PMP:143 Learning for ALL with Dr. Garth Larson

When Garth Larson was asked to move from secondary administration to become an elementary principal, he was curious if he could be an effective leader at that level.

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But his work in early-education combined with his years in secondary education gave him a unique perspective of the K-12 experience. Later, when he moved into a district leadership position, he and his teachers began asking lots of questions about their own K-12 grading practices:

  • Were students being graded on their work or on their proficiency of learning standards?
  • Were teachers more focused on instruction or on all students learning?
  • What practices would ensure that students reached the targets set for targeted learning standards?

Slowly, the grading practices of his entire district began to change from a traditional model to a target-based (or standards based) grading model. As a result of these targeted practices, within four school years, his district moved from a ranking of 120th among districts in Wisconsin to second in the state.

Meet Garth Larson

Dr. Garth Larson is the President of FIRST Educational Resources, based out of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He previously worked as the K-12 Director of Learning for the Winneconne Community School District in Northeast Wisconsin. He also served as an elementary principal and high school speech and English teacher.

He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. He sits on the Board of Directors for ASCD Wisconsin, serves on the K-12 Advisory Council for Education for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, and also serves as an adjunct faculty member for educational courses offered through Dominican University of California as well as the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

Garth currently consults to school districts around the country and provides customized professional development around a variety of school leadership topics. He Garth is also the author of Grading for Impact co-authored with Tom Hierck, and Collaborative Systems of Support: Learning for ALL with co-authors Tom Hierck and Chris Weber.

Target-Based Learning

In this week’s podcast interview, Dr. Larson explains the leadership lessons learned in his experience with target-based practices. Together we discuss:

  1. What motivated Dr. Larson’s teachers and administrators to move from traditional grading to target-based grading instead.
  2. How target-based grading reflects proficiency more than completion or practice.
  3. Models of target-based (or standards based) grading at the elementary, middle-level, and high school levels.
  4. Lessons Dr. Larson learned in managing change: how leaders must listen, respond to real and perceived challenges, and walk “into the tunnels” with teachers to find solutions.
  5. Finally, Dr. Larson shares about his journey as President of FIRST Educational Resources: his transitions from building leadership to district leadership and then to working with more than 1,500 districts across the nation.

Let’s Wrap This Up

Grading practices are often embedded parts of our school culture and tradition. As you study the learning practices of your students and the grading practices of your teachers, where do you see the focus and priority in student grades? As you lead others toward a focus on all students learning, what practices may need to reexamined for reaching those goals?

Now It’s Your Turn

When is the last time you have asked questions about grading practices? Would you say your students are graded primarily on proficiency? How can you ensure your school learning practices are focused on competency rather than compliance?

If you would like to stay connected with Dr. Garth Larson, you can find out more about him and his resources for school districts at

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker