Capricious Grading

Grading is a significant task for any instructor and calls for the highest level of conscientious and ethical behavior. When grading deviates from fair practices, it can constitute “capricious” grading, and no instructor wants to be accused of capricious grading. Section 3-107(a) of the UIUC Student Code defines three types of capricious grading:

  1. The assignment of a grade to a particular student on some basis other than performance in the course.
  2. The assignment of a grade to a particular student by resorting to more exacting or demanding standards than were applied to other students registered for the same credit in that course.
  3. The assignment of a grade representing a substantial departure from the instructor's previously announced standards.

Here are some grading practices that will help you avoid the perception, or the practice, of capricious grading:

  • During the first week of class, inform students both orally and in writing of your grading policy for the course. Clearly explain the number and the weighting of quizzes, exams, homework assignments, labs, penalties for late submission, make-up procedures, etc.
  • Be consistent with the grading policies you establish with your students. This grading contract with students should be changed only in unusual circumstances and only after reaching a consensus with the students that ensures everyone understands what is being changed and why. Changes should be put in writing (e.g., an addendum to the syllabus, course Web site, class e-mail, etc.).
  • Grade and return all student work (exams, quizzes, homework assignments, projects, and papers) as soon as possible. Students tend to take grades more seriously when assignments are consistently and quickly returned.
  • Take time to talk about grades with students. Develop and share your criteria and standards for grading. Provide examples of excellent work as models for students. If you provide examples of past students' work, make sure you have in writing those students' permission to do so and be sure to remove their names, ID numbers, semester when enrolled, and any other identifying information from the work before sharing it.
  • Keep accurate and complete records of all grades. It is important to keep your grading records, whether paper or electronic, for several semesters in case questions about student grades or transcripts arise.
  • University students have legal rights to privacy, so ID numbers or student names may not be used when posting grades. Likewise, do not leave graded work outside your office for students to pick up. For more information on student privacy, see the Provost's Overview of FERPA.
  • Consider using a course management system such as Compass that allows students to track their graded assignments throughout the semester. Students can then see their improvements and areas of concern.