Grades and Grading
Grading depends very much on
your own values and educational philosophy. Your department may have its
own standards for grading, and in community colleges where students will
often be sequencing into a higher level course, you should find out if
these are in place in your department.
Function of Grades
Most faculty agree that grades
serve as an indicator to the student and to the professor as to how well
student is learning. They also serve as indicators for how well students
will perform in higher level studies, in graduate schools and in employment
in the field. They serve other functions as well:
- They help student learn
what good work is and where there is need for improvement.
- They help the instructor
determine what students have and havenít learned.
- They stimulate good work
and encourage students to do more.
- They help students self
select to pursue higher studies in the field.
- Grade on the basis
of mastery of skills and knowledge as outlined in your syllabus.
- Set clear standards,
guidelines, and expectations from which you base your grading.
Outline these clearly in your syllabus. Describe the sorts of
evaluative measures you plan to use for grading quizzes, exams, papers,
class participation, group work, etc. Give clear definitions as to
what constitutes each letter grade. This should be reviewed with students
on the first day of class.
- Avoid grading on the
curve because it is not really based on student learning. A little
competition is healthy, but grading on the curve works against collaborative
learning activities that are so conducive to true learning.
- Try not to overemphasize
grades because this only increases studentsí anxiety and motivates
them to work for the wrong reasons.
- Set policies on late
work. This should be clearly described in your syllabus.
- Avoid modifying your
grading policies during the term. This erodes the studentsí confidence
in you. If you must make a change, clearly explain your reasons to
- Provide numerous opportunities
for students to demonstrate their mastery of the skills and knowledge
in the course. Give numerous short tests and written assignments
so that students have some form of evaluation every two or three weeks.
See Module 6 on other forms
of assessment for alternative assignments .
Some suggestions upon which
to base your thinking when grading are:
Primary Trait Analysis ( PTA)
- Grade based on studentís
mastery of the subject and its skills.
- Give students frequent
updates as to how well they are doing in the class.
- Get permission from the
students to share excellent student work with the rest of the class.
Walvoord ( 1998) describes
PTA as a process that creates a scoring rubric that can be used to assess
any student performance or portfolio of student performances. A rubric
is both highly specific and criterion-referenced. The teacher:
- Identifies the factors
or traits that will count for scoring ( such as "thesis"
"materials and methods", "eye contact with patient",
and so on);
- Builds a scale for scoring
the student's performance on that trait; and
- Evaluates the student's
performance against those criteria.
English teachers have used
these for years in scoring writing samples and standardized tests such
as the SAT. Websites abound with rubrics for grading work such as compositions,
history papers and examinations, group work and critical thinking. See
for a brief overview of PTA and numerous examples of scoring rubrics
in various disciplines. Sharing this rubric with students gives them a
much clearer understanding of what good work looks like.
Evaluating Essay exams
- See the above section
on rubrics for helping you establish a set of criteria.
- Read exams without knowledge
of the name of the student.
- Read all or at least several†
of the exams to establish some idea of the general level of performance.
- Select models of excellent,
good, adequate ,and poor papers to which you can refer to refresh
your memory of the standards by which you are grading.