How to Give Grades in Special Education

Are you confused as to how to give grades in special education? Join the club.  Students who have an IEP have individual goals and the parents receive progress reports based on these goals. But these progress reports are not a substitute for grades.

Traditional grades, whether letter grades or standards based, must still be given to students who are in special education...even those with the most significant disabilities.

To a parent of a child with a disability, grades are still important and it can be upsetting when their child brings home low grades. A fair and equitable grading system has a nice ring to it, but this piece of the educational puzzle brings with it many questions...

  • Should they receive an A for effort?
  • Or should they get what they get and not throw a fit?
  • How do we account for working significantly below grade level?
  • What if the parents get mad about their grade?
  • Are grades for participation acceptable?

While classroom environments, instruction, strategies and assessments have undergone change after change after change, the grading systems have largely remained the same.  Letter grades are used by the majority of schools and parents understand that an A is great, a C is average and an F is unacceptable.

Parents of students with special needs are no different. Even though they understand that their child is working below grade level, they continue to desire a grade to reflect how much progress or improvement their child has made. Grades given in general education can be very confusing and subjective, but when adding on the additional component of grading a student with a disability, things can get controversial in a hurry. I've had parents ask, "Why does my child have an A when I know he isn't doing what the other kids are doing?" or "Why does my child have a C? Are you not making the accommodations to help them get an A?"

As a special education teacher, you should be aware of the concerns your parents will have when it comes to grades and you need to have a grading system in place that includes flexibility in meeting individual needs while maintaining some semblance of structure. You must also keep in mind that for many students (especially those with a learning disability), if the appropriate accommodations and specially designed instruction are in place for the student, grading them using the same system as their peers is best practice.

However, there are times when a modified grading system is necessary. When this becomes the case, it must be documented in the IEP that an alternate grading system will be used. And it should be clearly communicated to parents what that will look like.

So what's does this look like? I'm glad you asked!

Fortunately, I have found a system that works for me and the general education teachers, and is something parents can easily understand and agree with.   


Using rubrics has been found to be an effective, fair grading system that provides guidance to teachers and staff members who are searching for a way to accurately communicate to all stakeholders how a student is performing in school.

Rubrics can be used for any subject area including specials, behavior, center work, writing and overall participation.


They take into account effort, use of strategies, and attention to task as well as the actual level a child is working on. I've found that when I show parents what I intend to use to get the grade and explain that their child's grade is not solely based on the level of work they receive, they are so much more understanding. Effective grading systems should be 3 things...

  • Meaningful
  • Accurate
  • Consistent

By using rubrics, you are covering all your bases and showing parents exactly what their child is doing in school. My parents have been very appreciative of this system and I can't imagine teaching in this profession without them.

 You can get the editable Grading Rubrics Here!

 What questions do you still have about using grading rubrics for grades in special education classrooms? Or what other tips can you share? Let us all know in the comments below.


P.S.  Need help learning how to build a relationship with your paraprofessionals? Get the free 10 Steps to Building a Cohesive Special Education Department

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