Grading that functions as useful feedback to students

November 4, 2014

Grading is generally one of the least favorite parts of teaching. Grading can feel stressful when students challenge their grades, attempt to cheat or plagiarize, or focus on earning grades rather than acquiring skills or learning. When grading only serves to sort students into categories of achievement, instructors feel uncomfortable playing the role of judge, preferring the role of coach and mentor. Clear and fair grading are hard to formulate. Student performance that fails to meet our expectations sometimes makes us doubt our effectiveness as teachers.


How can we make grading less aversive to ourselves?

  • Accept the potential for conflict in grading activities. Separate your role as a coach from your role as an evaluator and decide which role you are playing at any given point in time. Select times when you provide feedback strictly in your role as a coach (provide comments on drafts that are not graded, create practice quizzes and test questions with instructive feedback).
  • Grading will always have a subjective element. Accept this ambiguity. Establish your criteria and standards as an expert judge, communicate these clearly to students, and apply your criteria as consistently as you can. Recognize that variations in measurement are an inevitable part of all measurements, including high-stakes highly-valid measures. You can take steps to minimize this variation (and should do so as a strategy to promote fairness in grading), but you cannot eliminate it. Students recognize and appreciate good faith efforts to be consistent.
  • Recognize that grades are important to students and present a strong emotional challenge to many students. You can defuse this emotional component by listening to students. When possible, use their suggestions to improve the clarity of your grading procedures without compromising your standards and criteria. Create rubrics or other grading systems that clearly state your expectations for high-quality work on an assignment. If these can be provided when an assignment is made, students will understand what they must do for the assignment and will be more likely to understand specific grading decisions with less complaining.


Resources on the CUTLA web site

Examples of rubrics:
This site includes links to a collection of rubrics (Rubric Examples, organized by types of assignment) and a template for a rubric (as a Word document) rubric that you can use to construct your own rubric.


Walvoord, B. E., & Anderson, V. J. (2010).  Effective grading:  A tool for learning and assessment in college (2nd ed).  San Francisco, CA:  Wiley.

This book is in the CULTA library and available for check out.

This tip is based on a teaching strategy suggested by Carolyn Oxenford, Executive Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, Marymount University. (


Update: 03/24/2015 ecr