top of page

Extinguishing the Fires Within Assessment and Grading Reform

Fires Cover_Front  v3.png

Extinguishing the Fires Within Assessment and Grading Reform

Garth Larson, Becky Peppler, Don Smith, and Matt Townsley

Foreword by Rick Wormeli

In the ever-evolving realm of education, traditional grading systems are proving inadequate for the dynamic needs of modern students and educators. Extinguishing the Fires Within Assessment and Grading Reform offers practical guidance for navigating the complexities of transitioning to standards-based assessment and grading. This book is the perfect companion for educators grappling with the challenges of grading reform.

Drawing from school and district experiences, it identifies common barriers and provides strategies to prevent, contain, and overcome the “fires” that can derail reform efforts. Each chapter delves into specific scenarios and offers insights into why these challenges arise and how to tackle them effectively. The book also provides actionable steps that equip educators with the tools needed to navigate the complexities of grading reform.

About the Authors

Garth Larson, Ed.D is the Co-Founder and President of FIRST Educational Resources. Garth has previously worked as the Director of Learning for the Winneconne Community School District in  northeast Wisconsin, was an elementary principal in two separate buildings and started his career in education as a high school speech and English teacher. In 2011, Garth formed Wisconsin Educational Resources (now FIRST) with a focus on improving student achievement across the United States. Since 2011, over 1500 school districts throughout the globe have become partnership districts with his company. Garth currently consults to school districts around the world and provides customized professional development around a variety of topics, mainly Professional Learning Communities 2.0, Learning-Centered Grading Practices, Leadership and School Improvement and Response to Intervention. Garth is also the co-author of PLC 2.0: Collaborating for Observable Impact in Today’s Schools with co-author Cale Birk, Collaborative Systems of Support: Learning for ALL with co-authors Tom Hierck and Chris Weber, Target-Based Grading in Collaborative Teams: 13 Steps to Moving Beyond Standards with co-author Tom Hierck, Grading for Impact: Raising Student Achievement through a Target-Based Assessment and Learning System and Target-Based Grading in Collaborative Teams.

Becky Peppler

Becky Peppler is the Director of the FIRST Education Center for Assessment and Grading (a division of FIRST Educational Resources). She has 15 years of professional experience in public education, working in the Winneconne Community School District in northeast Wisconsin. Becky has spent time as a 6-12 Instructional Coach with a focus on supporting teachers in the classroom on a daily basis. Prior to her role as an instructional coach, Becky taught Chemistry and Forensic Science and was the 6-12 Science Curriculum Chair. She is a member of the Wisconsin Society of Science Teachers (WSST), where she was awarded the Excellence in Science Education Award for the state of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Science Education Leadership Association (WSELA). Becky has helped the Winneconne Community School District transition to Target Based Grading at the middle and high school levels. She has a passion for designing meaningful assessments practices, making reassessment work, target based learning implementation, building social and emotional skills and ensuring that all students continue to learn at high levels. Becky currently consults to school districts all over the United States in these areas.

Don Smith has 20 years of professional experience in public schools. Don previously served as the Director of Teaching and Learning for the Winneconne Community School District, in Wisconsin. Prior to that, Don was the Director of Teaching and Learning in the School District of Waupaca. Don also served as the Principal at Fond du Lac STEM Academy and Fond du Lac STEM Institute, as well as the District Assessment Coordinator for the Fond du Lac Area School District (WI). Don continually leads professional development sessions centered on research based practices in instruction, assessment and grading. In 2022, Don began working full time with FIRST Educational Resources.


Matt Townsley, EdD, is an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He is a former district administrator and teacher in Solon Community School District, also in Iowa, where he led curriculum, assessment,and school-improvement initiatives, all with a professional learning community culture as the foundation. District Administration magazine named Solon Community Schools a district of distinction, and Solution Tree recognized multiple buildings in the district as Model PLCs during his tenure. Through conferences, professional development, and workshops, Matt has consulted with teachers, administrators, and parents, across the United States on the topics of assessment and standards-based grading. He is author and coauthor of multiple books, including Grading Reform That Lasts: Eight Steps to Transform Your School’s Assessment Culture, A Parents’ Guide to Grading and Reporting: Being Clear About What Matters, Using Grading to Support Student Learning, and Making Grades Matter: Standards-Based Grading in a Secondary PLC at Work.

bottom of page