It is generally agreed that grades provide information on how well students are learning (Erickson and Strommer; 1991). But grades also serve other purposes.
Functions of Grading
Scriven (1974) has identified at least six functions of grading.
1. To describe unambiguously the worth, merit, or value of the work accomplished.
2. To increase the capacity of students to identify good work, that is to improve their self-evaluation or discrimination skills with respect to work submitted.
3. To stimulate and encourage good work by students
4. To communicate the teachers judgment of the student’s progress
5. To inform the teacher about what students have and haven’t learned.
6. To select people for rewards or continued education
For some students, grades are also a sign of approval or disapproval, they take them very personally. Because of the importance of grades, teachers 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 functions – communicating the student’s level of knowledge 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 restrict your evaluations to academic performance. Eliminate other considerations, such as class behaviour, effort, classroom participation, personality traits or students interest in the course material as the basis of course grade.
If you count these non-academic factors, you obscure the primary meaning of the grade, as an indicator of what students have learned. Avoid grading systems that put students in completion with their classmates and limit the number of high grades.
The normative systems, such as grading on the curve, work against collaborative learning strategies that have been shown to be effective in promoting student learning.
Normative grading produces undesirable consequences for many students such as reduced motivations to learn, debilitating evaluation anxiety, decreased ability to use feedback to improve learning and poor social relationships.
Try not to over emphasize grades. Explain to your class the meaning of and basis for grades and the procedures you use in grading. At the beginning of the term, inform students, in writing how much tests, papers, home works and the final exam will count towards their final grade.
Once you have explained your policies avoid stressing Grades or excessive talk about grades, which only increases students anxieties and decreases their motivation to do something for its own sake rather than to obtain an external reward such as a grade (source: Allen and Rueter; 1990 Fuhrmann and Grasha 1983).
Keep students informed of their progress throughout the term. For each paper, assignment, mid term or project that you grade, give students a sense of what their score means. Try to give a point total rather than a letter grade. Letter grades tend to have emotional associations that point total lack.
Do show the range and distribution of point scores and indicate what level of performance is satisfactory. Such information can motivate students to improve if they are doing poorly or to maintain their performance if they are doing well. By keeping students informed throughout the term, you also prevent unpleasant surprises at the end prevent unpleasant surprises at the end. (Source: Lowman, 1984: Shea, 1990).
Minimizing Students’ Complaints about Grading of Assignment and Tests
1. Clearly state grading procedures in your course syllabus, and go over this information in class. Students want to know how their grades will be determined, the weights of various tests and assignments and the model of grading you will be using to calculate their grades: will the class be graded on a curve or by absolute standards? If you intent to make allowance of extra credit, late assignments, or revision of papers, clearly state your policies.
2. Set policies on late work. Will you refuse to accept any late work? Deduct points according to how late the work is submitted? Handle late work on a case-by-case basis? Offer a grace period?
3. Avoid modifying your policies during the term. Midcourse changes may erode students’ confidence in your fairness, consistency, objectivity and organizational skills. If you must make a change, give your students a complete explanation. (Source: Frisbie, Diamond, and Ory, 1979).
4. Provide enough opportunities for students to show you what they know. By giving students many opportunities to show you what they know, you will have a more accurate picture of their abilities and will avoid penalizing a student who has an off day at the time of a test. So in addition to a final exam, give one or more midterms and one or two short papers.
For less attractive subject Strommer and Erickson recommend shorter tests or written assignments and scheduling some form of evaluation every two or three weeks.
5. Consider allowing students to choose among alternative assignments. One instructor presents a list of activities with assigned points for each that take into account the assignments’ educational and motivational value, difficulty and probable amount of effort required. Students are told how many points are needed for an A, a B or a C, and they choose a combination of assignments the meets the grade they desire for that portion of the course.
6. Stress to students that grade reflect work on a specific task and are not judgments about people. Remind students that a teacher grades only a piece of paper. You might also let students know, if appropriate, that research shows that grades bear little or no relationship to measures of adult accomplishment (Eble, 1988, P. 156).
7. Give encouragement to students who are performing poorly. If students are having difficulty, do what you can to help them improve on the next assignment. If they do perform well, take this into account when averaging the early low score with the later higher one (Source: Lowman, 1984).
8. Keep accurate reports of students’ grades. Your department may keep copies of final grade reports, but it is important for you to keep a record of all grades assigned throughout the term, in case a student wishes to contest a grade, finish an incomplete, or ask for a letter of recommendation.
Making Effective use of Grading Tactics
1. Record results numerically rather than as letter grades, whenever possible. Tests, problem sets, homework and so on are best recorded by their point value to assure greater accuracy when calculating final grade (Source Jacobs and Chase, 1992).
2. Give students a chance to improve their grades by rewriting their papers. Many teachers encourage rewriting but do not count the grades on rewritten papers as equivalent to those of papers that have not been rewritten.
3. If many students do poorly on an assignment schedule another one on the same material a week or so later. Devote one or more classes to reviewing the troublesome material.
Provide I-class exercise, homework problems or questions, practice quizzes, study group opportunities and extra office hours before you administer the new exam. Though reviewing and retesting may seem burdensome and time consuming, there is usually little point in proceeding to new topics when many of your students are still struggling. (Source: Erickson and Strommer, 1991).
Grading or award of marks to assignment is more complex and intricate than it seems on the surface. As teachers we need to use the grading of assignments in such a way that students will not only know their areas of strengths and weaknesses but be spurred in to better work.