessions monthly at the OLM meetings for principals.

      Although the pandemic sidelined some of that work, some schools have continued to pull together a diverse group internally at each school to continue pushing forward. From there the conversations can extend out to the boardwide department networking spaces in Teams to establish consistency not only within schools across departments, but across all our various locations. I’m available to assist wherever possible.

      1. Okay…I see the outline for growth of concepts. I prefer a more concrete grouping of folks to see if consistency can be established across the district as a whole. The use of subject networks could be a very useful vehicle for the shaping of ideas. I hope it would be considered appropriate to ask the network leads to invite Karen and/or yourself to meeting(s) should a network think these concepts are important ones to work with. I will bring this up at an upcoming Science Network meeting and see where things go. Hope you are well. Cheers, Reg

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