Grading Student Work
What Purposes Do Grades Serve?
Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Anderson identify the multiple roles that grades serve:
- as an evaluation of student work;
- as a means of communicating to students, parents, graduate schools, professional schools, and future employers about a student’s performance in college and potential for further success;
- as a source of motivation to students for continued learning and improvement;
- as a means of organizing a lesson, a unit, or a semester in that grades mark transitions in a course and bring closure to it.
Additionally, grading provides students with feedback on their own learning, clarifying for them what they understand, what they don’t understand, and where they can improve. Grading also provides feedback to instructors on their students’ learning, information that can inform future teaching decisions.
Why is grading often a challenge? Because grades are used as evaluations of student work, it’s important that grades accurately reflect the quality of student work and that student work is graded fairly. Grading with accuracy and fairness can take a lot of time, which is often in short supply for college instructors. Students who aren’t satisfied with their grades can sometimes protest their grades in ways that cause headaches for instructors. Also, some instructors find that their students’ focus or even their own focus on assigning numbers to student work gets in the way of promoting actual learning.
Given all that grades do and represent, it’s no surprise that they are a source of anxiety for students and that grading is often a stressful process for instructors.
Incorporating the strategies below will not eliminate the stress of grading for instructors, but it will decrease that stress and make the process of grading seem less arbitrary — to instructors and students alike.
Source: Walvoord, B. & V. Anderson (1998). Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment . San Francisco : Jossey-Bass.
Developing Grading Criteria
- Consider the different kinds of work you’ll ask students to do for your course. This work might include: quizzes, examinations, lab reports, essays, class participation, and oral presentations.
- For the work that’s most significant to you and/or will carry the most weight, identify what’s most important to you. Is it clarity? Creativity? Rigor? Thoroughness? Precision? Demonstration of knowledge? Critical inquiry?
- Transform the characteristics you’ve identified into grading criteria for the work most significant to you, distinguishing excellent work (A-level) from very good (B-level), fair to good (C-level), poor (D-level), and unacceptable work.
Developing criteria may seem like a lot of work, but having clear criteria can
- save time in the grading process
- make that process more consistent and fair
- communicate your expectations to students
- help you to decide what and how to teach
- help students understand how their work is graded
Sample criteria for a few different types of assignments are available via the following links.
Making Grading More Efficient
- Create assignments that have clear goals and criteria for assessment. The better students understand what you’re asking them to do the more likely they’ll do it!
- Use different grading scales for different assignments. Grading scales include:
- letter grades with pluses and minuses (for papers, essays, essay exams, etc.)
- 100-point numerical scale (for exams, certain types of projects, etc.)
- check +, check, check- (for quizzes, homework, response papers, quick reports or presentations, etc.)
- pass-fail or credit-no-credit (for preparatory work)
- Limit your comments or notations to those your students can use for further learning or improvement.
- Spend more time on guiding students in the process of doing work than on grading it.
- For each significant assignment, establish a grading schedule and stick to it.
Light Grading – Bear in mind that not every piece of student work may need your full attention. Sometimes it’s sufficient to grade student work on a simplified scale (minus / check / check-plus or even zero points / one point) to motivate them to engage in the work you want them to do. In particular, if you have students do some small assignment before class, you might not need to give them much feedback on that assignment if you’re going to discuss it in class.
Multiple-Choice Questions – These are easy to grade but can be challenging to write. Look for common student misconceptions and misunderstandings you can use to construct answer choices for your multiple-choice questions, perhaps by looking for patterns in student responses to past open-ended questions. And while multiple-choice questions are great for assessing recall of factual information, they can also work well to assess conceptual understanding and applications.
Test Corrections – Giving students points back for test corrections motivates them to learn from their mistakes, which can be critical in a course in which the material on one test is important for understanding material later in the term. Moreover, test corrections can actually save time grading, since grading the test the first time requires less feedback to students and grading the corrections often goes quickly because the student responses are mostly correct.
Spreadsheets – Many instructors use spreadsheets (e.g. Excel) to keep track of student grades. A spreadsheet program can automate most or all of the calculations you might need to perform to compute student grades. A grading spreadsheet can also reveal informative patterns in student grades. To learn a few tips and tricks for using Excel as a gradebook take a look at this sample Excel gradebook.
