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.
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.
- 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
Minimizing students’ complaints about grading
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.
The Syracuse University grading system
The following grading system has been in effect at Syracuse University since Fall 1987.
Students may audit classes with the approval of the appropriate department and subject to the restrictions of the instructor. Although students auditing courses are not required to fulfill all academic responsibilities of the course, excessive absences or failure to meet restrictions set by the instructor may be grounds for recording a grade of NA rather than an AU.
The grading symbol Incomplete (I) can be granted only at the student’s request and with the instructor’s approval. The grade of Incomplete is reserved for exceptional circumstances that prevent a student from completing coursework by the time that grades must be submitted. Unless the student has completed sufficient work on which to base a grade, do not consider a grade of Incomplete. To receive an Incomplete, the student must complete the Request for Incomplete Grade form, which is an agreement between the student and instructor specifying the reasons for the Incomplete grade and the conditions and time limit for removing the Incomplete.
NA (Never Attended)
The grade symbol of NA indicates that the student failed to exercise her or his responsibility to officially withdraw from a course. NA is assigned by an instructor only if one of the following conditions applies: (1) the student never attended the course, or (2) the student stopped attending the course so early in the semester that no basis for evaluation exists. For students who have attended the course long enough to establish a basis for evaluation, but have not withdrawn from the course, the grade for the course is determined on the basis of the submitted work, counting the unsubmitted work as zero.
Approval to take a course on a pass/fail basis must be obtained before taking the course.
Following the academic drop deadline, a student may withdraw from a course and have the symbol WD recorded on the transcript. The option of withdrawing from a course is in effect after the academic drop deadline and extends up to approximately two weeks before the last day of classes. (The withdraw deadline is published each semester in the Time Schedule of Classes.)
Complete information about grading options is available in Academic Rules and Regulations.
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.
Since students’ rights to privacy must be safeguarded, posting grades publicly, even by social security number, is not permitted. Students should be informed of grades on individual assignments in a manner that is confidential. Options include: handwritten feedback delivered directly to the student or personal conversation between the instructor and the student.
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.
Returning student work
Returning students’ work from your course is your responsibility. Blackboard or other online course sites facilitate easy submission and return of student work. If students have submitted work in hard-copy or if your responses to their work cannot be returned to them through a secure online site, you may arrange to return work at the last class meeting or have students pick their papers or projects up from you at a stipulated office hour. Some instructors ask students to provide a self-addressed, stamped 8″ x 12″ envelope and mail their work to them after the end of the semester. Students’ graded work cannot be left in an unsecured space for them to “pick up.”