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.


7 thoughts on “Grading policies–evolution or intelligent design?

  1. I just found your blog, and will now have to read back through all your old posts! As an educator who works in a Competency-based district ( a lot of your personal struggles and decisions surrounding SBG remind me of issues our district as a whole has faced. Keep up the good fight. Your students deserve it!

    1. Thanks. I’ll have my work cut out for me next year as I will be teaching two different levels of math that don’t have standards based assessments created!

  2. Great points. This has been a topic of conversation many times in my math education courses. There are so many ways to look at this question of whether or not to use a strict grading system with points or whether to to not use points at all! In my opinion, it is more beneficial to the student to not grade based on wrong and right answers but rather based on their understanding of the concept. Interesting blog.

    1. Hi Kendall, I also think it’s better to assess students on their level of understanding. Some may argue that it can be accomplished by awarding partial points, but points takes us back to a percentage grade. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

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