If you struggle to find a balance between meaningful, equitable, and efficient grading, you are not alone. Indeed, grading students can be one of the most challenging parts of teaching because stakes are high for faculty and students. Grades are an indicator for how well we are doing our job, as well as how students are learning, and both have significant consequences in our lives, careers, and spirits. Read on for ideas to help you find your balance.

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What is grading?

To let go of some of the more onerous parts of your grading, it is important to understand what grading is, and isn't.

Grading is most often identified with evaluation of a student's work and acts as a proxy for student learning. It is not the same thing as assessment which is part of a cycle of collecting evidence of what has been learned for the purpose of improving the teaching and learning process. In assessment of learning in a program or class, collected evidence might include grades, as well as many other types of artifacts. So, grades are important in telling you how you are doing, but they aren't everything.

Practices you might be able to let go of

It should be simple to stop grading in ways that do not benefit your students or you. In practice, however, change is hard. We construct rules for ways that we do things, and what we are comfortable with, and what makes us feel like we are doing our job. Thus, it can be very hard to let go. Nonetheless, here you are on this page so we encourage you and give you permission to stop doing the following:

  • Grading work that is not the objective of the assignment.
  • Correcting or commenting on everything.
  • Grading everything, there are other ways to motivate students.
  • Giving a lot of feedback.
  • Evaluating drafts.
  • Grading all assignments in the same way.
  • Only checking work outside of class time.
  • Grading that you really dread.

p.s. don’t let go of fairness, being supportive and kind, providing meaningful and understandable feedback, and consistency

Small ways to adjust your grading

Without rethinking the overall assessment plan for your class, you can still make small changes in your grading to be more efficient and effective. Here are a few ideas.

  • A simplified scale (e.g. 0/0.5/1 pt, or 5/10/15 pts) for drafts, test corrections, homework problems, reflections, etc.
  • Audio feedback on Canvas
  • A document with standard responses that can be cut and pasted
  • Rubrics in Canvas
  • Looking closely at one or two representational problems in a larger problem set
  • Minimal Marking

Consider why you are grading in a particular way for each assignment and how it fits into your assessment plan. Could you reduce the complexity of the grading any of your assignments?

  • numerical scale
  • letter grades
  • simplified scale: 0/0.5/1 or 5/10/15, etc.
  • check or no check
  • no grade

The bigger assessment picture

If you are interested in rethinking your grading plan for the semester, here are some things to consider to create a grading plan that is fair to you and your students.

  • Decide which assignments can be formative and which need to be summative and grade them differently.
  • Measure learning in multiple ways.
  • Help students succeed on your assignments by:
    • being transparent.
    • preparing students for summative/formal evaluations with activities of a similar challenge level.
  • Reduce student anxiety about grading, which is also time consuming and stressful, by:
    • including grading policies, procedures and standards in your syllabus, including late assignments.
    • teaching your students how your grading and feedback works (like CATs, and minimal grading and rubrics).
    • teaching your students about your expectations.
    • selecting assignments and grading strategies so that assignments can be returned promptly.
    • asking for student feedback on grading mid-semester. While grading policies should not be changed usually, one adjustment mid-semester can be productive.

Additional Reading and Resources