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Relating Grades to Learning

Explicit definition of student learning goals is of first importance in assigning student grades meaningfully and equitably.

What are the learning goals in your class?

List all of the possible learning goals that could be a part of your course. Think about some of the following questions to help you expand your list of possible goals:

  • What do students need to know in order to be successful in the next course or level?
  • What aspects of their development do students need feedback on? In many professional schools, students not only need feedback on how they are mastering the content of the course, but also on their ability to understand and respond appropriately to socially complex situations in their field. How can this set of skills be assessed?
  • What learning goals could be included to help ease your job of grading in situations where academic misconduct or other aspects of student behavior come into question?

What are the relative importance of these learning goals and how are they reflected in the content of the course?

  • Try ranking the learning goals you have listed in order of importance. Decide what percentage of the final grade each learning goal should represent.
  • List the graded components of your course. Determine how each of the learning goals for your course is reflected in each graded component.

How can these learning goals be categorized so that they are easily tracked throughout the quarter?

Once you have laid out your learning goals, think about how those goals are reflected in your course content, and decide whether you'd like course grades to reflect students' absolute performance towards meeting these goals or their relative performance, you have most of the tools you need to build solid grading practices. The next question is how to take these factors and create an easy to use grading system out of them. There is no answer that can fulfill everyone's instructional needs. For personalized consultation services, we recommend you contact the Center for Instructional Research and Development and speak with someone who can quickly orient you to some of the practices which might be most useful to you. In the meantime, however, we have included a few simple practices which might be adapted to many circumstances:

Tracking Learning Goals Across Assignments
Categorize your list of learning goals into four or five areas. Advise students of the relative weight each category of learning goals will have in determining their final grade. Make a grading grid out of these areas. Each assignment will fulfill the categories of learning goals in different ways. Some assignments might not fulfill one category at all. Others might be heavily weighted in one category.

Set I of Learning Goals
Set II of Learning Goals
Set III of Learning Goals
Set IV of Learning Goals
Assignment I
50 points
0 points
20 points
30 points
Assignment II
35 points
35 points
30 points
0 points
Assignment III
60 points
30 points
10 points
0 points
Assignment IV
80 points
10 points
0 points
10 points
Assignment V
75 points
15 points
5 points
5 points

In the above example, each assignment is worth a total of 100 points.  How many points each assignment counts towards each category of learning goals differs.  Because the set of learning goals are not equally valued in this course, the points in each section add up to different amounts.  In this case, the instructor felt learning goals listed under set I should be worth 60% of the final grade.  Set II's learning goals should be worth 18%, Set III 13% and finally, Set IV, 9%.

Linking Competencies with Grades
Sometimes simply mastering a certain percentage of the learning goals in a course is not enough.  In courses where a minimum grade is required to advance to the next level of courses, students are expected to have mastered certain skills over others. One way to deal with this is to define the specific skills that need to be mastered for each grade.  In creating an achievement test, this would involve marking each question with the corresponding grade level of the skill tested.  Certain questions would be coded as "D" level questions.  Others "C" level.  Others "B" and "A".  Students would need to get a specific number of questions correct in a grade category to earn that grade.  Students must achieve the minimum requirements for all lower grades before they can be considered for a higher grade.  For example, a student scoring 90% on all of the "A" questions but only 40% on the "C" questions would receive a "D".