21 May, 2016
Grades show personal philosophy and human psychology as well as efforts to assess intellectual progress with standardized, objective criteria. Whatever your personal philosophy about grades, their significance to your students means you must make a constant effort to be fair and reasonable and to maintain grading standards you can defend if challenged. Grades cause a lot of distress for students and frequently seem to inhibit interest for learning for its own sake, but grades are a fact of life. They need not be counterproductive if students know what to expect.
Good Practices in Grading Student Work
- Plan Your Grading Policy.
Develop a plan for evaluating student work and stick to it. Establish evaluation procedures when the course is in the planning stages. If you are working with assistants or colleagues, meet with them and decide how many and what kinds of assessment methods to use. Then decide how the students’ work should be graded and what proportion of the final mark each assignment, quiz, etc., will comprise. This is also the time to set out a policy for missed or failed midterms and late assignments.
- Explain Your Grading Policy.
Once your plan is in place, take the earliest chance to make students know your policies. Make your syllabus the cornerstone. Reveal the true agenda and the kinds of evaluations that will be the basis for the grade. Give the definitions for each letter grade.
In addition, have time to inform the class what is expected from them and how their progress will be measured to achieve the goals of the course. Explain these goals and how you feel the evaluations, grading procedures and policies will help to achieve these goals and allow you to fairly evaluate their progress. Good planning and clear explanations will prevent student confusion — and possibly anger — later.
Be clear about any consequences to grades that will result from absences, missed tests and quizzes, late assignments or violations of ethical conduct.
- Keep Students Informed.
Keep students well-aware of their development throughout the course. If a discrepancy exists between the grade a student thinks he or she has and the number in your grade book, resolve that discrepancy immediately.
- Maintain Accurate Records.
Keep precise records of your evaluation of each student’s performance throughout the semester. Such records will make it easier for you to justify and/or reevaluate a student’s final grade if necessary. Records are extremely significant, of course, if you choose to base the final grade on some composite of the semester’s work. (You should keep your records around for several years, since students may come back later to question a grade, finish an incomplete, or ask you to write a recommendation.)
- Track Grade Distribution.
If you are evaluating a reasonable number of students (say, more than 20), it also is a good idea to make a graph of the distribution of grades on each quiz or assignment to tell at a glance how the students are doing. Doing so also will show the most recurrent scores and where the middle of the scoring range is. Both statistics are informative for students regarding their performance with respect to the rest of the class.
Distributions will make it easier for you to see how good your evaluation technique was. Uneven or badly skewed distributions suggest a poor testing method. If you plot the same distributions for a number of assignments or quizzes, you can see how consistent your marking has been and also if there is (hopefully) a trend toward improvement in the students’ performances. Composite grades also can be plotted this way, making the assignment of a final letter grade an easier task. For example, if your distribution plot shows that all the scores are bunched together, you may want to consider shifting or narrowing the range of your letter grade assignments. Attach copies of the distributions to exams for your future reference and for the use of future instructors in the course.
- Be Consistent.
Once a policy is set, apply it equally to all students. Subjective adjustments during or after a course are likely to prove risky. Confirm grades with an alternative assessment of learning, such as a pre-post test or knowledge survey. Do not test on material other than what you teach or using grading methods other than those stated in your syllabus.