10: Grading Smarter, not Harder


Dueck, Myron. Grading Smarter, Not Harder: Assessment Strategies That Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn. Print.






  • CARE Method for Evaluating Effectiveness of Grading Strategy:
    • C: Students care about consequences
    • A: Grades assess content mastery alone
    • R: Strategies have good results
    • E: Strategies empower students to learn better
  • Instead of assigning a zero or incomplete to an assignment …
    • Assigned due time spans instead of due dates
    • Used late incomplete form that explained reason for late assignment, next steps to turn in assignment late, and signatures of student and parent/guardian
    • Assigned overall incomplete for a marking period if student was missing any major assignments. Converted that to a grade once all major assignments were turned in
    • Used homework club to help students complete assignments
    • CARE results: Students worked harder to avoid interventions because they didn’t want to lose free time to homework club. Grades more accurately measured content mastery. Interventions on late form reduced negative behavior more that homework incomplete and late points. Personalized interventions empowered students to complete assignments.
  • Instead of grading homework sets …
    • Incentivized homework sets by making them entry tickets into meaningful classroom activities
    • Graded occasional homework quizzes
    • Used individual homework completion to identify student homework profiles, i.e. how much homework student needed to complete to develop skills
    • Used homework profiles to determine appropriate interventions
    • Provided in-school support (homework club during lunch and after school) to complete homework
    • CARE results: Students did homework to gain access to more engaging activities and to perform better on quizzes.  Homework quizzes better assess content mastery than homework sets. Shifted focus from just completing homework to using homework to perform better on other tasks. In school supports empowered students to do better.
  • Instead of just grading tests …
    • Students completed test form that graded problems and related them to key skills
    • Students used test form to identify their content strengths and gaps
    • Students allowed to retest in specific topics that match their gaps only
    • Cascaded test grades to quizzes, i.e. if student demonstrated mastery on a topic in a test, quiz grade on same topic was changed to reflect current content mastery
    • CARE results: Motivated students to do better on tests to recoup quiz grades. Did not penalize students for developing content mastery slower than others.  Better assessment of content mastery over time.  More students opted to retest because they did not need to retest on all test topics.



Designing and implementing projects can be very time consuming.  Developing systems that save time and also improve learning are invaluable to teachers who aim to be both effective and sane.  Dueck’s CARE criteria are a good checklist for evaluating similar grading experiments aimed at creating new grading strategies that are more effective and less time consuming.  Aiming to use grading practices to measure content mastery, not behavior, challenges the idea of scaffolding and assessing 21st Century skills.  One can resolve this conflict by converting learning outcomes to student-friendly, measurable learning targets and scaffolding and assessing these learning targets to the same levels as content-specific learning targets.

Preparation Steps
  • Use CARE criteria to evaluate current grading practices and determine which are effective and ineffective practices
  • Brainstorm grading practices that can replace ineffective practices
  • Use a parent letter to notify parents/guardians of new grading practices and rationale for these
  • Develop resources (e.g. forms) related to new grading practices
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement new grading practices
  • Use CARE criteria to determine if new grading practices are a good fit for one’s students
  • Make adjustments to grading practices that improve their ability to demonstrate CARE criteria
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Develop grading routines and tools around CARE-tested grading strategies
  • Have students reflect on how grading routines are affecting their mindsets and achievement levels
  • Use student input to refine grading strategies
  • Refine student strategies to make students more active agents in the grading process



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