## Purposes & Principles of Effective Grading

The end of a semester is a tell-tale time for students and teachers alike. Exams are taken, projects are presented, and report cards are sent home. Although these report cards come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, and include all different kinds of numbers and symbols, they each have one specific job: to communicate a student’s grades. Although it may seem like an easy task to simply assign grades to assignments and assessments, the grading process is not only complicated but also incredibly important for quality teachers. If used effectively, these grades can provide teachers, parents, and students with information about how much a student has learned. Interested stakeholders can then use this information to help students improve and succeed academically.

One prominent expert on grading, Thomas Guskey, identifies six different purposes of grading. These purposes include:

1. Communicating student achievement to parents and other stakeholders

2. Giving students information for self-evaluation

3. Helping teachers and other personnel to identify students for certain programs

4. Giving students learning incentives

5. Evaluating how effective certain teaching strategies and programs have been, and

6. Providing documentation of student irresponsibility (2012).

Because grading is meant to serve so many purposes, Guskey recommends a multi-faceted grading program which uses appropriate grading methods connecting to the purpose each individual grade is to represent (2012). The four ways of representing grades Guskey discusses are through letter grades, percentage grades, standards-based grading systems, and narratives (Guskey, 2012). Each of these representations has different strengths and weaknesses, and each is used most effectively to represent grades of different types of assessments. A most recent focus in representing grades has been on standards-based systems, which represents grades based on how far students are in achieving pre-established grade-level content expectations, and how that progress matches up with where they should be at (Guskey, 2001). To use these representations most effectively, Guskey recommends determining which of these methods best represents specific assessments and using each one when appropriate. In some situations, combining these methods can be extremely effective, such as adding feedback to letter grades (Guskey, 2012).

Although agreeing with Guskey’s broad purposes of grading, fellow grading researcher Ken O’Connor goes even farther and argues that in order for grading practices to be effective, teachers must prioritize and focus on one

Considering the purposes of grading directly relates to establishing what practices are fair and ethical to use in grading systems. If the main purpose of grading is to communicate student achievement, as O’Connor so strongly argues (2002), then a “fair” grading practice should accurately communicate student learning. Although this concept sounds relatively simple, it is amazing how many common practices used in grading today actually skew the data about student achievement until it is often undecipherable (Guskey, 2002). Steering away from such practices leads to a much more accurate and fair grading system.

Using grades as punishment for behavior

If grades are to represent how much a student has achieved academically, using grades to also show how well students have behaved in class or whether they have turned their homework in on time can make the data compiled through grading completely meaningless (Stiggins, 1994). Grades should show academic achievement alone so information gathered clearly communicates how much students have learned.

Fair and Ethical Solution:

A solution to the practice of using grades to reflect behavior is to give each student two separate grades: one for academic achievement and one for behavior (including respect levels in class, turning work in on time, etc.). In this system, each grade accurately measures one aspect of the student’s performance, and grades become much more meaningful (Guskey, 2004).

Averaging scores

The practice of averaging scores to determine a final grade can also cause grades to inaccurately represent student learning. One disproportionately low score can greatly reduce a student’s average grade and lead to a misrepresentation of the student’s overall academic achievement. Furthermore, a low score at the beginning of the year or marking period can greatly reduce student motivation for the remaining lessons, knowing he/she cannot possibly earn higher than a certain mark (Guskey, 2002).

Fair and Ethical Solution:

There are several solutions to the practice of averaging scores which can be more fair and ethical in certain circumstances. Most of all, the most

Inconsistent score/grade ratios

The traditional 100 point grading scale often misrepresents students’ scores because grades are represented with disproportionate point values. For example, an A on this usually represents 90-100%, and a B represents 80-89%, but a failing grade is assigned for 0-59%. Clearly, this scale is disproportionately weighted toward a failing grade (Wormeli, 2012).

Fair and Ethical Solution:

An easy solution for this problem is simply to use a different grading scale. A four-point scale is a common alternative to the 100 point scale. On this four-point scale, an A represents four points, a B represents three points, a C represents two points, a D represents one point, and a failing grade results when a student receives zero points. In this way, grades are proportional and more accurately represent student learning (Guskey, 2004).

Use of zeros

Many teachers give students zeros for missing work, both as a form of punishment and so they have some sort of score to enter into the grade book for each assignment. Unfortunately, these zeros clearly do not represent actual student learning of the objectives and also greatly skew a student’s average grade. Furthermore, the practice of assigning zeros does not encourage students to actually complete missing assignments, and receiving zeros can decrease student motivation (Guskey, 2004).

Fair and Ethical Solutions:

Three fair alternatives to the practice of assigning zeros include using separate grades for academic achievement and behavior (including turning assignments in on time), changing the grading scale so a zero is not completely disproportionate, and issuing an “Incomplete” grade for missing assignments. In this system, students who receive an “Incomplete” grade are required to attend extra sessions after school or on Saturdays to finish their incomplete work. In this way, students receive an accurate grade for each graded assignment and are not simply left off the hook in completing assignments (Guskey, 2004).

