How do we know what they know?

The way teachers structure their grading sets a culture for the class and communicates what the teacher values.

As a teacher, It is important to think about the reasoning behind the grading decisions you make. If you do not accept assignments beyond a due date (or deduct points for late work), you may be communicating that speed and completion is more important than quality and understanding. If you do not allow (or require) students to re-take unsuccessful tests you may be unintentionally communicating a fixed mindset leading to students giving up and feeling that they will never be good enough. The best resource I’ve seen that moved my thinking forward on how to structure my grading is A Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor.

In addition to how a teacher structures their grading is the type of feedback you provide. Dylan William’s book, Embedded Formative Assessment sited a study showing that as soon as a student receives a grade, learning stops. Even if a teacher painstakingly spends hours providing detailed feedback to each student, if there is also a grade on that assignment students won’t interact with the feedback. Ashli Black illustrates this point well here.

Here is what I have found to be effective:

<I’d prefer to eliminate grades altogether and focus only on growth and feedback, but this isn’t possible in today’s culture.>

  • Standards Based Grading makes student understanding of specific skills visible to the teacher for planning, and informing the student & parent. A weakness with standards based grading is that students and parents see the content as a checklist of skills to demonstrate and not a cohesive integrated body. In addition to listing “standards” in my gradebook, I added a “synthesis” category where I include grades for in depth modeling tasks which incorporate a variety of skills. Adding this category also reminds me as a teacher to be sure to develop or find and implement these types of tasks on a regular basis.
  • Regular class assignments get feedback only, no grade. The grade is posted on the online gradebook, which students can access anytime. Students are encouraged to respond to feedback and improve their work and I will adjust their grade accordingly.
  • Don’t grade everything! Sometimes practice is just practice. This also allows a teacher to spend more time providing feedback on key assignments.
  • Quizzes/Tests get 2 rounds:
    1. Students give the assessment their best effort. Then I write feedback on a few select questions that attempts to move their learning forward even if their work on the quiz is flawless.
    2. The next day students must respond to my feedback using a different color. Then I grade their demonstration of knowledge on each learning target using a 4 point rubric. If a student has shown that they do not understand a skill I mark this skill as “missing” or “incomplete” and they must schedule a time to work on this skill and re assess when they are ready.  When students get their quiz back they track their progress.Capture

Reasoning behind the 2-round quizzes:

  1. Test anxiety is a real thing. It impedes a students ability to access information. Students knowing that they will have another opportunity to review their work helps relieve some of this anxiety, allowing student to demonstrate their understanding.
  2. Students see me as their partner in learning. It changes our relationship. Students believe that I want them to be successful and that I believe in their ability to achieve at high levels.
  3. I’ve noticed that this system of assessing & grading builds a relationship with students over time and most students value the assignments you provide more and become less likely to turn in in low quality or late work. Motivated intrinsically instead of trying to avoid a consequence.
  4. Students develop a growth mindset though seeing the documented growth on each quiz. They see their faulty reasoning and their revisions and they recognize their growth that occurred during the assessment process.
  5. I get a better picture of their genuine understandings and misconceptions which better informs my teaching.

Please Join the Principles to Actions Chat!


You can dowload a copy of the flier to share with colleagues here.




One section per week, so you can jump in anytime!


This will be updated as we progress through the book: