Grading Practices

For those students interested in understanding how I grade particular assignments, I will provide an in-depth overview here. You are welcome to contact me if you have any concerns or questions about grading. However, please remember that I do not assign grades. Grades are earned. The information on this page provides details on how I go about finding the grade that a student earned. I could go about finding that earned grade in a very different way, but my intention is still to find the same earned grade, regardless of the approach to finding that grade I use. Ultimate responsibility for the grades a student receives rests squarely on the student.

The Check System

The bulk of this overview only relates to a few graded assignments during the semester: the final drafts for each project and the class participation grade. Most assignments will instead be graded using the “check system,” in which I am basically just checking to see if a student did the assignment with sufficient effort. If the work demonstrates a good faith effort to do the student’s best work, I will write a check mark on the assignment and/or enter it as a check in the elearning online gradebook. If I am not convinced that the work reflects a good faith effort to do the student’s best work, I will write and enter a check minus instead. I will not award either a check or a check minus if the work is of insufficient quality to deserve credit toward passing the class. For final grade calculations, a check equals 100% (an A), a check minus equals 73% (a low C). Work that does not earn a check or a check minus equals a 0%. Most of you will only be receiving checks (100%) on most of the work you turn in on time. I want you to focus on the evaluations that your classmates and I provide about your work so you can improve your work based on those evaluations. I do not want students constantly focusing for each assignment on whether or not they received an A. Therefore, I generally just give everyone 100% on almost everything.

Rubrics

However, when grading the major grade items in the semester, I use a much more rigorous approach. When doing so, I use a rubric like the one here for the Project 1 final draft. A grading “rubric” is simply a tool teachers use to make the grading process more efficient and objective. I will generally always provide a copy of my rubric when I hand out the assignment so you can get a better understanding of what I will be looking for. Down the left side of the rubric, I will list various criteria that I have determined match the learning goals and assignment specifics for whatever I plan to grade. For Project 1, those criteria are Logos, Pathos, Ethos, Genre, and Writing. Beneath each criterion will be a few yes/no questions that will inform the assessment of how well that criterion has been met. These questions are not intended to be exhaustive, but they will highlight certain aspects of each criterion that are of special importance and that we have discussed in class.

Along the top of the rubric will be a number of adjectives running from left to right: Exemplary, Accomplished, Competent, Developing, Undeveloped, and Unacceptable. For each student assignment, I will be considering the list of criteria on the left (with accompanying questions) and determining what adjective best matches each criterion based on the quality of the student’s work. For Project 1, for example, I may determine that the student’s use of emotional appeals, character appeals, the genre’s elements was “Exceptional,” but I may determine that the student’s writing, due to grammar and punctuation, was still developing. I may also determine that the student’s use of Logos was Competent. In that example, I would then place an X at the intersection of Exemplary and the Pathos, Ethos, and Genre criteria, I would place an X at the intersection of Developing and Writing, and I would place an X at the intersection of Competent and Logos.

  • “Exemplary”: The work is of such high quality that it is clearly an example of exceptional work that others should model and aspire to.
  • “Accomplished”: Due to minor issues, whether the work is “Exemplary” is unclear, but the work nonetheless seems to be above “Average” quality and almost “Exemplary.”
  • “Competent”: The work is of average quality that sufficiently meets class expectations, but the quality of the work is clearly not “Exemplary” or approaching “Exemplary.”
  • “Developing”: The work has not sufficiently met class expectations, but the student is making progress toward becoming competent by making a good faith effort to provide his or her best work.
  • “Undeveloped”: The work has not sufficiently met class expectations, and the student has not demonstrated a good faith effort to provide his or her best work.
  • “Unacceptable”: The work is of insufficient quality to deserve the minimum credit required to pass the course.

Near the right side of the rubric is a number indicating the weight I will be giving each criterion. The weight is revealed by a number from one to five, with a five indicating the highest possible weight and a one indicating the lowest. These weights will inform how the total grade for the assignment is determined based on the results for each criterion. A criterion that has a higher weight will affect the total grade more than a criterion with a low weight. In Project 1, for example, the Logos, Pathos, and Ethos criteria are of such importance for the project that they have the highest weight (a five) and will affect the student’s total grade the most. The Writing criterion is the least important, receives the lowest weight on the rubric (a two), and will affect the student’s total grade the least.

