The grading system used for a special education student is dictated by the student's individualized educational program (IEP). This written program outlines what accommodations or modifications must be implemented to provide the student with an equitable opportunity for success in the classroom. A major part of that program is an indication of how the student's academic performance will be assessed. A student's IEP goals might indicate that "effort" be a part of the assessment rubric or that completion of an assignment, regardless of accuracy, is indicative of mastery.

Grading on Improvement

Some special education students are graded on the degree of improvement from one assessment to subsequent assessments. This practice ensures that the improvement level is being carefully monitored. If no improvement is seen, then a determination as to the need for further accommodations or modifications can be made. For instance, if the IEP goals indicate that the student should be reading at a particular proficiency level, the assessment given should provide evidence that there is some improvement between assessments.

Grading on Progress Toward IEP Goals

Some special education students are graded on the progress that they make toward reaching goals that are written in the IEP. The IEP goal might be behavioral or academic. For instance, a behavioral goal for a very low-functioning student might be that the student is able to feed himself lunch without assistance, or that the student initiates hygiene behavior such as brushing teeth after eating or combing hair. An academic goal might focus on the student bringing in homework for five days in a row.

Grading at Least Partially on Completion

While some teachers grade class work or homework for accuracy, some special education assignments are graded on completion, or the degree of completion. For instance, a student might receive full credit for the assignment even if it is done completely, but incorrectly. If the student completes 75 percent of the assignment, that might be good enough for a grade of 100. The degree of completion for a grade or accuracy of assignments should be outlined in the individual program.

Grading on Effort or Classroom Behavior

Special education students are rewarded and encouraged for their efforts on class work, homework, tests, projects and even verbal participation in the classroom. For some special education students, an attempt at success is viewed as success. The more effort a student puts forth, the better the grade he will receive. This also would be outlined in the IEP. Learning is apt to occur with some effort and positive reinforcement, which can help students develop greater self-confidence and improve self-esteem.

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