Changing Grading Scales or Weights

What is changing grading scales or weights?

Grading adaptations may involve changing the grading scale used to convert points or percentages to letter grades, or shifting the weight or proportion that a particular type of assignment (e.g., homework) counts toward the report card grade. Although these two procedures are often considered one type of grading adaptation, they each present distinct advantages and limitations that require careful consideration.

Adaptations involving the grading scale involve lowering the criteria for a specific letter grade from what is expected for the rest of the class. For example, the grading scale for a social studies class might indicate that a score between 60 and 69% is equivalent to a letter grade of D. A grading adaptation for a particular student may involve changing the criteria so that a score of 56-69% is equivalent to a D (additional changes may be made to lower the range for a C). The rationale for changing the grading scale for a particular student is usually based on the perception that the student is working at near or full potential, and would benefit from the opportunity to earn a higher grade than would be possible under the normal grading scale. The most common example of this adaptation is lowering the criteria for a D so that a student can avoid a failing grade of F.

As might be expected, changing the grading scale is a controversial adaptation and one that is more likely to be perceived as unfair by a student's classmates. Issues also arise from lowering the scale so that a student passes a class and therefore avoids having to repeat the class. Changing the grading scale so that a student with chronic failing grades can earn a passing grade is likely to be perceived as more fair than changing the scale to allow a student to move from a B to an A. The latter adaptation is discouraged for students with mild disabilities who are instructed in the regular curriculum.

Most grading systems include weighting of specific types of assignments when calculating the report card grade. For example, the total points earned on quizzes might constitute 20% of the report card grade. Many electronic grading systems will perform calculations once the teacher enters in the total points or percentages for a type of assignment (e.g., tests) and selects how much weight (e.g., 25%) that type of assignment will count toward the report card grade. Ability to select different weights for individual students varies across electronic grading systems, and teachers and administrators might consider this feature when selecting a system.

Grading adaptations involving weights typically involve increasing the weight assigned for a type of assignment on which the student has been more successful, and away from the assignment that seems to interact with the student's disability to produce consistently low grades. The most common shifting observed by this author is to projects or other assignments that are completed over an extended period and away from tests, even when testing accommodations are provided. Although this has proven successful for some students (Munk & Bursuck, 2004), teams are urged to consider the potential benefits and limitations for shifting weights and to avoid making what may seem to be a logical shift away from timed tests that require recall of information, or other assignments that are often difficult for students with disabilities. Teams should not shift weights to assignments on which the student has been more successful unless those assignments are designed to assess progress on the general curriculum and not just isolated skills or behaviors not directly related to progress on the curriculum. For example, shifting weight to from tests to projects might be appropriate if the project(s) required the student to demonstrate understanding of enough content covered in the class that the team could feel confident that the student's performance reflected mastery of the content. Shifting weight to increase the probability of a higher report card grade without consideration of what the resulting grade will represent is irresponsible. For example, shifting weight to class work because the student is friendly with classmates and asks for help when needed is not an adequate rationale for a grading adaptation.

Table of benefits of changing grading scales or weights.

The following table presents the potential benefits and cautions for a grading adaptation involving grading scales and weights:

How adaptation works.

Potential benefits


Changing the grading scale: Criteria (points or percentages) for earning a specific letter grade is changed to make it more likely that a student will earn a higher grade.

May allow student who is working at full potential to earn a higher grade than would otherwise be possible. 

May allow student at risk for failing class to earn a passing grade.

May be perceived as unfair by students and teachers because it does not require change in student's performance. 

Other adaptations should be considered before changing the grading scale.

Changing weights: Weight that each type of assignment contributes to the report card grade is changed to decrease weight of those that contribute most to low grade.

Can reduce impact of assignments on which student consistently receives low grades despite adequate effort and supports.

Weight should not be shifted to assignments on which student receives higher grades unless learning can be accurately assessed.