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Are you grading for learning or points?

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Are you grading for learning or points?

As the semester winds down and you prepare to submit final grades, you may find yourself grading piles of papers while students attempt to turn in late work at the final hour.  This can be stressful and overwhelming and does little to improve learning.

It doesn’t have to be this way! If you are feeling the end-of-the-marking-period crunch, here are a few things you can do to lighten the load and help students focus on learning:


Extra credit can appear beneficial or at least harmless.

However, extra credit is often either poorly connected to course content or covers concepts the student has already mastered, thus inflating and distorting the grade.

Extra credit opportunities are often unfair as well.  For example, providing extra points for things like attending the school play, bringing supplies into class, or completing a special project outside of school may require transportation, money, parental involvement, etc. which we know is not equally available to all our students.

Instead, think about the purpose behind the extra credit work.  You want to give students additional opportunities to demonstrate mastery, right?  Consider allowing students to re-test or display their understanding in a new way.


 I’ll stay that louder for the people in the back (who are also drowning in student work right now).  STOP. GRADING. EVERYTHING.

In my first few years of teaching, this was a difficult pill to swallow.  I mean, it sounded nice, but didn’t my students deserve a grade on everything?  And why would they do the work if they don’t get a grade in the grade book? However, my students and I were putting too much emphasis on “points” and not enough emphasis on “learning”.

The purpose of grading is to demonstrate what a student knows and can do.  In order to get better at something, students need to PRACTICE.  Practice requires mistakes, missteps, and re-dos.  We need to give our students plenty of opportunities to apply new learning, make mistakes, and try again.  This formative work does NOT need to be graded.  Students DO, however, need specific, encouraging feedback that helps them continue to improve.  That can be through oral feedback as the teacher walks around the room or even in a mini-lesson based on common errors from the previous day.  But if you are entering grades on a daily basis, instead identify what work shows student mastery of a concept–that’s what needs to be graded.


We know from John Hattie’s Visible Learning work that student-reported grades can be one of the most powerful factors influencing student achievement.  Students reflect on their learning and assess themselves: “how well do I know this content?”  With feedback from the instructor, students can identify the next steps to exceed their current knowledge and expectations.

December is a great time to have students reflect on their progress, current knowledge, and work habits.  After doing so, have students choose one thing they can do to improve in a specific area.  Now, rather than Isaac turning in a dozen late, barely-finished homework assignments, he is empowered to do something that will actually improve his knowledge, demonstrate greater understanding, and thus improve his grade.  You may also consider something like this Request to Retest form, which requires students to reflect on their learning and identify and complete at least three tasks that will support their growth in order to re-take a test.


Grades should reflect what students know and can do.  Are your grades an accurate reflection of student knowledge?  Or do they reflect student work habits like organization, timeliness, completion, etc?   Are your students working to accumulate points or to grow their knowledge and skills?  Think about how you can provide students with multiple opportunities to practice and demonstrate mastery of content–and how your grades can reflect that.

In January, I’ll share more specific ways you can make your grades more accurate and fair!


Want to learn more about effective grading and instructional practices?  Our K-12 instructional coaches provide on-demand online support to teachers throughout the school day.  Get started here.



Like these ideas? To learn classroom engagement strategies that make the most immediate impact, we recommend checking out our program, "Fostering Engagement Online Course."

Learn More >

Amy Jimenez

Author Since: May 8, 2018

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