Assigning Course Grades
The end-of-course grades assigned by instructors are intended to convey the level of achievement of each student in the class. These grades are used by students, other faculty, university administrators, and prospective employers to make a multitude of different decisions. Unless instructors use generally-accepted policies and practices in assigning grades, these grades are apt to convey misinformation and lead the decision-maker astray. When grading policies and practices are carefully formulated and reviewed periodically, they can serve well the many purposes for which they are used.
What might a faculty member consider to establish sound grading policies and practices? The issues which contribute to making grading a controversial topic are primarily philosophical in nature. There are no research studies that can answer questions like: What should an "A" grade mean? What percent of the students in my class should receive a "C?" Should spelling and grammar be judged in assigning a grade to a paper? What should a course grade represent? These "should" questions require value judgments rather than an interpretation of research data; the answer to each will vary from instructor to instructor. But all instructors must ask similar questions and find acceptable answers to them in establishing their own grading policies.
Examining the Benefits of Cumulative Tests and Finals
(from Faculty Focus)
With the academic year nearly over and final exams upon us, it’s a good time to consider how we assess student knowledge in our courses. Cumulative finals are still used in many courses, but a significant number of faculty have backed away from them because they are so unpopular with students, who strongly voice their preferences for exams that include only questions on content covered in that unit or module. Although teachers should not ignore or discount student preferences across the board, there is the larger issue of which testing procedures best promote deep learning and lasting retention of course content. The evidence on the side of cumulative exams and finals is pretty much overwhelming, and those empirical results should not come as a surprise. An exam with questions on current and previous content encourages continued interaction with course material, and the more students deal with the content, the better the chances they will remember it. Students don’t like cumulative exams for the very reason they ought to be used: preparing for them requires more time and energy devoted to understanding and remembering course content.
Cumulative finals are better than unit tests, but cumulative exams across the course are the best option if the goal is long-term retention. Good and plentiful research documents that students taking cumulative exams during the course score significantly higher when given content exams after the course is over.