Assessment and Grading

Table of Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Negotiating grading policy
  3. Designing assignments
  4. Designing an exam
  5. Re-grade policy
  6. Equitable curving


  • Actively work to make assessments less stressful. Recognize that grades are a major source of stress and can have profound impact on students’ lives.
  • Grades and assessments should serve as detailed feedback. Returned assessments should indicate clearly where students went wrong. Make correct answers and explanations available to students. Typed and/or oral feedback is more accessible than handwritten.
  • Stick to consistent grading criteria. If grading criteria changes with an assignment or progression of the course, let students know in advance. Provide grading rubrics (see below).

Negotiating grading policy

  • Consider negotiating grading contracts with students, giving them as much choice as possible over how they will be assessed. Examples: negotiating the minimum requirements for students to get a B, allowing students to allocate weighted percentages to each assignment or grading component.
  • Eliminate deadlines wherever possible. Consider using soft deadlines, week-long deadlines, and self-set deadlines. The “time bank” system offers students a certain number of days that they can use to extend deadlines at their discretion.
  • Participation grade: Consider the disproportionate barriers faced by students with disabilities in class participation. Avoid over-valuing participation in your grading scheme. Consider allowing students to choose whether they would like participation included in their grade.
  • Provide built-in opportunities to make up a grade – e.g. by using a cumulative final and allowing students to replace one grade with another.

Designing assignments

  • Provide as many options for assignment completion as possible. Adjust method of assessment as necessary to individual learning styles. Allow students to design their own method of assessment if possible.
  • Divide larger assignments into smaller pieces with more opportunities for feedback.
  • Wait until past assignments have been graded and returned to students before assigning the next one. Provide opportunities for feedback on past assignments as early as possible before the next assignment.
  • Clearly explain the assignment requirements verbally and in writing. Correlate them clearly with learning objectives. Provide a grading rubric in your explanation.
  • Clearly explain and model required formats. Be aware of implicit norms and standards in your field that students may be unfamiliar with. Material from throughout the course that introduces students to these field-specific styles should have prepared students for the assignment.
  • Provide examples of successful assignments from past students.
  • Provide assignment-specific learning support inside and outside of class. Consider requesting appointments with students to discuss their assignment progress or feedback on past assignments.

Re-grade policy

  • Allow re-grades: Give students the opportunity to make a case as to why an assessment should be re-graded.
  • Re-dos and test corrections: Consider giving points back for corrected answers or for assignment re-dos that address the problems of the original.
  • Forgive grades for assessments that were proven to be confusing or unfair.
  • Investigate the causes of confusion or missed grades. Examine the class grading distribution of each assessment objective, particularly ones that were missed by a large proportion of students. Make a note of re-grades and points of confusion in the assessment. Award re-grades accordingly.

Designing an exam

  • Untimed exams: If time management or speed of recall is not a factor in your learning objectives, avoid involving time constraints in your exam whenever possible. Consider using full-day or multi-day exams and take-home exams.
  • Ask far in advance about assessment needs such as additional time needed and alternative / make-up dates.
  • Provide a practice exam and/or practice material with a similar format to the actual exam. This will allow students to test out whether they will need special accommodations.
  • Have colleagues take the exam to test for any confusing directions or questions.

Equitable curving

  • Re-think the assumption that there will always be students who do and should fail. In the case of the curve, the prediction makes it true. Curves such as the “bell curve” both perpetuate this idea and predispose marginalized students – who are disadvantaged in their preparation for the course – to fail disproportionately.
  • Consider using an easier grade curve for the first assessment, which is especially difficult for students with disabilities and students with less educational background in the material.