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Grading is a cumbersome task for all teachers, but for new teachers it can be debilitating. We know we need to give timely and relevant feedback, and we know grading is important, but how can we make the process easier on ourselves? Grades reflect personal philosophy and human psychology, as well as efforts to measure intellectual progress with standardized, objective criteria. Whatever your personal philosophy about grades are, their importance to your students means you must make a constant effort to be fair and reasonable while maintaining grading standards you can defend, if challenged. Grades cause a lot of distress for students and often seem to inhibit enthusiasm for learning for its own sake, but grades are a fact of life. They need not be counterproductive if students know what to expect.

We are going to break down few tips and strategies that will help struggling teachers to work out their grading and make things better!!

The first part of the post will deal with [5] helpful tips with regards to good grading practices.

  1. The basic step for having a good grading practice is to PLAN THE WHOLE POLICY! Whatever the teacher is about to do, plan it, and, then do it! Make a plan for evaluating student work and stick to it. Establish evaluation procedures when the subject/course is in the planning stages. Something that would help the teacher further in the process is, if the teacher is working with assistants or colleagues, meet with them and decide how many and what kinds of evaluation 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 work and late assignments.
    • And, while investing yourself in the first step, keep in the mind the basic idea, not everything is to be graded! And, by that we mean, depending on the curriculum expectations for your school, you may be in a position to determine what is and what is not worth going in the gradebook. Use that power. It’s OK to not grade an assignment or to give credit for participation. This is very important as you have a life outside of teaching. Now folks, I would break down the grading situation as follows: I would focus grading primarily on summative assessments, things such as end of chapter, end of unit tests, quizzes, and STEM projects. Now things that need not be graded may include formative assessing, practice work, morning work and of course homework. Having said that, I would always review student work & homework to see where I’d need to reteach, and pull in small group instruction when appropriate. Those things that I did not grade, I’d simply put a check on the paper and file accordingly.
  2. Explain your plan and grading policy!

Yes, you need to do it, not only for your sake, but for the students to know how they are going to be awarded grades. Once your plan is in place, take the earliest opportunity to make students aware of your policies. Letting them know about how the grades are going to work will only make them more responsible.

Also take time in class to tell students what you expect from them and how you plan to measure their progress in achieving the goals of your class. 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. Be clear about any consequences to grades that will result from absences, missed tests and quizzes, late assignments or violations of ethical conduct.

  1. Once the teacher has made himself/herself clear about the process of grading, then it is practically easy for the teacher to do the work. But, merely informing the students about the plan alone does not work. Keep students informed of their progress throughout the grading period. 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.
  2. And, once the policy is set, then by all means Be Consistent! Make sure the policy applies equally to all students. Subjective adjustments during or after a reporting period are likely to cause confusion. Validate grades with an alternative assessment of learning, such as a pre/post-test or knowledge survey. Avoid testing on material other than what you teach or using grading methods other than those stated before hand.

Now those were [5] tips that can enhance your grading. But these alone are not enough for a teacher to be effective! So, now, we will be looking into [5] steps that will help a teacher make grading more effective.

  1. 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!
  2. 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)
  1. Limit your comments or notations so that your students can use them for further learning or improvement.
  2. Spend more time on guiding students in the process of doing work than on grading it.
  3. And as mentioned in the stages of planning, for each significant assignment, establish a grading schedule and stick to it.

Grading is not a process that has to be done for the sake of doing it. We really must try to understand the purpose for grading – and, that is nothing other than being able to give productive evaluation and feedback to the students. Now, while giving feedback to the students, have the following in mind!

  1. Use your comments to teach rather than to justify your grade,
    • Focusing on what you’d most like students to address in future work.
  1. Link your comments and feedback to the goals for an assignment.
    • Comment primarily on patterns — representative strengths and weaknesses.
  2. 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.

When the teacher is more focused on bringing the best out of the student, and, when the student and parents find the same to be true, then it becomes totally easy for the teacher to award grades and feedback for improvement. This whole process of being available for the students is to be done with utmost care. The teacher has to be consistent in communicating with his/her students. But regardless how much information we communicate about our grading policies, there might remain possibilities for the students to be confused. So, in order to minimize student complaints about grading, it would be helpful for the teacher to follow [4] things:

  1. Include your grading policies, procedures, and standards in your packet that you send home to parents at the beginning of the year.
  2. Avoid modifying your policies, including those on late work, once you’ve communicated them to students. Once things are set before the students, try to stick to it.
  3. For older students distribute your grading criteria to them at the beginning of the term and remind students of the relevant criteria when assigning and returning work.
  4. The most important step in grading and making students happy is by keeping in-class discussion of grades to a minimum, focusing rather on lesson or subject learning goals.

Now, that the primary steps and general information regarding grading has been made clear. Let’s consider the Rubric as a means of grading. I think this is very powerful.

Now another great strategy for evaluating student work is by using Rubrics

Establishing and discussing specific characteristics of success when an assignment is first distributed benefits both students and teachers. Creating grading rubrics, or grids, is a typical way to do this. Having received the criteria with an assignment, students are able to work toward specific goals. Later, when they look at their grades, they can see at a glance the strengths and weaknesses of their work. Teachers are able to grade according to customized descriptive criteria that reflect the intention of a specific assignment and won’t change according to the hour of night or the amount of effort a particular student has exhibited.

Rubrics can also save on grading time, as they allow teachers to detail comments on one or two elements and simply indicate ratings on others.

Finally, grading rubrics are invaluable in subjects that involve more than one teacher, as in team-taught or multi-sectioned courses, because they ensure that all teachers are measuring work by the same standards.