At the bottom of the rubric is a space for comments and for the student’s grade on the assignment.

My notations for how the total grade was calculated based on the results for each criterion will generally not be included on rubrics when I return them. I would rather have students focusing on my written comments and my general assessment of the quality of the work for each criterion (“Exemplary,” “Accomplished,” “Competent,” ect.). The percentage grade will be written at the bottom of the rubric, and I would rather not have students becoming bogged down in the details of how that percentage was calculated. For most students, it is enough to understand that “Exemplary” generally corresponds to an A, “Accomplished” to a B/A, “Competent” to a C/B, “Developing” to a D/C, “Undeveloped” to a D, and “Unacceptable” to an F. Students will receive a higher grade the more each criterion is closer to the Exemplary level of the quality spectrum.

However, for those students who do want more information about how the total grade was calculated, that information is available upon request. While I want students to focus on my written comments and evaluations, I support transparency in grading and am very willing to discuss grading further with students if desired. Furthermore, I will provide the details below to how, in general, the total grade is calculated. For most students, the explanation below will be unnecessary, but in the interest of transparency and curiosity, I will include it anyway. Please be warned, however, that the explanation will involve considerable math.

Calculating Percentage Grades

The steps for calculating the initial percentage grade for the assignment are as follows:

  • Convert the evaluations for each criterion to points by assigning each level of quality (from Exemplary to Unacceptable) a number from 5 all the way down to 0.
  • Multiply the points for each criterion by the weight for each criterion to calculate the weighted points for each criterion. For example, if a student’s work was of the Exemplary level (5 points) for the Logos criterion (a weight of 5), the total weighted points for that criterion would be 25.
  • Add the weighted points for all the criteria together to calculate their total. For example, if the weighted points for each criterion in Project 1 were 25, 15, 15, 15, and 10, the total would be 80.
  • Divide the total weighted points by the sum of the weights for each criterion to determine the weighted average for the assignment. For example, the weights for each criterion in Project 1 are 5 (Logos), 5 (Pathos),  5 (Ethos), 3 (Genre), and 2 (Writing), for a total of 20. If the student received 80 weighted points, that number would then be divided by 20 to calculate the weighted average: 4. This weighted average is the assessment of how the quality of the work across all criteria together as affected by the different weight given to each criterion. A weighted average of 4, for instance, corresponds with an “Accomplished” evaluation for the work as a whole.
  • The weighted average is then converted to a percentage grade using the following formula: (Weighted Average*10)+50. If the weighted average was a 4, for instance, the percentage grade would be a 90%: (4*10)+50=90. The reason I use this particular formula is easier to see if we consider the ranges of points and percentages involved. Since a 0 is a failing score, the range of passing weighted point averages is between 5 and 1, which is a range of 4 (5-1=4). The range of passing percentages for the course is between 100% and 60%, which is a range of 40 (100-60=40). The astute reader may notice that the difference between these two ranges is merely a factor of 10. The points range (4) multiplied by 10 is equivalent to the percentage range (40). The first step in the formula is therefore to multiply the weighted average by 10. However, an additional step is required because the lower end of the percentage range is 60% and the upper end is 100%. If we were to convert a weighted average of 1 and a weighted average of 5, we would expect the results to be 60% and 100% respectively. Multiplying by 10, however, only results in 10% and 50% respectively. To adjust the final result to match normal expectations for percentage grades, we must add 50 to the result. A weighted average of 5 (the highest possible), would be multiplied by 10 and an additional 50 would be added to the result to equal a 100% (the highest possible percentage). An example of these calculations using a rubric is here.
    • To help me quickly and easily calculate this initial grade percentage, I use excel sheets with all the required formulas already assigned to the appropriate cells. Then, all I need to do is enter the initial points for each criterion based on the evaluations, and the excel sheet does the rest of the calculations for me. An example of one of my excel sheets is here.
    • For the rare times when the weighted average falls below a 1 (such as .5), I use a different formula in the last step to better correspond to the range of a failing grade: 59% to 0%. Basically, the entire weighted average range between .999999… and 0 should correspond to the percentage range between 59.99999… and 0. The formula to do so is as follows: Weighted Average*59. For example, a .5 weighted points average would result in a 29.5% (.5*59). Thankfully, I seldom ever have to use this formula.
  •  Unless I determine that the initial grade calculated in the above fashion does not appear to fairly reflect the quality of the student’s work, that initial grade will be rounded to the nearest whole percentage, entered in the grade book as the student’s grade for the assignment, and written on the rubric to be returned to the student.
  • However, I generally always calculate the class median of the initial grades for the assignment to determine if that median suggests an across-the-board increase to student grades. I also consider the grading curve to see if a normal distribution of grades suggests any further adjustments to the grades of particular students. However, I do not grade on a strict curve or blindly make across-the-board adjustments to every student’s grade. These comparisons to the grading curve and class average merely provide suggestions that I use while considering again whether each student’s grade fairly reflects the grade each student earned. These suggestions may result in determining that a grade higher than the initial grade would better reflect the grade earned. On the other hand, I may determine that the initial grade was fair and accurate without adjustment based on the quality of the student’s work.
    • In general, I will consider whether an across the board increase may be warranted when the class median falls below 80%, which corresponds in my class to a CB (2.5 GPA).
    • I again use spreadsheets to calculate a grading curve to compare to student grades. Good explanations of how to calculate a grading curve and normal distribution can be found here and here. I use a spreadsheet to compare how well student grades one standard deviation below and above the class average correspond with an expected normal distribution below and above the class median. To do so, I use the following linear scale grading curve formula:  f(x) = y1 + ((y2-y1)/(x2-x1)) (x-x1). In that formula as I use it, x1 and xcorrespond respectively to the actual grade one standard deviation below the class median and the actual grade one standard deviation above the class median. Similarly, y1 and ycorrespond respectively to the expected grade one standard deviation below the class median and the expected grade one standard deviation above the class median. X is the score of the student under consideration.
    • My expected deviation (7.5) is based on the class grading scale:

