Mari Meuwissen, University of Wisconsin-River Falls

Abstract: When it comes to teaching, many questions are raised about grading and grading policies. This in part is due to every teacher having different ways of assessment, but it also has to do with what grades mean. Often students do not understand what a teacher is asking after receiving grading feedback, and in response, do badly on a test or assignment. Tips on how to go about grading are always helpful.

Keywords: tips for grading, student knowledge, and differentiated teaching

The word grading and/or grades, holds great meaning in the educational world. This is a major factor of stress for not only students but teachers as well. There are great responsibilities as a teacher, with grading being just one of them and certainly not an easy one as we will see. Guides known as the Golden Rules have been derived to help teachers with the grading process. These rules consist of: fairness, accuracy, consistency, measurability, and defensibility. Schools use grades to measure academic achievement. Parents use grades to measure their child in relation to other children at the same academic stage. Grades are used to determine class rank, entry into higher level classes and even as an indicator as to their ability to attend certain academic institutions. With all of this riding on an assessment score, a teacher can feel some intense pressures. However, some suggestions and tips have been made with the intent of helping instructors to better their practices and make simpler the process of assigning a grade. The most prominent of these significantly important tips include: announcement of grade policies immediately, objective (not subjective) criteria, and differentiated instruction that can benefit the student. Lastly, grades can be a check point and resource for teachers. The use of these tips is to add helpful insight for instructors when in the grading process.

Rarely do students understand the full meaning of an assignment or test. When it comes to assignments, the best option for the teacher and the students is going over the grading policies before anything else. The reason: multiple assignments are handed in throughout the semester or year and by going over them in the very beginning it allows for the student to be somewhat ahead of the game. As author Myron Dueck explains (2014), students have a broad understanding of what is to be expected and can clarify any misconceptions or understandings with the teacher before the due date (pg. 26). Another aspect of going over grading policies in the beginning of the year or semester is that it allows the teacher to create grading rubrics for all assignments accessible to students. If the student has a rubric they can see exactly what is expected of them for the completion of the assignment whereas if they did not have a guideline to double check that they are following the steps correctly, then a zero or low grade would be given. Research by Dueck explains (2014) how unprogressive it is to have a student do poorly merely due to them not understanding the assignment. An incomplete is another option and is far less severe for the student for it can be reversed (pg.26). Another useful idea of a rubric is the notion that there can be ways students give feedback to the teacher. A useful tip from author Wolpert-Gawron (2011) is to design a special rubric specifically with the intent of the getting feedback on the assignment or the students understanding of the directions can be a useful tool (web). Again, this can directly tie into how the teacher assimilates grades and changes needing to be made, if any.

Not many people can say that every teacher they have ever had, throughout their school careers, has taught the exact same way. The reason for this is every person is different and in relation, teachers must tweak their teaching styles to adhere to the different learning methods. Author Wormeli (2006) infers when practices are changed and differentiated they directly impact the grading policies (web). It might turn out you have two teachers who teach with relatively the same style, or you might have all teachers with differences in methods and grading. This is key; differentiated instruction. According to Dueck, often times it is found that teachers are grading their students not on content knowledge and performance but rather what they turn in (pg.3). One would think the aspect of actually learning the materials to be far more important but in many instances it is not. This is why differentiated instruction can be useful to not only the student but teacher as well. Let’s put this into perspective when looking at testing; some students prefer multiple choice tests while others prefer written exams where they can explain what the reasoning is behind their answer. As a teacher what do you do? Researchers Ory and Ryan (1993) suggest measuring how well students perform in several different contexts contributes to measurement accuracy (pg.113). More specifically, with changing up how you give an exam you are offering multiple ways for the student to prove their knowledge while also adhering to exploring how well they do with different style testing. If they receive a bad grade on one exam and then a good grade on a different style, you as a teacher can start to infer what ways of testing are best suited for your students. This can later help you to grade accordingly based on what you saw with different testing styles. A key part to this is to stagger the test dates between classes. If one class is farther along than the other, do not penalize the class for being at a different pace. Instead, allow for the extra time needed to finish the material and then test them on it. Changing the process in which the instructor does something can be used throughout the classroom. Another example of a differentiated teaching method is the use of the fudge factor. According to Ory and Ryan (1993), the fudge factor is when a student is borderline between two grades and then the teacher must look back on the performance of the student with previous assignments (pg.114). The result of this is if the instructor bumps the student up to the higher of the two based on how well they did with previous assignments, the effect will be the student will try harder. This is because they see they are rewarded for doing well on their assignments and will then want to improve on how they do the rest of the assignments. Changing up a few policies within the classroom can prove to be beneficial for both student and teachers. Researchers Ory and Ryan (1993) conclude that grading becomes less stressful and more of a learning tool; to better explain this, look at absolute and relative grading, both grade a student based on their performance against other students and standards. It turns out the effect of this grading style is motivation from the student to do better (pg. 115). All it takes is willingness to change a few things inside the classroom to better help the students achieve the grade they deserve.

Finally, grades are not only used to see how well a student understands the material and how well they are doing in the class but more specifically, they can access the accuracy of the instructor. If there is a classroom with thirty students and twenty two of them get a C or less on an assignment then there might be misunderstanding of the topic. When this occurs, teachers can use this information as a means to change something up. Whether that is the material content, the due date of the assignment or, how much time is given to complete it, all can be factored in. There are certain things as instructors that need to be taken into consideration; these include instructional goals, course design, and institutional context (tips for improving…pg.109). The most important one being course design because sometimes the progress being made and the knowledge being absorbed does not always match up with the course objectives. Many reasons could be the cause for why the students do not understand the course objectives due to not responding well to the material presented to them. This could be caused by the speed at which the teacher is going at or the relevance of the subject to what the student is gaining from it. It is the belief of researchers Ory and Ryan (1993), when this happens it is the responsibility of the instructor to review and formulate grades periodically to access how students are taking in and absorbing knowledge based on the material presented (pg. 112). Again, the idea is to gather how well students are doing and then formulate the next moves based on the grades.   If the majority of students are doing poorly then the instructor must make changes and correct certain aspects of the material. If, on the other hand the students are responding well to the course and are getting good grades, they know the speed and content is working well. Author and researcher Dueck (2014) believes the focus is less on the agenda of the class and more on the well being of the student and their learning (pg.8-10). Education is a continuous learning environment for both student and teacher. Grading in so many ways allows for a better understanding on how to teach and go about incorporating content in ways for students to understand. Another tip and useful tool from Wolpert-Gawron (2011) to be used by educators is the feedback from students. This opens the door for them to be completely honest and discuss how they felt the class and teaching methods went (web). Poor grades indicate some factors relating not only to class work but quite possibly the material. What this does is open opportunities for students to give their instructor insight as to what was hard for them and what they would like to change for the next time. Now, some students will not take this seriously but for those who do, it can be used as a really important learning tool. Not to mention the student feels better knowing they voiced their concerns if any. Teachers should be open to feedback from their students and take into account grades within the classroom when reviewing course content.


Dueck, Myron. (2014). Grading Smarter Not Harder: Assessment Strategies that Motivate Kids and Help them Learn. ASCD.
Ory, J. C., & Ryan, K. E. (1993). Tips for improving testing and grading (Vol. 4). Sage.
Wolpert-Gawron, Heather. (2011). Tips for Grading and Giving Feedback. Edutopia.
Wormeli, Rick. (2006). Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing and Gradingin the Differentiated Classroom. Stonehouse Publisher.