Conversations and grading strategies that reflect more equitable practices will evolve as stakeholders understand more about student needs.

What the F? Grading strategies for early career teachers

Conversations and grading policies that reflect more equitable practices will hopefully continue to evolve as stakeholders understand more about student needs

A mastery approach in criterion-based grading allows students to retake exams or resubmit assignments until they meet the standard. Two common modifications to this approach are: 1) students must turn in an assignment on time and demonstrate an effort meet the criteria; and 2) students who repeat an assignment cannot earn a higher score than the highest score among those who completed the assignment without resubmitting. Allowing students to turn in corrected tests is another way to encourage a review of materials towards mastery. Using the same point limitations, this will prevent students with a 98 percent from resubmitting while offering an opportunity toward mastery for students who earned below an A.

Determining how to handle late work is its own issue, yet one deeply connected to an effective grading system. Some would argue that late work should always be accepted without deductions. This could become a burden for instructors, however, and impede students’ progress toward mastery. Allowing unapproved late work without penalty limits an instructor’s ability to guide and intervene as necessary for student success. When students wait to turn in assignments until the end of a course, this can be just as destructive as deducting points for late work. What begins as a kind gesture may prove detrimental to student learning. To remedy this, instructors need to find a late work balance that meets the needs of the students, the course, and themselves.

Time and experience impart great wisdom in deciding what late work policy works best. One common approach to late assignments is to mark down a letter grade or percentage for each day an assignment is late. Potentially, instructors could offer one “free” missed assignment per unit or course. Another approach is to encourage students to communicate if they might be late. Though forgiveness may be easier to obtain than permission, encouraging students to communicate is a proactive approach. In most cases, students who ask for extra time can have it. Another day or two could be the difference between a B and an F for some students, and it means less negotiation between the student and instructor in the long run. Ideally, assignments should be building blocks for students to practice skills needed for the final assignments in the course. Grading routine daily homework may be more of an exercise in compliance than in grading for understanding. The same is true at some level with participation. Participation grades must be thoughtfully balanced to ensure they reward engagement in class activities and are not simply rewarded for showing up to class.

A no-zero policy is another grading approach that encompasses late, missing, or sub-par work. Many students spend time figuring out if they have a mathematical chance to pass even with an extremely high final exam score. If students determine they cannot pass, they may not even try.A “0” in a percentage system can destroy a student’s mathematical potential to pass, and most research shows repeating a course provides little incentive for students to improve. The no-zero policy can help students who take more time to understand concepts or who struggle with materials early in a course. The no-zero policy effectively eliminates zeroes from the grading scale. A simple solution, for example, is to move to grading on a 4-point scale with 4 = A in the grade book. It has the same effect as replacing a percentage-based GPA zero with a 50 percent. Like any well-intentioned policy, instructors must make sure it is not abused.

Ultimately, grading and student success are a partnership. In K-12, this includes parents, students, and instructors. Post-secondary educators may partner with students, advisors, and even counselors when discussing a student’s progress. Conversations and grading policies that reflect more equitable practices will hopefully continue to evolve as stakeholders understand more about student needs following the pandemic. In both K-12 and higher education, accountability, engagement, and communication among everyone involved in a student’s success are critical to progress, both for students and for the broader state of education. It is essential that we remember grading is simply a communications tool to assist students in being successful, it is not an end in itself.

Grade expectations: How to look at grading in a new light

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