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OCTOBER 29, 2009   

Grades & grading

I've never met a teacher at any level who doesn't hate grading. No, make that HATE grading. If you care at all about fairness—and everyone I know does—it's a tedious process that you try hard to make objective, fair and accurate.

I've tried now and again to not grade students, giving verbal or written feedback instead of number or letter grades. I've never been satisfied with the results. It may be my teaching style, but I've found that students generally ignore my advice that they should work harder until a "D" appears at the top of a grade sheet or they get the diplomatically-worded "Academic Progress Report" from the college.

Another issue that we all struggle with is keeping things objective.

There's always a bit of judgment involved: do you give the student with 69.9% a "C" instead of a "D" because he/she worked really really hard? Do you reward growth, progress, improvement as well as results? Should a brilliant student who knocks out "A" projects without stretching her/himself get the same grade as the average student who does her/his best work ever? The final projects may look similar to an outside observer.

The hard-line approach says that a potential employer doesn't give a crap about how much effort went into it, it's the result that counts. But teachers are not employers. Our job is not just to maximize the bottom line, it's also to help students learn how to learn. The results aren't always pretty, even when the process is successful.

So these are a few of the questions. I'd be interested in your thoughts on this as either a teacher or student (use the "Comments" link below).

Help with grading

I've found that for my sake and that of the students, the clearer you can make your expectations for an assignment/project, the better. I often hand out and/or post online a checklist that details every part of the project that will be graded, and shows the minimum requirement. I explain that if you do only the minimum on every part you get a "C"/75%, because you've done average work. To get a higher grade you need to do more. There's often a bit of grumbling at first, but students catch on pretty quickly.

When you have a list of 20-30 graded items the record-keeping and math would overwhelm me except for a great little program called Gradekeeper. Rumor is that it was created by a teacher, which I have no trouble believing. It does nearly everything you might do in a paper gradebook (remember them?) or a spreadsheet you create yourself. And then it does more, like making it easy to upload grades to a password-protected website or email to individual students. If you still are recording grades manually you definitely should try Gradekeeper. Despite its many capabilities it's easy to learn.

Detail of midterm project gradesheet
A detailed report make the grade far more understandable
Beyond that, a trick I learned from my colleague Angela is to create a detailed gradesheet for each assignment. As far as Gradekeeper is concerned you're setting up a sheet with 20 or 30 assignments for a semester when in fact it's 20 or 30 items for a single project. No matter. Gradekeeper does all the math for you and gives you multiple ways to show and print the results.

Mouse over the image to see full report ->

For my Web Publishing I midterm each student got a detailed report with scores by item, category and overall.

This doesn't make grading painless, for me or the student. But it does make it more understandable, which helps a lot.

More on grades & grading

Grading student work—October 19, 2007
End of the semester, grading—December 6, 2007
New perspective, new ideas—October 8, 2009
Letter from former student—June 12, 2007

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