Grading Guidelines

Grades should conform to the practice in the department and the institution in which the grading occurs

Grading policies of the department, college, or campus may limit the grading procedures which can be used and force a basic grading philosophy on each instructor in that administrative unit. Departments often have written statements which specify a method of assigning grades and meanings of grades. If such grading policies are not explicitly stated or written for faculty use, the percentages of As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs given by departments and colleges in their 100-level, 200- level, 300-level and graduate courses may be indicative of implicitly stated grading policies.

University regulations encourage a uniform grading policy so that a grade of A, B, C, D, or F will have the same meaning independent of the college or department awarding the grade. In practice grade distributions vary by department, by college and over time within each of these units. The grading standards of a department or college are usually known by other campus units. For example, a "B" in a required course given by Department X might indicate that the student probably is not a qualified candidate for graduate school in that or a related field. Or, a "B" in a required course given by Department Y might indicate that the student's knowledge is probably adequate for the next course. Grades in certain "key" courses may also be interpreted as a sign of a student's ability to continue work in the field. The faculty member who is uninformed about the grading grapevine may unwittingly make misleading statements about a student and also misinterpret information received. If an instructor's grading pattern differs markedly from others in the department or college and the grading is not being done in special classes (e.g., honors, remedial), the instructor should reexamine his or her grading practices to see that they are rational and defensible. Sometimes an individual faculty member's grading policy will differ markedly from that of the department and/or college and yet be defensible. For example, the department and instructor may be using different grading standards, course structure may seem to require a grading plan which differs from departmental guidelines, or the instructor and department may hold different ideas about the function of grading. Usually in such cases, a satisfactory grading plan can be worked out. Faculty new to the University can consult with the department head for advice about grade assignment procedures in particular courses. CITL's Measurement and Evaluation staff will consult with faculty on grading problems and procedures.

Grading components should yield accurate information

Carefully written tests and/or graded assignments (homework papers, projects) are keys to accurate grading. Because it is not customary at the university level to accumulate many grades per student, each grade carries great weight and should be as accurate as possible. Poorly planned tests and assignments increase the likelihood that grades will be based primarily on factors of chance. Some faculty members argue that over the course of a college education, students will receive an equal number of higher-grades-than-merited and lower-grades-than- merited. Consequently, final GPA's will be relatively correct. However, in view of the many ways course grades are used, each course grade is often significant in itself to the student and others. No evaluation efforts can be expected to be perfectly accurate, but there is merit in striving to assign course grades that most accurately reflect the level of competence of each student.

Grading plans should be communicated to the class at the beginning of each semester

By stating the grading procedures at the beginning of a course, the instructor is essentially making a contract with the class about how each student is going to be evaluated. The contract should provide the students with a clear understanding of the instructor's expectations so that the students can structure their work efforts. Students should be informed about: which course activities will be considered in their final grade; the importance or weight of exams, quizzes, homework sets, papers and projects; and which topics are more important than others. Students also need to know what method will be used to assign their course grade and what kind of comparison the course grade will represent. By informing students early in the semester about course priorities, the instructor encourages students to study what he or she deems valuable. All of this information can be communicated effectively as a part of the course outline or syllabus.

Grading plans stated at the beginning of the course should not be changed without thoughtful consideration and a complete explanation to the students

Two common complaints found on students' post-course evaluations are that grading procedures stated at the beginning of the course were either inconsistently followed or were changed without explanation or even advance notice. One could look at the situation of altering or inconsistently following the grading plan as being analogous to playing a game wherein the rules arbitrarily change, sometimes without the players' knowledge. The ability to participate becomes an extremely difficult and frustrating experience. Students are placed in the unreasonable position of never knowing for sure what the instructor considers important. When the rules need to be changed all of the players must be informed (and hopefully be in agreement).

The number of components or elements used to assign course grades should be large enough to ACHIEVE high accuracy in grading

From a decision-making point of view, the more pieces of information available to the decision-maker, the more confidence one can have that the decision will be accurate and appropriate. This same principle applies to the process of assigning grades. If only a final exam score is used to assign a course grade, the adequacy of the grade will depend on how well the test covered all the relevant aspects of course content and how typically the student performed on one specific day during a two to three hour period. Though the minimum number of tests, quizzes, papers, projects, and/or presentations needed must be course- specific, each instructor must attempt to secure as much relevant data as are reasonably possible to insure that the course grade will accurately reflect each student's achievement level.