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Grading Hacks Video #2 (Also, Points or Percents?)

Ready for six more grading hacks? Here’s episode #2 of my new YouTube series designed to help you reduce grading time:

Click here for more info. on the 5-minute essay grading system. On a related note, new teacher Lindsay emailed me wondering how to set up her grade book. Here’s part of our conversation, shared with her permission:

Hi Laura!
I will be starting my first year of teaching in the fall, and I can’t say I’m not nervous. However, I can say you have been such an inspiration and comfort to me throughout the planning process. I have my grading system set up in a manner that I am comfortable with, but I cannot seem to stop endlessly comparing it to other grading systems. From your experience, do you find that a percentage-based method or points-based method is more “just,” if you will? Also, if I may ask, what does the general layout of your grading system look like in terms of how much weight your assignments carry?
Thank you so much for all you do,

Hey Lindsay,
Congrats on your new adventure! I remember that feeling of nervous anticipation so well. Heck, I still get a little sweaty sometimes thinking about school, but one of best friends told me that being nervous just shows that you care. I must care a lot.

Grades are my Achilles heel.
I used to weight my grades into percentage buckets:

But then I had a terrible semester where I moved our only speech assignment that term to the very end of the semester. Because there weren’t any points in that category for the bulk of the term, the computer program artificially inflated everyone’s grade until I put some points in that category, but I didn’t realize this because, well…I’m dumb. When I entered those speech scores, a bomb went off in the grade book, dropping some kids an entire letter grade right before finals. It was ugly and I had to talk some kids off the ledge. That summer, I vowed never again and switched to a basic, easy (for me) to understand points system.

These days, there’s just one big ol’ bucket of points.
A homework assignment will be 10 pts., a quiz might be 20 pts., a quizzer 5 pts., a major assignment like an essay, exam, or speech 100 pts., etc. I also modify the point values so that assessments later in the term are worth more than those at the beginning of the term; that way, a test in Oct. (50 pts.) has the same immediate impact on a student’s grade as a test in Dec. (100 pts.)

By the end of the term, everything evens out and I still hit roughly the same percentages mentioned above. Writing is always my main emphasis and our energies definitely reflect that. I don’t list the percentages on my course outline (feel free to grab a copy here) because it’s not an exact science and I want to avoid calculator-toting junior lawyers at the end of the term. So far, none of my kids has ever asked what percentages I use; the only thing they ever ask is, “How much is the final exam worth?” Regardless of the number of points we have in a semester (we usually end up landing somewhere between 1,100 and 1,400, depending on the class), I make the final exam worth 10 percent of the grade. Side note: My favorite tool to help kids face the reality of their heading-into-finals situation is the RogerHub Final Grade Calculator.

If first period Eng. 9 ended up with 1,250 points as we head into finals week, the exam’s worth 125 points. Second period Eng. 9 (same prep, different kids) might’ve hit 1,317 points, so their exam is worth 132 points. Every class is slightly different because different groups of kids need different things. Some classes move fast, some a bit more slowly. Some get interrupted with monthly assemblies so stuff has to be cut, some are filled with a brain bubble that cries out for more, more, more.

I want to tell you, “Don’t worry. It’ll all be fine,” but I know that you’ll still worry. I know because, even after 19 years, I still do, too. I can tell you, though, that everything really will work out just fine. It’s only high school after all, and if you don’t like something you did this year you just change it up next year.

Hope I’ve helped!

What to reach out to me with a question of your own? Just click the “Contact” link at the top of the page and let me know how I can help. Teach on, everyone!

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