students taking test August 30

A Challenge to Current Grading Practices

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There’s a lot to be gained from considering ideas and arguments at odds with current practice. In higher education, many instructional practices are accepted and replicated with little thought. Fortunately, there are a few scholars who keep asking tough questions and challenging conventional thinking. Australian D. Royce Sadler is one of them. His views on feedback and assessment are at odds with the mainstream, but his scholarship is impeccable, well-researched, and logically coherent. His ideas merit our attention, make for rich discussion, and should motivate us to delve into the assumptions that ground current policies and practices.


students reviewing exam results May 3

Point-Based Grading Systems: Benefits and Liabilities

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If there’s a perfect grading system, it has yet to be discovered. This post is about point systems—not because they’re the best or the worst but because they’re widely used. It is precisely because they are so prevalent that we need to think about how they affect learning.

It would be nice if we had some empirical evidence to support our thinking. I’m surprised that so little research has been done on this common grading system. Does it promote more effective learning (as measured by higher exam scores or overall course grades) than letter grades or percentages? Does it motivate students to study? Does it make students more grade oriented or less so? Does it provoke more grade anxiety than other systems or less? Does make a difference whether we use a 100-point system or a 1,000-point system? We all have our preferences—and sometimes even reasons—for the systems we use, but where’s the evidence? I can’t remember reading anything empirical that explores these questions—if you have, please share the references.


Professor standing a lectern January 3

Compulsory Attendance Policies: An Interesting Finding

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Previous research and firsthand experience for most of us verify that attendance in class improves performance. Many of our students would still like to believe otherwise, but the positive relationship between attendance and performance reported in the research is robust and long-standing.

In a good example of research that goes beyond replicating what is well established, a group of business faculty members explored the attendance-performance connection in a more nuanced way. They studied the effects of a compulsory attendance policy on absenteeism and grades, as others have, but they looked specifically at the relationship for high- and low-achieving students.

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female professor looking over glasses December 14, 2015

Contested Grades and the “You Earned It” Retort

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A common rhetorical move we professors make when students object to a grade is to reframe the discussion. We’ll say, “Let’s be clear. I didn’t give you this grade. You earned it.” And if it were appropriate we might underscore our zinger with a smugly snapped Z. But stop and think about it. When we make the “you earned it” move, it’s simply an attempt to shift the debate away from the fairness or interpretation of our standard and onto students to justify their effort by our standard, which really wasn’t their complaint.


students in class December 1, 2015

Axial Assessment: The 21st Century Answer to Assessment

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The current state of student assessment in the classroom is mediocre, vague, and reprehensibly flawed. In much of higher education, we educators stake a moral high ground on positivistic academics. Case in point: assessment. We claim that our assessments within the classroom are objective, not subjective. After all, you wouldn’t stand in front of class and say that your grading is subjective and that students should just deal with it, right? Can we honestly examine a written paper or virtually any other assessment in our courses and claim that we grade completely void of bias? Let’s put this idea to the test. Take one of your assessments previously completed by a student. Grade the assignment using your rubric. Afterwards, have another educator among the same discipline grade the assignment using your exact rubric. Does your colleague’s grade and yours match? How far off are the two grades? If your assessment is truly objective, the grades should be exact. Not close but exact. Anything else reduces the reliability of your assessment.


grading papers November 16, 2015

An Objective Approach to Grading

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It was always the same scenario. I’d be feeling a great sense of accomplishment because I had spent hours grading a set of English papers—painstakingly labeling errors and writing helpful comments. Everything was crystal clear, and the class could now move on to the next assignment. Except it wasn’t, and we couldn’t. A few students would inevitably find their way to my office, plunk their papers down on my desk, and ask me to explain the grade. Something had to change. I knew exactly why I was assigning the grades, but I obviously needed to find a more effective way of communicating these reasons to my students.



February 6, 2015

A Grade Forecasting Strategy for Students

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Optimism is generally a good thing, but it can sometimes interfere with learning. Some students are overly optimistic about their learning progress and anticipated course grades, with weaker students being more likely to overestimate how well they are doing in the course. This can hinder their academic success. There’s no reason to adjust their behavior (say, by studying more) if they believe they are already doing well.


February 2, 2015

Ten Tips for More Efficient and Effective Grading

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Many instructors dread grading, not just because grading takes up a sizable amount of time and can prove itself a tedious task, but also because instructors struggle with grading effectively and efficiently. However, effective grading does not have to take inordinate amounts of time, nor does one need to sacrifice quality for speed. The following tips can help instructors grade more effectively while enhancing student learning.