Campus grading

The following includes material from Chapter 43,”Grading Practices” in Barbara Gross Davis’s Tools for Teaching, Second Edition (2009) Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.

Grading practices

There are no hard-and-fast rules about the best ways to grade. In fact, as Erickson, Peters, and Strommer (2006) point out, how you grade depends a great deal on your values, assumptions, and educational philosophy: if you view introductory courses as “weeder” classes–to separate out students who lack potential for future success in the field–you are likely to take a different grading approach than someone who views introductory courses as teaching important skills that all students need to master (p. 409).

In addition to providing information on how well students are learning, grades also serve other purposes. Scriven (1974) has identified at least six functions of grading:

  • To describe unambiguously the worth, merit, or value of the work accomplished
  • To improve the capacity of students to identify good work, that is, to improve their self-evaluation or discrimination skills with respect to work submitted
  • To stimulate and encourage good work by students
  • To communicate the teacher’s judgment of the student’s progress
  • To inform the teacher about what students have and haven’t learned
  • To select people for rewards or continued education (p. 409)

For some students, grades are also a sign of approval or disapproval; they take them very personally. Because of the importance of grades, faculty need to communicate to students a clear rationale and policy on grading.

If you devise clear guidelines from which to assess performance, you will find the grading process more efficient, and the essential function of grades–communicating the student’s level of performance–will be easier. Further, if you grade carefully and consistently, you can reduce the number of students who complain and ask you to defend a grade. The suggestions below are designed to help you develop clear and fair grading policies.

General strategies

  • Grade on the basis of students’ mastery of knowledge and skills
  • Try not to overemphasize grades
  • Keep students informed of their progress throughout the term

Communicating grading expectations

While students at one time were hesitant to challenge instructors’ grades, today’s undergraduate is likely to question a grade on an individual assignment or for a course if it does not fit with the student’s perception of his or her progress or performance. The following suggestions can help to minimize student complaints about grading.

  • Clearly state grading criteria, policies, and procedures in your course syllabus, and review this information in class.
  • Provide multiple and varied opportunities for students to show you what they know.
  • Consider allowing students to choose among alternative assignments.
  • Stress to students that grades reflect work on a specific task and are not judgments about them as people.
  • Provide encouragement to students who are performing poorly.
  • Deal directly with students who are angry or upset about their grade.
  • Keep accurate records of students’ grades.

Making effective use of grading tactics

  • Use assessment strategies appropriate to the learning goals you have outlined for students.
  • Anything that will contribute to final grades should be clearly articulated in your syllabus and explained in class.
  • Be sure that students understand how numeric grades convert to letter grades and how each graded assignment will contribute to the final grade.
  • Consider dropping a grade, particularly if you assign a number of small papers or schedule a number of short tests or quizzes.
  • If many students do poorly on an exam, paper, or project, consider a retest or revision of the assessment after reviewing the material or concepts with students.

Numeric to Letter Grades

There is no standard Syracuse University metric for converting numeric grades to a final alpha grade. Faculty are in the best position to determine how grades should translate to alpha equivalents in their courses. Departmental practices, disciplinary characteristics, types of assessments used, and individual faculty expectations and standards all affect the grade range for A, B, C, etc. Clearly communicating the numeric ranges and their alpha equivalents in your syllabus is important since these ranges will vary across a student’s course load.

Policy guidance specific to grading

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits posting of student grades in public spaces, or leaving student work for “pick up” in an unsecured manner. For detailed information, please refer to the University Registrar’s guidance.

At the end of the semester, you will report your final grades online using MySlice. The University Registrar’s website includes an online grading overview to guide you. Please submit your final grades by the stipulated date and time.