One prominent expert on grading, Thomas Guskey, identifies six different purposes of grading. These purposes include:

1. Communicating student achievement to parents and other stakeholders

2. Giving students information for self-evaluation

3. Helping teachers and other personnel to identify students for certain programs

4. Giving students learning incentives

5. Evaluating how effective certain teaching strategies and programs have been, and

6. Providing documentation of student irresponsibility (2012).

Because grading is meant to serve so many purposes, Guskey recommends a multi-faceted grading program which uses appropriate grading methods connecting to the purpose each individual grade is to represent (2012). The four ways of representing grades Guskey discusses are through letter grades, percentage grades, standards-based grading systems, and narratives (Guskey, 2012). Each of these representations has different strengths and weaknesses, and each is used most effectively to represent grades of different types of assessments. A most recent focus in representing grades has been on standards-based systems, which represents grades based on how far students are in achieving pre-established grade-level content expectations, and how that progress matches up with where they should be at (Guskey, 2001). To use these representations most effectively, Guskey recommends determining which of these methods best represents specific assessments and using each one when appropriate. In some situations, combining these methods can be extremely effective, such as adding feedback to letter grades (Guskey, 2012).

Although agreeing with Guskey’s broad purposes of grading, fellow grading researcher Ken O’Connor goes even farther and argues that in order for grading practices to be effective, teachers must prioritize and focus on one

*most important*purpose of grading (2002). This narrow, single meaning of grading is simply to communicate student achievement to students and interested stakeholders (O’Connor, 2002). By focusing on the purpose of grading as communication, teachers can develop more specific grading guidelines which align with that purpose.Considering the purposes of grading directly relates to establishing what practices are fair and ethical to use in grading systems. If the main purpose of grading is to communicate student achievement, as O’Connor so strongly argues (2002), then a “fair” grading practice should accurately communicate student learning. Although this concept sounds relatively simple, it is amazing how many common practices used in grading today actually skew the data about student achievement until it is often undecipherable (Guskey, 2002). Steering away from such practices leads to a much more accurate and fair grading system.

*Common Unfair Grading Practices:*Using grades as punishment for behavior

If grades are to represent how much a student has achieved academically, using grades to also show how well students have behaved in class or whether they have turned their homework in on time can make the data compiled through grading completely meaningless (Stiggins, 1994). Grades should show academic achievement alone so information gathered clearly communicates how much students have learned.

Fair and Ethical Solution:

A solution to the practice of using grades to reflect behavior is to give each student two separate grades: one for academic achievement and one for behavior (including respect levels in class, turning work in on time, etc.). In this system, each grade accurately measures one aspect of the student’s performance, and grades become much more meaningful (Guskey, 2004).

Averaging scores

The practice of averaging scores to determine a final grade can also cause grades to inaccurately represent student learning. One disproportionately low score can greatly reduce a student’s average grade and lead to a misrepresentation of the student’s overall academic achievement. Furthermore, a low score at the beginning of the year or marking period can greatly reduce student motivation for the remaining lessons, knowing he/she cannot possibly earn higher than a certain mark (Guskey, 2002).

Fair and Ethical Solution:

There are several solutions to the practice of averaging scores which can be more fair and ethical in certain circumstances. Most of all, the most

*current*grade, rather than an average grade, should be used in all possible situations. A student’s most recent understanding most accurately shows his/her total learning, and this learning is what the grade should represent. In situations where grades are not measuring the same objectives, one valuable alternative practice is simply to throw out the lowest (and sometimes highest) score before averaging. This limits the skewed averages which often result from one extreme grade (Guskey, 2002).Inconsistent score/grade ratios

The traditional 100 point grading scale often misrepresents students’ scores because grades are represented with disproportionate point values. For example, an A on this usually represents 90-100%, and a B represents 80-89%, but a failing grade is assigned for 0-59%. Clearly, this scale is disproportionately weighted toward a failing grade (Wormeli, 2012).

Fair and Ethical Solution:

An easy solution for this problem is simply to use a different grading scale. A four-point scale is a common alternative to the 100 point scale. On this four-point scale, an A represents four points, a B represents three points, a C represents two points, a D represents one point, and a failing grade results when a student receives zero points. In this way, grades are proportional and more accurately represent student learning (Guskey, 2004).

Use of zeros

Many teachers give students zeros for missing work, both as a form of punishment and so they have some sort of score to enter into the grade book for each assignment. Unfortunately, these zeros clearly do not represent actual student learning of the objectives and also greatly skew a student’s average grade. Furthermore, the practice of assigning zeros does not encourage students to actually complete missing assignments, and receiving zeros can decrease student motivation (Guskey, 2004).

Fair and Ethical Solutions:

Three fair alternatives to the practice of assigning zeros include using separate grades for academic achievement and behavior (including turning assignments in on time), changing the grading scale so a zero is not completely disproportionate, and issuing an “Incomplete” grade for missing assignments. In this system, students who receive an “Incomplete” grade are required to attend extra sessions after school or on Saturdays to finish their incomplete work. In this way, students receive an accurate grade for each graded assignment and are not simply left off the hook in completing assignments (Guskey, 2004).