Are Your Grading Practices Fair?

Grading is a complicated subject. It is used to assess the progress and efforts of students. Unfortunately, oftentimes grading does not accurately measure what a student has learned. Many assignments require rubrics of some kind, but these rubrics mean that students can receive poor grades even for excellent work.

An essay can be docked points for poor penmanship, or a visual project may lose points for not appearing as if enough effort was put into it. But students come from a wide variety of backgrounds with a wide range of abilities, so as teachers it is important to consider these factors when grading assignments.

You can’t eliminate grading, but you can change the way you grade so it is fairer for your students. Here are some of the factors you need to consider when planning your assignments and how to grade them.

What Does The Assignment, and Grades, Measure?

It seems obvious that an assignment should reinforce what you teach in class, but often the assignment doesn’t reflect that.

Think about what you want your students to gain from the assignment. Each project or assignment should align with your instructional goals. It should be clear to your students how the assignment reflects their skills and knowledge. While an assignment that has students creating an itinerary for an international trip may sound fun, does it really measure the world geography knowledge you’re trying to impart?

Define ‘Quality’ Work Ahead Of Time

You may have an idea of the type of projects you’d like to see from your students, but unless you pin down specifics beforehand you will inevitably compare the “best” projects to the “worst” projects when you begin grading.

If students are unaware of your standards before the project is due, then they are unable to put in the effort to create a final project that meets expectations. Don’t just give students a rubric; show them examples of projects that will receive high scores. Make sure all project requirements are clear and written out for students to follow.

What Resources Do Students Need To Complete The Project?

How many supplies will students need to purchase to create a project you’ve deemed worthy of a higher grade? Will students need transportation to certain locations or to the store for the assignment? Will they need access to technology?

Setting aside class time for students to work on their projects can help offset some of these issues. Make sure you have supplies available for students to use who may not have the funds to get them on their own. Direct students towards resources that are available to them, such as nearby libraries (and the hours they are open), or specific websites. No student should receive a poor grade just because they don’t have the same resources as other students.

Are You Grading More Than The Assignment Intended To?

Take into consideration what skills students need to complete the assignment. Are these skills you have taught in your class, or skills you assume your students already know?

Think about all the factors influencing your students. Is English their first language? Have they ever worked collaboratively before? If you’re looking for specific writing skills from an essay, how do you know your students were ever taught them? These are things to keep in mind when creating an assignment. You have to ensure that your grading is fair to all students, no matter their background or previous knowledge.

Are Zeros Fair To Students?

Typically, a D means students fall in the 60 point range on an assignment, so is it really fair for a student who didn’t do the assignment to receive a zero if an F starts at 59?

There is a lot of debate about this topic and ultimately it’s something you’ll need to decide for yourself. A zero is a huge loss of points for students, and making up for that single assignment can be extremely difficult. Giving students a zero implies that poor grades are punishments. You risk your students giving up entirely on class work if they feel they cannot bounce back from poor grades. This is a complicated matter and something you need to think about extensively before making a decision.


Grading is not as simple as any of us would like it to be, so we’re curious, what grading practices do you consider to be the most fair? Let us know in the comments!

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