      A (4.0):       93-100%              C/B (2.5):   78-82%                D (1.0):   60-67%

      B/A (3.5):   88-92%                C (2.0):       73-77%                F (0):       59 and below

      B (3.0):       83-87%                D/C (1.5):   68-72%

      At the end of the semester, I will round each student’s grade to the nearest percentage. Example: a 72.513 calculated semester grade (a possible D/C) will be adjusted to a 73% (C). During the semester, I also round each assignment grade to the nearest percentage.

    • For assignments that I grade with a rubric, my expectations are that the class median will be an 80%, which is in the middle of the CB range of the grading scale (78-82). I also expect most student scores to cluster within 1 grade of that median, either in the C range (73-77) or the B range (83-87). The range of those three grades together is about 15 from 73 (the bottom of the C range) to where the top of the B range ends at 88 (where the BA range begins). Therefore, I expect a standard deviation of half that range (7.5). In other words, I expect about 68% of students to have grade percentages between 72.5 and 87.5. However, students can certainly exceed my expectations.
    • Any recalculated grade after any class average and curve adjustments is merely a suggestion. It bears repeating that I will not adjust the initial grade if it fairly and accurately reflects the grade the student earned. I also may not adjust the student’s grade to the full extent the recalculated grade suggests if the student’s work does not demonstrate the full adjustment is warranted. I also never lower a student’s grade because of class average and grade curve calculations. Such calculations are only intended as providing a suggestion for how a student’s grade, upon further review, might warrant an increase. The only consequence of my considerations of the class median and the grade curve are that I may agree that assigning a higher grade percentage more fairly captures the quality of the student’s work.
    • The entire focus of this whole process, however, remains this: to determine individually for each student what grade each particular student earned on the assignment.