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Thoughts on Grading

A former student asked how she should grade a course she was asked to teach. My reply:

The wrong way: throw out a grade at the end based loosely on what you feel about the student. The right way: a rubric. A rubric is a list of what will be scored and how it will be evaluated. The rubric can be tuned to support the learning goal of the class and assignment. Not every paper needs a heavy emphasis on spelling, for example. Unless that is what you want the students to focus on, in which case the rubric will make that clear. So the firs thing to do is really think through what you want the students to do and what you want them to get out of the experience of having done it. Then set up a point system that apportions the points towards what you want them focusing on. Then write the instructions, including explaining how many points are to be had in each area. Do this for each assignment. And then do a master rubric for the class as a whole. Each category has points – participation, homework, projects, tests, final, etc. (Not every class has to have all of these). Then get organized and keep track. One of the most important parts is timely ongoing feedback on how each student is tracking towards the final grade. At the end you are not assigning a grade, you are simply marking down what the students actually earned. And if you don’t like the way the grades are working out, you will see it coming, as will the students. At that point there are a number of ways to adjust, from telling the students to work harder, to curving tests (in case the one you wrote is too hard), to adding extra credit, to putting in a few easy assignments to bring up the average scores.

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