Providing Meaningful Feedback to Students
- Use your comments to teach rather than to justify your grade, focusing on what you’d most like students to address in future work.
- Link your comments and feedback to the goals for an assignment.
- Comment primarily on patterns — representative strengths and weaknesses.
- Avoid over-commenting or “picking apart” students’ work.
- In your final comments, ask questions that will guide further inquiry by students rather than provide answers for them.
Maintaining Grading Consistency in Multi-sectioned Courses (for course heads)
- Communicate your grading policies, standards, and criteria to teaching assistants, graders, and students in your course.
- Discuss your expectations about all facets of grading (criteria, timeliness, consistency, grade disputes, etc) with your teaching assistants and graders.
- Encourage teaching assistants and graders to share grading concerns and questions with you.
- Use an appropriate group grading strategy:
- have teaching assistants grade assignments for students not in their section or lab to curb favoritism (N.B. this strategy puts the emphasis on the evaluative, rather than the teaching, function of grading);
- have each section of an exam graded by only one teaching assistant or grader to ensure consistency across the board;
- have teaching assistants and graders grade student work at the same time in the same place so they can compare their grades on certain sections and arrive at consensus.
Minimizing Student Complaints about Grading
- Include your grading policies, procedures, and standards in your syllabus.
- Avoid modifying your policies, including those on late work, once you’ve communicated them to students.
- Distribute your grading criteria to students at the beginning of the term and remind them of the relevant criteria when assigning and returning work.
- Keep in-class discussion of grades to a minimum, focusing rather on course learning goals.
For a comprehensive look at grading, see the chapter “Grading Practices” from Barbara Gross Davis’s Tools for Teaching.
Essay on Grade Inflation
The phenomenon of grade inflation is affecting the quality of education throughout the country. Most of the students- at every level including high schools, colleges, and universities- are receiving higher grades to which everyone is not entitled to receive. Grade inflation is similar to the concept of inflation in which price of commodities rise, impacts students, instructors, their parents, and standard of education. Several studies made in this regard confirm that grade inflation is a reality and a fact. The problem of grade inflation is continuously increasing compared with the past.
Grade inflation a Common Phenomenon Compared with the Past
Several studies confirm by making comparison of grades being currently obtained by the students with the grades obtained in the past that educational institutions are deliberately awarding higher grades to their students. Partial motive of awarding higher grades is market factor in which their students become competitive while applying for a job or moving to the next level of education. (Bok 211) Today, schools, colleges, and universities are using grade patterns in which students get higher grades for the similar quality of work being done by the students in the past and getting low grades. It means that it has become easier now to get higher grades like 'A' than in the past.
A general perception among parents and students is increasingly developing that by paying more tuition fees, students should be assigned higher grades. This phenomenon is similar to paying higher price for a product and getting maximum benefits from it. Furthermore, lower grades are also non-competitive in the marketplace. Grade inflation has significantly impacted those colleges and universities that have set high standards of education. (Cohen 401) Students with higher grades which they do not deserve meet the stringent criteria and students getting real grades are left behind. Grade inflation shows that students today are less educated than in the past.
Grade inflation in today's education has made it difficult to discriminate best students from very good and very good from good. Awarding unduly higher grades has resulted in the loss of morality among teachers. (Bain 76) For getting best results to show their performance, teachers award better grades than deserved so the main focus of faculty is their performance and not teaching. (Bok 209) It is pertinent to mention that one of the most important responsibilities of faculty is to evaluate the work of their students. For making justified and real evaluation, faculty members should develop perfect understanding of the grading system. Failure to do so can result placing students in unjustified grades. However, faculty members, at the same time, should have the autonomy of assigning grades which they think appropriate. As such, there should be a delicate balance to be maintained between understanding grading system and the autonomy of assigning grades as feasible.
