How to Create Effective and Equitable Grading Policies

Sandra Burns
Sandra Burns
Elementary School Principal; M.Ed. in Educational Leadership
Teacher grading an essay with a red pen.

What is Grade Validity?

A huge component that educators face in our classrooms is what our grading policy looks like. Granted, we all must follow local grading policies set by our school districts, but typically this is a scale that we must follow when distributing grades at the end of every quarter or marking period. At the end of the day, it is up to the classroom teacher to determine the breakdown of each grade that is earned in the course or content area that they are teaching.

When asking the question of what grading validity means, we must take a hard look at what is the ultimate goal. A clear-cut framework of what we are trying to measure will reinforce grades are valid and are measuring data correctly. The assessment must align with what skill we are trying to measure, and this will demonstrate the content mastery and validity within the grade that is earned. When grading expectations are consistent, this makes grades equitable as well as defines the validity to the grades that are being earned within a classroom.

Define the Grade’s Meaning

It is interesting when we see grading policies in place that vary from classroom to classroom. Some teachers take points off if students forget to put their name on their paper or if they forget punctuation used in a sentence. If we are deducting points for items that are not necessarily measuring the goal of the assessment, are we getting an accurate measure and is this grade valid? Some teachers give bonus questions on a test as well as allow for extra credit to be earned. This too may interfere with grading validity. Often it is up to the classroom teacher as to how the students will earn extra or loose points.

Teachers often have the mindset that we must give our students the opportunity to fix their errors. This is a practice used often when tests are handed back to the students and they are given the opportunity for a “re-take” or to earn points back for the incorrect answer. If the teacher does not take the time to reteach the skill, the meaning behind the grade tends to decline as the students have not learned anything additional to help work through the problem correctly. At this point, if the student has not mastered the skill being measured, it quickly turns into a guessing game for the student as the validity is not evident in the grade earned.

Carefully Consider Criteria

From the very first day of stepping foot into a classroom, students should be aware of the grading criteria in their classroom. This will lay out clear expectations for them as well as an understanding of the weight of each grade earned. This often is broken down more so at the secondary level, but it also should be a conversation that happens with young students and/or their parents as well.

If we take a look at the standardized tests that our students are expected to take, before the test is given a rubric is reviewed with the students. Why would we not do the same for our students within our classrooms on a more consistent basis? When teachers develop grading rubrics, this often will come to their aide as parents question a low score a student may have earned.

An example of this could be a book report that students were asked to complete. If a rubric is provided and aligned with the objective of the task, it should be reviewed as the assignment details are given. The more relevant the evidence is, the more defined the grade earned becomes. Teachers can spearhead any questions that the students may have and how they can earn points on the assignment.

It is always better to do this from the beginning as opposed to trying to handle the confusion of the grade earned after the assignment is scored. Leaving out irrelevant grading factors, such as time taken or behavior concerns, will focus on the mastery level of each grade earned as opposed to outside factors that should be irrelevant to an overall grade earned.

Weigh the Consequences

Think back to elementary school and a teacher you had. Do you recall a time when the teacher posted the classroom grades for everyone to see? What was the purpose of doing this? Was he/she trying to build competitiveness in the classroom? Was he/she trying to hold students accountable? Can you remember the feeling you had when your low grade was shared with the class?

As educators, we want to be sure that we are holding our students accountable for the grades they earn, but at the same time we want to make sure we are not damaging any of our students confidence or self-esteem throughout the process. There are still teachers that have peers correct other peers completed work. Are there any benefits in doing this? Today, in our classrooms, group work takes place daily. Instead of posting grades for all to see, think of the conversations that could be held individually with students as groups rotate throughout the day. During individual session with our students we are not only taking a moment to reteach a skill they may have struggled with, but we are all providing meaning conversation with our students highlighting the positives as well.

As educators, we want the very best for all of our students. Grading assignments can at times be a challenge when we allow irrelevant criteria to weigh in on overall grades. The more we align our grading rubrics to the ultimate goal or objective of the assignment, the better equipped we’ll be to create meaningful and valid grading procedures within our classrooms.

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