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Curation Project_Laura Pittman

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Published by laurabrownpittman, 2019-12-05 15:41:40

Grading_ The How and Why

Curation Project_Laura Pittman



Laura Pittman
Curation Project

Grading can feel like a battlefield...

...with many different conflicts.
People vs. Technology
Assessment based instruction vs.
Holistic feedback vs. red marks in
the margin
letter grades vs. written evaluation
letter grades vs. pass/fail
rubrics vs. individual discernment

There may not be a specific winner and loser, but there are
consequences and benefits based on each action taken.

This is an overview of some of these challenges. We hope
that they will be helpful to you in the classroom.


Most students are very familiar with letter grades. The well-known scale of A-F is easily
recognizable and something that both employers and graduate schools have long
relied on to evaluate "quality" of potential employees or students. However, in recent
years, studies have shown that this grading system can do more harm than good. One
of the largest drawbacks is perhaps the subjectivity of letter grades and the difficulty in
determining what a letter really means. In light of these studies and the data connected
with them, there has been an exploration of new practices and a rise in new questions
being asked.

These include:
the use of rubrics as a way to inform the student of how they will be evaluated
the use of unique approaches, such as pass/fail grading
the use of portfolios that showcase student's work
the use of written feedback and revision ideas (which goes hand-in-hand with
assigning students projects that are over a period of time with set revision dates)

Changing Our Thinking

University of North Carolina Charlotte's Center for
Teaching and Learning offers the following statement on

their website:

“Assessment is not an end in itself but a vehicle for
educational improvement. Its effective practice, then,
begins with and enacts a vision of the kinds of learning we
most value for students and strive to help them achieve.
Educational values should drive not only what we choose

to assess but also how we do so.”

Why change the system?

The Foundation for Ensuring Access and Equity points
out that poor grades can punish students in a variety of
ways beyond just their failure to perform on a particular
assignment. With information pulled from the article by
Susan Brookhart, "Starting the Conversation about
Grading," they point to the following considerations:

grading policies show how dedicated teachers are to
their students and how much time they are willing to
invest in students
students home life can affect their grades
a few examples of "failure to meet the standard" can
result in the inability to obtain scholarships and other
awards that would make continuing education


The Positive The Negative

Rubrics help students understand rubrics only work well when the teacher
what their teacher is looking for in and students understand what each
their work category on the rubric represents and
Rubrics convey the purpose of the what excelling in that category would
work and the learning processes look like
involved in its engagement rubrics do not always take into account
Rubrics help the teacher to make unexpected responses or work of value
fairer assessments that was not included as a piece of the
Rubrics allow for justification of evaluative criteria

Chris M. Anson and Deanne P. Dannels "Developing Rubrics for Instruction and Evaluation"
NC State Univeristy.

Benefits of Rubrics

In their article "The Use of Scoring Rubrics: Reliability, Validity, and Educational
Consequences" Jonsson and Svingby make several useful conclusions about

rubrics are more useful for students in their self-assessment and their own
personal feedback as a result of understanding the criteria
rubrics can help teachers prepare and improve themselves by having a
clear outline of what they are looking for (however, this is not always all
inclusive or tailored to the assignment)
rubrics are most effective when they are used with very specific, topical

Jonsson, Anders and Gunilla Svingby. "The use of Scoring Rubrics: Reliability, Validity and
Educational Consequences." Educational Research Review 2, no. 2 (2007): 130-144.

Rubrics in Action: Past and

Bob Broad's "What We Really Value: Beyond Rubrics in
Teaching and Assessing Writing"

Broad works to first share how rubrics have been used in the past, and then dives into
how instructors can escape their generic categories and go beyond them by showing
what their "rhetorical values" are in a more creative and personalized format. He refers to
his model as "Dynamic Criteria Mapping." These DCM'S help teachers develop along with
students and build off the trend of portfolios and having several readers of student work
rather than a single assessor.

Several values stand out as DCM's are introduced to the public:
they share the values of the writing course and department with the student and allow
the student the chance to see the larger picture
they provide the student with synonyms, antoymns, and sample texts to help the
student get a holistic view of the assignment and the way in which their topic might fit
into the conversation.
He also provides a model for a classroom DCM, which is on a larger scale than just an
assignment basis, and gives students agency over their own work by asking them to
collect documents and data that prove to the instructor what values the instructor had in
the work and grading it (136). It is a student centric approach.

Broad, Bob. What We Really Value: Beyond Rubrics in Teaching and Assessing
Writing. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2003.

