How should I grade a student who has a disability?

There are many issues you need to consider when assigning grades to students, including grades for students who have disabilities. Many of these issues relate to the tension between balancing the need for a common standard that is applied to all students and the needs of individual students. The grading of students involves school/district policies, legal issues, as well as teacher, parent and student expectations.

To provide a grade to represent student performance(s), you must be aware of your district/school grading policies and its articulated purpose(s). Some of the different purposes for which grading can be used are:

  • To motivate students to learn
  • To rate student mastery of articulated curricular outcomes
  • To report student progress
  • To report on teacher perceptions of student effort
  • To communicate student progress and performance to parents, guardians, and students
  • To determine whether or not students are eligible for certain awards and programs

Factual Information

Grading systems employ different "reference systems." These reference systems are the basis for making the evaluative comparisons that help to determine a grade. Usually, one of three different reference systems is employed in grading systems:

  • Norm-referenced systems in which student performance is compared against the performances of other students;
  • Criterion-referenced systems in which all students' performances are compared to articulated performance standards; and,
  • Individually-referenced systems in which student performance is evaluated by comparing the individual student's performance with a prior performance by that student.

Since grading systems vary greatly from school district to school district, it is important that you talk with administrators and colleagues in your district to ensure you understand your district/school policies for grading all students, including students who have disabilities.

Classroom Activities

Review the report card that you use for grading students. Reflect on which of the above reference systems is used as the basis for the grades you provide.


  • Talk with administrators and colleagues in your building about the purposes and reference systems used by your grading system.
  • Ask your administrator or colleagues for any written materials or guidance that explain your district/school grading policies.

Resources and Links