The process of creating a grading rubric takes a little time, but it is relatively simple.

Let us have a brief walk through the 3 steps

Identify the Criteria

The first step involved in creating assignment-specific rubrics is revisiting an assignment’s intended outcomes. These objectives can be considered, prioritized, and re-worded to create a rubric’s criteria. If, for example, you assign a literature review hoping students might become skilled at reducing complex texts down to pithy summaries, “concise summary” can be one of the grading criteria included in the rubric.

Take care to keep the list of criteria from becoming unwieldy; ten ranked items are usually the upper limit. In addition, to be usefully translated and used by students, criteria should be specific and descriptive. Criteria like “clear,” “organized” and “interesting” don’t mean much to students when they sit down to revise.

Weigh Criteria

Once you have identified criteria, make decisions about their varying importance. Say, for example, you are teaching geography, and you’ve assigned an essay to help students become skilled at creating concrete and accurate observation-based descriptions, practiced in analyzing their data and in devising a land-use proposal, and able to create correctly-formatted, error-free prose. When creating a grading rubric for that assignment, you will need to decide on the relative weight of each criterion. Things like Is the error-free prose objective equal to the analysis objective?

Describe Levels of Success

When the criteria have been set, devise an assessment scale. Many teachers like to limit this section of the rubric to a three-point scale (“weak,” “satisfactory,” “strong”). Others may prefer to break this down into five or six levels, adding categories like “needs extensive revision” or “outstanding”. Try to work out the levels, according to the kind of class and students you as the teacher has.

And, using this method teachers can help the students in a phenomenal way. Rather than questioning your reason for the assessment of each student’s assignment, you can take some of the mental work out of it. Did they do this? Check. Did they do that? Check. You’ll make grading easier for yourself by giving them solid feedback that you’ve already considered.

But, as we know, teachers can get busy and won’t have enough time at school to do the work. Papers can get piled up! Things can get out-of-control!! And the tip to avoid such a situation is to not allow piling up happen in the first place. This can be done by arranging a little of your routine!

Try not to let students’ ungraded work sit out on your desk

Until you’re ready to grade, leave it in the file trays where kids turned it in. Messy piles accumulate so quickly! If you have a good filing system, it should take less than ten seconds to find any stack of ungraded student work in your filing trays. Avoid the paper trap, so there will be no more confusion about what’s already been entered into your electronic grade book, or what’s been graded and what hasn’t, etc. And, whenever the papers are taken home to be graded, have an organized file folder system for transporting and keeping track of papers. There can various folders that would help in sorting the papers like, class work, homework, and tests. Additional folders also can be helpful, for example: already graded—to be entered in your grade book, or what’s already been graded—to be filed, to review/redo with class, incomplete, make-up work, or to go home for that matter.

Don’t let papers go ungraded for more than a week, tops. This is easier said than done! However, more than once I have been in the middle of grading a tedious math worksheet when I realized I had already tested the kids on the material. What’s the point of grading the practice class work at that point? It was too late for me to assess whether or not the kids were getting it, and because I never provided them feedback on how they did, it’s possible that a number of them had used the assignment to practice incorrect strategies. It was a waste of time for me and for them.

I want to talk briefly about when to actually find the time to grade

For me personally, I’ve always made it a point to get to work early and I used that time to do some grading, also used my planning time, or some time after school to complete grading. Now staying a while after school may not be an viable option for some teachers because of picking up your children at daycare or attending other priorities. Another strategy that may also be of help to you is have certain days of the week that you dedicate just to grading—and then knock it out! My point I want to make here is that first year teachers, and those just fresh out of college need to strike a balance of teaching as well as your own hobbies, etc. Try to keep your grading papers at school. I have to admit I sometimes didn’t follow my own advice. But overall, taking papers home to grade should be in my opinion the exception and not the rule. Because you have a life outside of teaching, and I don’t want you to get burned out!

Everything that we have said and what we are expected to do, is to help our students. Grading is complicated and full of grey areas. Ultimately, when it comes down to brass tacks, there is no right or wrong way to grade your students as long as you hold them all to the same standards and use grades to foster growth.

While grades do not define your students or their abilities, they do have a direct impact on their lives. They can discourage them and lead to unwanted competitiveness in the classroom.

It is clear that grading does not have to be an issue that makes teachers dread it!

Teachers know the definition of busy better than most. Like I mentioned earlier, if you can report to work earlier and grade some, or during your planning time, or dedicate a certain day or days to stay after school to get it done that would be the thing to do, so that you can avoid taking a stack of papers home over the weekend.

To Recap

Every piece of paper does not need to be graded. I’d focus grading more on Summative Assessments—for example, like end of a chapter or a unit tests, or quizzes (after a skill has been taught), and Cooperative learning or STEM projects. What need not be graded would be formative assessments, practice work, morning work, and of course homework—things along those lines. As far as homework goes, you don’t know if the child did it or the child received help. I hope that this has been helpful to you, and that you got some value out of this. This is one of those topics that I wish was addressed in college.

Steve Hiles

I am a retired military and elementary school teacher living in Tennessee. I am an avid reader and love to write. I am very passionate about helping teachers. I hope you find my educational tips and strategies useful,and enjoy hearing about my personal journey.



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Steve Hiles

I am a retired military and elementary school teacher living in Tennessee. I am an avid reader and love to write. I am very passionate about helping teachers. I hope you find my educational tips and strategies useful and enjoy hearing about my personal journey. Thanks for visiting!

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