Stuck in the Rubric Rut

In her book Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment , Maja Wilson dives into the way
in which rubrics have become like the rulebook for assessing writing, and that this
creates many problems as it is not individualized and doesn't always have the teachers
engaging or the students going beyone general requirements. She also explores how
the subjectivity teachers bring to grading can be used as an advantage when it is shared
with the students and their agency is brought to the table. As Wilson explores these
themes, it becomes clear taht while rubrics can be beneficial, they are not enough on
their own and are often misused to the exclusion of true progress.
This becomes a time when written feedback is helpful, and most of all when dedication
to the grading process is important.

Wilson, Maja. Rethinking Rubrics In Writing Assessment. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann,


The Pass/Fail grading approach to courses is being tried at universities around the
country. This approach is generally undertaken in the humanities department. At
Universities such as Duke, and my alma mater, Furman, the option to enroll in a course
with a final judgement of "S" for satisfactory and "U" for unsatisfactory, provides a way to
alleviate student's stress and allow them to take a course they might otherwise be afraid
would affect their GPA.

However, there are some problematic aspects to this, as seen through Duke
Universities' rules that choosing this option can affect ones ability to be on the Dean's List,
and Furman's rule that only one course may be given this designation out of a students
overall academic career.


Calgary, Canada, caused a stir  in 2014 when they decided to no longer asgign letter grades
to students through elementary and middle school. In addition, only students who had not
yet completed their third grade year would receive written comments on their report card.

However, Calgary decided to leave high school students with letter grades. Interestingly,
this was not a decision made by a local private or Montessori School, but rather one made

by the Calgary Board of Education as outlined in an article by Ryan Jensen.

Jensen, Ryan. 2014. "School District 54 Looking at Value of Letter Grades." The Interior
News, Jan 29, 1.

Engagement & PASS/FAIL

In her article "The Predictive Relationship between Student Engagement Scores and Pass/fail
rates of a Credit Recovery course among High School Students," Tara Lynn Douds focuses on
the impact that pass/fail courses can have on students before they reach the college level.
While her research is focused on the specifics of a credit recovery course, it has merit for all
interested in understanding the pass/fail setup. The study was conducted at two public high
schools with 49 students who completed surveys to judge their motivation and engagement.
The study was much more scientific than creative in nature and yielded such data. The
following points that arise in her work are of particular interest, as they point to her findings
working with students who have already suffered because of a failing grade and are at round
two of their attempts. In addition, many students were at risk youth. 

females had higher rates of engagement in courses, which seems to point to a greater
potential for success ( Douds 15)
timing matters with grades---students who fail multiple courses in ninth grade of high
school are more likely to drop out of school completely (Douds 34)
there are several alternate schooling scenarios particularly for youth who have had
behavioral issues. However, with credit recovery courses and some of these alternative
programs, there is often a pretest that counts for 80% and can exempt students from
having to participate in part of the course. This can further hinder students who don't know
the information and are already behind. (Douds 54)
Not only do females score higher on the level of engagement survery, but those who score
higher are more likely to get an A, whereas those who score lower, which was here mainly
boys, where more likely to get a B in the course.

Letter Grades in PASS/FAIL

In the late 1960s,, Matthew Sgan conducted a study to determine what letter
grades students who were taking courses in the pass/fail format would have
received had they been receiving letter grades. To start this process, he did not
inform instructors of which students had signed up to take the course pass/fail
and instead let them assign a normal letter grade to that student. In his study at
Brandeis University, he discovered that the range of letter grades the students
received were the same as if they had not been taking the course in the pass/fail
format. The students in fact received the same grades they had in their previous
term in classes where they were receiving letter grades. This study allows for
reflection on several important points:

students who generally receive decent grades gain nothing by taking a course
students who normally receive low grades may not actually benefit either,
depending on their GPA and the schools rules on scoring
taking a course pass/fail does not seem to have a large impact on the student,
making it interesting that many schools have restrictions on the number of
classes one can take in this format

The grass may not always be greener on the other side....

Sgan, Mathew R. "Letter Grade Achievement in Pass-Fail Courses." The Journal of Higher
Education 41, no. 8 (1970): 638-44. doi:10.2307/1977666.

Benefits of PASS/FAIL

George Ladd's article "Factors Affecting Student Choice of Pass-Fail in an Introductory
Science Course" highlights the positive aspects of pass-fail courses that may drive students
towards them. In his experience, students are twice as likely to choose the pass-fail option
for a course rather than the letter grade option when they have the chance to choose. He
mentions several reasons that seem to motivate them to do so, but also notes that each
reason has its downside as well (Ladd 17).

students are able to devote more time to other courses or outside pursuit and spend
less time striving to make a perfect grade in that particular course
students don't feel as though they have to outdo their fellow students grades and are
more likely to work together and get along
students are generally less stressed
However, students also don't receive as much feedback about what they are struggling
with and what they need to improve.
There are numerous other articles that bring up the point of benefits in the emotional and
mental well-being of medical students taking pass-fail courses, and yet that brings in to
question a whole set of ethical considerations. How good is good enough to operate on

Ladd, George T. "Factors Affecting Student Choice Of Pass-Fail In An Introductory Science
Course." Journal of College Science Teaching 1, no. 2 (1971): 17-19.

