Grading policies–evolution or intelligent design?

Before I begin I want to recognize I Speak Math’s efforts to keep bloggers reflecting, and sharing.

Now to the question. I have to go with Darwin on this one because every grading policy I’ve designed or used has evolved into something else. When I first started teaching my grading practices were more about measuring compliance rather than measuring learning, especially when it came to homework.

Here’s how I USED to grade homework, 30% of the grade:

Appropriate heading with name, date, period, and assignment title

1 point

Using pencil

1 point

Using colored pen to grade assignment

1 point

Each problem written out

1 point

Work shown for each problem

3 points

Corrections made for incorrect problems

3 points


10 points

If it was late, kapow! The student earned less than full credit. One day late: up to 80% credit. Two days late: up to 60% credit. Three days late: up to 50% credit. After that: teacher discretion.

These policies reflected what I thought was important for the learner to know and be able to do—follow a check list and turn work in on time.

Every day I poured over homework like Scrooge overseeing his finances. It was tedious. It was time consuming. It was insane, IMHO. When late work entered the picture the maximum a student could earn was 8 points—if the assignment was perfect. But counting points was what I valued. I also wanted students to experience the consequence of late work. After all if we don’t pay our bills on time we incur a late fee.

It was exhausting to maintain. Counting tally marks for a homework grade and applying “penalty fees” required more time and effort than I could muster in a day. The policies had become an administrative nightmare but I was convinced I was doing right by the kids. So I asked for help.

For twelve years I made a reasonable request of my district, “I want a personal assistant.” Every year they politely declined responding, “Get real.”

Instead of giving me what I thought I needed, they gave me something to ponder. I began asking myself: What do I value? How can I be more effective?

I already knew I value my time GREATLY. But what is the value of homework and how should that be measured then reflected in the grade book? Should the finite amount of time I have be spent tallying and dispensing homework points, or developing meaningful lessons and helping students better understand and appreciate math?

I threw out the 10 point homework checklist and opted for a streamlined approach.

Here’s how I grade homework now, 5% of the grade. It’s:

  • Worth 5 points
  • A completion grade
  • Full credit, even if the student gets every problem wrong—as long as work is shown
  • No credit if the assignment is never turned in or no work is shown

This policy suits me pretty well. I’ve evolved to where I consider homework as practice. I think of it as a sacred mechanism where students are permitted to make mistakes without it harming their grade. I like the idea of weighing homework at five percent even though it violates the standards based grading policy which is that 100% of the grade is measured by progress towards meeting a standard. I may be compromising the purity of the grade, but 95% percent pure is pretty good.

As far as late work is concerned some may think I’m crazy to accept it after the summative. I figure I still want the student to practice/learn/master the concept even though their opportunity to demonstrate mastery has passed.

Also, I no longer penalize late work. I just document the behavior as a comment: 1) Late, please complete for credit; or 2) Awaiting student to show work on this assignment. To me a late work penalty is a double whammy. If homework is not completed chances are the consequence will likely be a poor performance on the assessment. If the student did well on the assessment, then (s)he didn’t need the homework in the first place.

The changes in my grade practices did not happen overnight. Over the years I’ve been influenced by Rick Wormeli, Bob Marzano, and others.  Refocusing this time and energy has given me more time to attend to student learning. I’m able to devote more time to create tasks, and brainstorm ways to better differentiate the learning.

However I could still use a personal assistant to grade my standards based grading assessments.


Mathletes caught on video. Student announcers call the action!

“Look at her go! Fast as lightning! Speed! This should be against the law it’s so fast!”

That’s Julie’s play-by-play commentary as one of her classmates solves a two-step equation using algebra balance scales from the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives.

Disclaimer: This activity demonstrates procedural understanding, however it is a skill that requires practice.

The energy level went through the roof when I suggested the students make screencasts as they play the roles of mathlete and commentator. These sixth grade advanced math students were already familiar with Screencast-O-Matic, a free download, from a previous lesson so the activity was a breeze.

If you’ve never done a Mathlete commentary with your class, I brainstormed a list of sporting events and asked them to imagine hearing the commentary: golf, boxing, poker, football, soccer, etc. I suppose I should have had audio recordings available, but they quickly got the idea.

I then had them work with a partner of their choice since they would feel most comfortable playing the role with a friend. The criteria was simple: make one video with two problems; each person takes a turn solving the problem while the other acts as commentator. There were two groups of three so they obviously had to solve three problems in one video.

The kids did a fabulous job. We watched them over the next few days, a nice break from the normal routine. A few students were more comfortable playing a traditional role instead of “hamming it up”, but that’s ok. Everyone was talking math!