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Meaningful Grading

Grading and Feedback

Grading is meant to describe, in relation to course goals, what a student has learned and to what degree. A variety of assessment activities specific to the learning goals should result in the assigned grades.

Subsequently it should:

  • Describe growth (learning) over time (formative and summative)
  • Inform students of current status/progress
  • Identify areas of strength and those in need of improvement
  • Measure the degree of goal attainment
  • Guide and motivate student learning
    • Grade status has little impact on motivation to perform (Oettinger, 2002; Grant and Green, 2013)
  • Support greater metacognition (understanding of how one learns in different contexts)

Grading and the integrity and validity of grading systems continue to be controversial (Jaschik, 2009; Rojstaczer and Healy, 2012). Most tend to be focused on low-order cognitive skills and are meaningless in informing students about what they have learned. Additionally, they fail to differentiate between the varying degrees of learning and accomplishment due to grade inflation. “A” is the mode (most common) grade at all forms of college (Jaschik, 2016). Therefore, it is the truly outstanding students who are most impacted by grade inflation

Subsequently, it is important that instructors:

  • Consider that the purpose of their grading is to:
      • describe what has and has not been learned?
      • guide learning?
      • enhance future learning? etc.)
  • Commit diligence and time to ensuring the highest possible degree clarity, validity, and reliability of their grading system, specifically to the course goals/threshold concepts
  • Take time to discuss what their grades describe and any associated feedback
    • “While descriptive, written feedback can enhance student performance on problem-solving tasks; reaping those benefits requires students to read, understand, and use the feedback,” (Schinske and Tanner, 2014).

Making Grades More Meaningful

  • Meaningful feedback provision
  • If using numerical/alphabetical formats, have descriptors that clarify what they mean in regard to the goals, progress, or capabilities attained. Alternatives can be multilevel descriptors such as: beginning - developing – accomplished - exemplary (see more options at Brown’s Center for Teaching and Learning). 
  • Engage the students in the assessment and grading process
    • Student Self-assessment (formative assessment)
    • Meaningful periodic student self-assessment experiences which specifically engage them in reflecting on their learning specific to the course goals/threshold concepts can enhance what and how they learn
    • Peer assessment and review (formative assessment)
      • Is appropriate and productive for many learning experiences
      • Using the assignment/task rubric peers can do either a partner or blind review
        • This can reinforce the critical criteria for the assignment/task to assist the reviewer with their own assignment/task
  • Periodic course mapping
    • Linking the goals and assessment activities
  • Use descriptive grading options
    • Rubrics - UC Berkley
    • Rating scales
    • "Grading does not appear to provide effective feedback that constructively informs students' future efforts," (Schinske and Tanner, 2014, p. 161). Therefore, pertinent purposeful feedback is critical for enhancing learning!
    • Feedback should utilize the words and phrases, be specific to and congruent with the rubric or rating scale for the assignment/task
    • Frame your feedback as:
      • Strengths - why they are strengths
      • Ways to Improve - proactive recommendations (strategies and solutions)

Pertinent Links


May 26, 2022