A lot of us teach in schools where the grading policy is set and there can be no changes to it. This was refreshing for me when I was a first year teacher. It was one less decision I had to make for my classroom and I was grateful. When my husband and I moved for his job promotion, I switched from a large, urban public school, to a tiny not-so-urban private school in a small town. At this new school I was given complete freedom in every aspect of my classroom – in my management strategies, curriculum design, and grading policy.
This ended up being a huge blessing, and this autonomy gave me the freedom to be completely creative in my curriculum design, which eventually led to the creation of my Teachers Pay Teachers store. This was even exciting as I established my classroom management system. I had the freedom to use strategies I had been reading about in educational research and of course, on Pinterest. This was, however, the most overwhelming when it came to establishing my grading policy.
I know grades matter in all grades, but they especially matter in high school. The grades these students get in high school will directly impact their plans after graduation. They will affect scholarship opportunities, college acceptance letters, and internships. Deciding on a grading system wasn’t something I was going to take lightly.
I wanted a grading policy that was fair, accurate, and simple. I wanted the number my students ended the year with to be a true reflection of the grade that they earned and the content they understood. I don’t believe in curving grades, extra credit, or giving students 50s for assignments they don’t turn in. I wanted zero manipulation of grades to be necessary. I also wanted something that could allow me to minimize my time spent grading, so I could avoid having to take work home to grade. So I sat down with a calculator, a stack of educational research, and my knowledge from my previous teaching experiences, and got to work, coming up with a grading policy that I have found to be the most accurate and fair assessment of my students’ knowledge and abilities.
To keep the grading simple, I decided to split my gradebook into only two categories: MAJOR grades and MINOR grades. Major grades would count for 60% of my students’ grades, and Minor grades would count for 40%. I know a lot of teachers like to have many categories (30% for tests, 20% for projects, 10% HW, 20% labs, etc…) but I wanted my grading to be simple. I wanted to be able to easily communicate to my students and to my parents what their grades really meant.
Having only two categories allowed me to be able to quickly and easily determine if my students were doing poorly due to their knowledge or their effort. Let me explain. My major grade category consists of tests, quizzes, and 1 project given per quarter. Thus every grade in this category (except the 1 project per quarter) is a representation of the students’ knowledge of the subject. I don’t believe in open-note tests or take-home tests or anything of that nature, so these numbers were purely representative of their understanding and memorization of the material. The minor grade category consisted of everything else related to effort: labs, homework, classroom activities, daily bell work, etc. Although things in this category are often graded for accuracy, it is still a category that measures student effort, because for any and all of the assignments in this category students have the opportunity to receive my help in tutoring, use the support of their notes, and reference their textbook.
By just splitting my gradebook into two categories, I was able to very easily look at a student’s grade in a parent conference and say, “Okay Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Johnny has a 90% major grade average but only a 50% minor grade average. Clearly his issue here is not doing the work he’s being assigned.” Or on the opposite, I can tell if students are working really hard and just bombing tests, and know that I need to tutor these students in study strategies as well as quiz them on their knowledge in after school tutoring sessions.
Not only was this grading policy simple, it was fair. I believe that in the secondary classroom we cannot just pass students on effort. They have to understand the content. Because of this, the major grade category has 20% more weight than the minor grade category. Now, this isn’t college though, and I don’t think students should only be assessed on knowledge. We need to prepare them for college but also support them, while helping them cultivate solid studying habits and strong work ethics, which is why I do think having the minor grade category is necessary.
Within each category to make sure the grading policy is also accurate, I use a points system to weight each grade. I don’t believe that every assignment should be out of 100 points. Varying the points gives me freedom to weight the assignments based on their depth and complexity. A daily bell ringer that takes 5-minutes would only be a 5-point minor grade. A small activity that takes 30 minutes would be a 25-point minor grade. An extensive lab that takes 2-3 class periods is worth a 100-point minor grade. For major grades, a test is always 100-points and a quiz 25-points. I have found too that students can understand the weight of points for tangibly than they can understand the weight of percentages. Note: If you put in all of your grades out of 100 points, you are basically putting all your grades in as percentages.
So I developed a system of grading that I found to be simple, fair, and accurate. But did it really work? I can honestly say that over the last few years and the 600+ students I have taught and assessed using this grading policy, I have never once ended the year and looked through my grades and thought that a single student didn’t end up exactly where they should mathematically. And best of all – I have never once had to manipulate or adjust a grade to make it a more “accurate reflection” of my students’ knowledge. It is such a relief to be able to teach and grade and know that my students are being treated fairly and are ending the year with a number that truly reflects what they know and have earned – and to be able to confidently stand by my teaching and grading strategies.
So what is your grading policy? Did you get to design it on your own or do you have to use a school-wide or district-wide system? I would LOVE to hear your thoughts and what has worked in your classroom! Share in the comments below!
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