Brown University

Brown University does not give failing grades to students, and encourages them to make
use of an online portfolio to share with potential employers. The statement from their
website is below:

"With the inception of its open curriculum in 1969, Brown University eliminated breadth
requirements and implemented grading policies that encourage students to explore the
curriculum widely. Students may choose to take most courses for a letter grade or on an
S/NC basis—Satisfactory/No Credit. The Brown transcript records only full-letter grades of
A, B or C (without plusses and minuses) or S (for Satisfactory). There is no grade of D, and
failing grades are not recorded.Brown’s unique grading system, coupled with the fact that
Brown does not calculate grade point averages for its students, makes it difficult to
compare a Brown student transcript with one from another school. Brown students are
encouraged to gather materials in their online portfolios that provide more nuanced
measures of their knowledge and skills.These materials, such as  course performance
reports, letters of recommendations, and capstone projects, provide qualitative evidence
that our students possess those abilities most valued by employers—analytical ability,
independence, creativity, communication, and leadership skills. Employers are
encouraged to review such materials when considering a Brown student for a position."


Breaking Writing into Types with Lisa Lucas

Writing can be used in any discipline, even in math class to put words to how a shape
goes together or an equation works. Working is a way to gauge comprehension in these
settings. In times when you also want to gauge writing ability, such as a writing class, a
quick write activity is a great way to do so.
be sure students understand that writing is less about dictating an event correctly and
more about learning a process
Lucas agrees with Mike Schmoker and Ann Marie Hall that students benefit most by
doing a lot of writing and only evaluating some of that writing. When writing is evaluated,
try and focus on just one or two things that the class has recently learned.
Lucas mentions that professors at San Diego State (Frey and Fisher) are in favor of
grading a paper publicly so students can see the process (they have a student volunteer
their paper with the understanding that the grade given at that time will not count and
they can revise it). Perhaps the teacher could write a sample paper mimicking mistakes
the class makes, to save students' embarrassment?
writing can be deemed quick write or be in the "publishable" quality category. Doing so
allows for different processes for feedback based on the type of writing and what its
purpose in the learning process is

Pieces in a process, pieces in a pattern that teaches a process

Lucas, Lisa. "Write More, Grade Less: Five Practices for Effectively Grading Writing," The
Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 2012 85:4, 136-
140, DOI: 10.1080/00098655.2012.659772

During the Grading Process

Additional Strategies and Tips from Bruce Speck

DON'T evaluate everything
when you evaluate, be sure and determine who the audience of the piece appears to be
and who the appropriate audience is. Do the two align?
pay close attention to the purpose of the piece. Why was it written? What was the
teacher's intention? What appears to be the student's intention?
have your students read some of the research and literature on grading as part of their
reading during the class throughout the semester
allow time to evaluate their work and provide useful feedback
be sure the purpose of your feedback is to help them learn (as mentioned earlier, some
people use grades as a punishment, and that is not effective

Speck, Bruce W., ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education, Washington, DC, Association for
the Study of Higher Education, and George Washington Univ., Washington, DC. Graduate

School of Education and Human Development. "Grading Students' Classroom Writing:
Issues and Strategies. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, Volume 27, Number 3." (2000).

Issues and Strategies

with Bruce Speck and Deborah Straw

schedule individual conferences with students and let them ask questions
don't just mark errors, help them see there is more to the writing process than
grammatical errors. Draw their attention to organization, content, and logic.
REVISE, over and over
students needs change, and it's important to stay on top of the research
about how to best help them

Straw, Deborah. "Grading Students' Classroom Writing: Issues and Strategies." Vol. 14
Autumn Publishing, 2001.

Bruce W. Speck, ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, Volume 27, Number 3, 2000

More to Know, Deeper to Go

Lucy Oliver uses her article on revision to raise the important point that studies found
that students often do superficial revision. Teachers drill revision into their minds with
good intentions, and yet students who do not have a deep understanding of the concept
treat it merely as a task to be completed. When this occurs (and the studies find this
occurs often) there is no real development in the learning and writing process occurring.
Students have merely learned how to save time and energy and work around a task. This
study points to the importance of students being taught about what true revision looks like
and the importance of utilizing it. This same scenario applies to the other aspects of
holistic grading and strategies mentioned before. They too can be detrimental if not used

Oliver, Lucy. "'Nothing Too Major': How Poor Revision of Writing may be an Adaptive
Response to School Tasks." Language and Education 33, no. 4 (2019;2018;): 363-378.

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