6. Assessment & Feedback

Recommendation 6.2: Grading Policy
Clearly state the course grading policy at the beginning of the course.

Synopsis from Self-Review

Review the grading policy for clarity and transparency from the perspective of students. Set up an online gradebook in Canvas and explain to students how to view grades and feedback online.

How to Put Into Practice

The purpose of grading is to evaluate the students’ performance and, in turn, to tell the students explicitly what you value as important in your course. Reviewing the structure and presentation of the course grading policy with an eye to transparency will ease the delivery of the course, forestall questions or complaints, and build students’ motivation and confidence as learners.

Amplify Transparency in the Grading Policy

Structure and present your grading policy to reinforce the purpose of different course activities and provide fine-grained detail around the calculation of grades. Pay particular attention to places where grading can be highly subjective—most notably, the grading of participation. 

Link the purpose of assessments to how they are graded. Looking at two types of quizzes with different purposes for student learning will illustrate this practice:

  • Quiz type 1: Here, weekly Canvas Quizzes with automatic feedback have been set up as a student-directed learning tool with multiple opportunities to retake the quiz until students feel like they have mastered the content. This type of quiz would likely be worth just a few points (low-stakes grading).
  • Quiz type 2: This quiz is being used to assess whether students completed all of the key assignments and learned the material in a module. Here, the assessment might be worth more points than the student-directed knowledge-check use of quizzing.
  • Both types of quizzes could be used to good effect in the same course. In this scenario, one might weigh them differently in the grading policy and give them different names for clarity (e.g., Self-Check Quizzes or Mastery Quizzes as distinguished from Module Topic Quizzes).

Provide details valuable from the student perspective, especially on subjective elements like participation. Most syllabi statements on grading provide a breakdown of course activities and assignments with percentage weights for each. Go into more granular detail to help students process and relate the grading policy to their own performance. 

According to the UW-Madison syllabus template, syllabus statements on grading should:

  • Indicate how the course is graded and relative weights of assessments  (assignments, papers, exams, etc.).
  • Provide linkage between weights and letter scores. In other words, define how the letter grades of A, AB, B, BC, C, D and F (or S/U, Cr/N) will be assigned to final grade calculations. If some of the valid letter grades will not be used by the instructor (e.g., AB or BC), this should be noted on the syllabus.
  • Indicate whether the final grades are curved. Include the standards upon which a curve is set if applicable.
  • Separate grading requirements for graduate students.
  • Indicate whether attendance and/or participation is part of the grading. Defining this is especially important when a significant percentage (e.g. 10% or more) of the grade is tied to participation, attendance, and/or discussion.

To further pre-empt student confusion, also include the following details:

  • An explanation of the correspondence between points, percentages and letter grades.
  • Clear guidance regarding late submissions, including details such as how many points will be deducted for late submissions. (See Recommendation 1.4 Flexibility & Accommodations on the value of offering reasonable forms of flexibility in this area.)

When considering how to assess participation, recognize the importance of providing students with transparency in an area that is often highly subjective, not thoroughly explained, and prone to reinforcing inequities in the broader social environment (e.g., who often feels most comfortable participating in a majority-white space, etc.).

For a student-centered approach to grading participation, see “Reconceptualizing Participation Grading as Skill Building” (Gillis, 2018). Gillis proposes an approach where participation is seen as a set of skills which can be developed. Students set personal goals for participation and can be graded based on their progress in achieving them.

Create an Online Gradebook

Canvas can make grading faster and more transparent. Time that you invest to set up grading tools in Canvas at the start of the course can really save time later on. 

  • To set up a Gradebook in Canvas, take a look at How do I use the Gradebook (from Canvas Community).
  • Set up a points-based or weight-based (percentage-based) grade calculation scheme in Canvas. 
    • Points-based grade calculation is the default setting for the Assignment Tool. For a points-based course, it does not matter how your assignments are grouped, since the course grade will be calculated based on the number of points each assignment is worth and the students average score for these assignments. Yet, it is still good to group assignments or put them in a specific order to help you and your students keep track of what’s going on in the course.
    • To set up percentages/weight-based grading for your course grade in Canvas, you will set up Assignment Groups. Assignment Groups essentially build into the Canvas Gradebook the weights of various assignment types as listed in the syllabus (e.g., quizzes are worth 30% of the final grade, etc.). To create Assignment Groups, see How do I weight the final course grade based on assignment groups?
    • Double-check your grade calculation set-up in Canvas to ensure that it matches exactly how you say grades will be calculated in the syllabus.

Explain to Students How to View Grades

In a course orientation module or other introductory communication, share information with students about when to expect grades to be posted and tech tutorials on how to view grades and feedback in Canvas:

Additional Resources

  • The Human Restoration Project text Grading ≠ Assessment provides creative alternatives to traditional approaches to grading.

Background Information

What is this?

A grade policy statement at the beginning of the course should fully explain to the learner how the course grades are calculated. Explain each component (e.g. papers, exams, assigned discussions) of the course grade and how it contributes to the final grade.

Why is this important?

A grading policy explains the grading scale, the weights of various assessments, and the terms and consequences of late submissions. It can build students’ confidence that they understand what is expected of them, the relationship of the various assessments, and how their grades are determined.

Where is this?

The grading policy must be detailed in the syllabus. It is reflected in the Canvas Gradebook, and it is often also presented in the Course Orientation. It can also be reinforced at the “point of need,” in the directions for assessments.

Success Factor 6: Assessment & Feedback

Methods for assessment, grading, and feedback are planned and clearly outlined for students. Assessment methods should be carefully considered in terms of equity, transparency, rigor, and integrity, and may challenge conventional approaches to quizzes and exams.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0 International License.