Grade Inflation Creates Misconceptions about Quality of Education System
The phenomenon of grade inflation is believed to gain momentum in the decade of 1960s. The significant rise in grade inflation took place in 1980s when most of the private educational institutions adopted the aggressive policy of assigning higher grades compared with public institutions. The issue of grade inflation, therefore, is continuously aggravating creating misconceptions about educational system as a whole. Research made in this regard reveals that public schools and colleges are awarding GPA mostly around 3.0 while almost all students in private institutions receive GPA higher than 3.3. (Hunt 174) It means that the issue of grade inflation is prevailing more at private schools, colleges, and universities compared with public educational institutions.
Problem of grade inflation aggravates when student at the time of admission are aware that at the end they will be getting at least a B+ grade. Resultantly, most of them do not strive hard and do not make their best efforts in the studies affecting the overall quality of studies. This approach has developed among students for the last two decades or so and it was non-existent prior to that. Students in the contemporary age are aware that by spending money on education they will be successful in getting desired grade with minimum of efforts and with maximum of ease. Academic success, today, depends more on grade points and less on knowledge. In the current education system, grades do not exhibit knowledge base rather they make students want to please their teachers. (Fraber 385)Getting higher grades easier mean that students are spending less time on their studies compared with past and giving more time on other objectionable activities like addiction to drugs or alcohol. Therefore, the increasing factor of grade inflation is not only impacting quality of education but also creating different other social problems. Non-relevance of assigned grades with the standardized performance required for that particular grade shows the declining quality of education. Grade inflation has increased the importance of specific standardized examinations such as 'LMAT, GMAT, or MCAT' which are required to assess the real abilities of students even they have cleared the regular examinations. (Rudolph 287)
As mentioned above, several market forces seem to favor assigning high grades eventually supporting the phenomenon of grade inflation. Students getting real grades will be at disadvantage and non-competitive while competing with the students having non-justified high grades. When these students enter practical life by serving in business firms, teaching children, and providing social services etc, they have not developed the required set of skills and not acquire necessary knowledge needed to perform their duties.
Arguments against Grade Inflation
A segment of scholars believe that getting 'A' grade requires same efforts by the students as in the past and no term 'grade inflation' exists. This segment of scholars believe that requirements of schools and colleges have not entirely changed implementing standards that were set in the past for evaluating abilities or judging knowledge of students. In case grades of most of the students are higher compared with the students in the past is not a justification to prove that students getting 'A' grade were not evaluated properly. Students are submitting their assignments regularly, taking their examinations as usual, and attending schools and colleges as previously done by the students. (Cohen 155) Therefore, getting 'A' easier today compared with the past means that the knowledge base of students have increased as technology has gigantically supported to broader the vision and knowledge of students. Especially, with the advent of internet, students gain more knowledge in less time means they have to make fewer efforts today as more time was required in the past to acquire knowledge. (Johnson 143) Moreover, educational institutions in today's world have designed student-friendly systems and allow them more choices according to their aptitude as well as availability of time. It means that getting 'A' grade is also not easier today as it was in the past.
The paper has presented an overview of the term 'Grade inflation'. Most of the students- at every level including high schools, colleges, and universities- are receiving higher grades to which everyone is not entitled to receive. It is believed that getting higher grade like 'A' has become much easier than in the past. Arguments on both sides of the issue have been presented in the paper. However, by analyzing arguments on both sides, it can be asserted that it is easier to receive an 'A' in today's college courses rather than in the past.
Bain, Ken What the Best College Teachers Do Harvard University Press, 2004, p. 76
Bok, Derek Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should be Learning More Princeton University Press, 2007, p. 209
Bok, Derek Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education Princeton University Press, 2004, p. 211
Cohen, Arthur The Shaping of American Higher Education: Emergence and Growth of the Contemporary System Jossey-Bass, 2007, p. 401
Farber, Jerry A Young Person's Guide to the Grading System Student as Nigger, 1969, p. 385
Hersh, Richard Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, p. 155
Hunt, Lester Grade Inflation: Academic Standards in Higher Education State University of New York Press, 2008, p. 174
Johnson, Valen Grade Inflation: A Crisis in College Education Springer, 2003, p. 143
Rudolph, Fredrick The American College and University: A History University of Georgia Press, 1991, p. 287