Delve Institute of Learning Research

Educational Research Topics and Digests

Grading practices are difficult to pin down because they are so dependant on a variety of factors including curriculum, school system design, local community goals, individual students, and teaching strategies – just to name a few. But there are three clear guiding principles from research for effective grading practices:

  1. Grade for content and skill proficiency and not for behaviors.
  2. Reflect on the way you calculate grades.
  3. Clearly identify and communicate what is to be learned and what a model assignment should look like.

Research on Grading Practices

The current state of research on grading practices is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The best grading practices will vary depending on the subject matter, the level of the students, and the goals of the teacher.

Grading for Content and Skill

Grading for content and skill proficiency means that students are graded on their ability to demonstrate mastery of the material, not on their behavior. This means that students who are not meeting expectations academically should not be penalized for behaviors such as tardiness, incomplete assignments, or disruptive behavior.

There are a number of benefits to grading for content and skill proficiency. First, it helps to ensure that students are learning the material. When students are only graded on their behavior, they may focus on doing what they need to do to get a good grade, even if they do not understand the material. Grading for content and skill proficiency helps to ensure that students are actually learning the material.

Reflect on How Grades are Calculated

There are no clear directions or hard fast rules here. But research does indicate a few principles to help with grading practices.

Researchers Schinske and Tanner suggest using strategies for making grading more supportive of learning. These include balancing accuracy-based and effort-based grading, using self/peer evaluation, curtailing curved grading, and exercising skepticism about the meaning of grades.

Clarify Learning Objectives and How They Will Be Assessed

Clarifying learning objectives and how they will be assessed means making sure that students know what they are expected to learn and how their learning will be measured. This can be done by providing clear and specific learning objectives, and by using a variety of assessment methods.

Here are some tips for clarifying learning objectives and how they will be assessed:

  • Start by identifying the key concepts and skills that students should learn. What do you want students to be able to do at the end of the lesson or unit?
  • Write clear and specific learning objectives. The learning objectives should be measurable and achievable.
  • Let students know the learning objectives. This can be done at the beginning of the lesson or unit, or as a review at the end.
  • Use a variety of assessment methods. This will help to ensure that students are learning in different ways and that their learning is being measured accurately.
  • Provide feedback to students on their progress. This will help students to understand what they need to do to improve their learning.

Equity and Bias in Grading

A 2020 research article titled Experimental Evidence on Teachers’ Racial Bias in Student Evaluation: The Role of Grading Scales presented a randomized experiment of 1549 teachers and found bias against black students when grading writing samples subjectively. The bias was removed when teachers used rubrics.

In a 2019 research article, Waalseth and Engelsrud found that teachers demonstrated a bias against reserved and shy girls compared to more “spunky girls” whose behaviors were more involved in class. The more reserved a student’s behavior, the more likely teachers perceived the student as being “less able” – without any basis in objective evaluation of skills.

What Are Examples of Best Practices in Grading?

Grading practices would benefit from being guided by these best practices:

  • Establish learning goals so students understand what they will eventually need to know.
  • Base grades on academic evidence, not behavior.
  • Reflect current achievement instead of an average of their previous achievements.
  • Use scales with fewer gradations, like A–F rather than 100–0.
  • Let students know how they’re going to be graded.

Albuequerque Public Schools Guidance Document
Examining The Grading Practices of Teachers, Teaching and Teacher Education