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!

14 thoughts on “Grading Hacks Video #2 (Also, Points or Percents?)

  1. Thank you so much for this series (and for all that you share)! Your students and district are very lucky to have you. You are awesome! 🙂

    I was wondering if you ever use and, if so, how you incorporate your coding system? I have found that my higher-level students in particular tend to “borrow” a bit more from the internet or past students and Turnitin is a necessary tool for me. Thanks for any input!

  2. Hey Hope,
    Thanks so much! My California district had a subscription to and I made it a requirement for all major out-of-class written works so I could see the plagiarism scrub reports. One of my co-workers at my old school actually input the codes into his Turnitin account was able to grade entirely online by clicking rather than writing the codes on each paper. Then, students were still required to handwrite the correction round and turn in a physical copy of everything to him for our hard-copy writing portfolios. For me, I like to grade in lots of offline places, such as waiting in the car at my daughter’s volleyball practice or in our backyard hammock. With the blog and social media, I feel like I already spend a lot of time online, so I decided to keep my grading tools old school. Also, I’m already down to five min. per paper and can’t imagine I’ll get much faster than that if I go online.

    Anyway, a long way of explaining that can absolutely be part of your grading hack strategy. You’ll just need to set up the codes one time and then you’ll be ready to roll. Happy grading! 🙂

  3. How do you factor the handwritten corrections based on the rules into the grade? I really like the idea of mandating revisions to make them look at areas of strength and areas of weakness, but I am trying to figure out logistics.

  4. Hey, Julie, great question! I make the handwritten corrections a separate homework assignment worth 10 pts. in the grade book. Some teachers like to add points back to an essay grade, but I prefer to keep the grammar and content grades exactly as they were earned so I have an accurate record for me and the parents to see. I also like to see the growth over the year. The first-quarter essay grades are definitely a rude awakening for some of my kids, but they get with the program quickly once they realize I’m going to make them do these corrections. By the fourth quarter, my grading is so fast because their final drafts are Clean with a capital C. 🙂

  5. Carol Propp says:

    Where do I find your code sheets?

  6. Selina McGinn says:

    Hello from New Mexico,

    I love your blog, videos, and TPT materials. I recently purchased your essay grading system. It is so amazing. However, I have been going crazy trying to figure out how you got 41 points for content with the sample rubric. Please help! I’m excited to start using this system in my classroom.

    Selina McGinn

  7. Hi Selina and fellow New Mexican (I’m UNM class of 1994),
    Happy to help! So, as you’ve already noticed, the grammar and content grades are completely separate. In fact, I enter them as separate grades in the gradebook. Kids and parents know that each essay gets two grades – one for content and one for grammar. The grammar grade is easy, right? It’s just adding up the number of times a student committed one of the numbered grammar errors. Simple math.

    That content grade, though, is a little trickier and is determined by where the checkmarks fall on the rubric. The content codes are just there to save me from having to write (and rewrite…and rewrite) the same sorts of content-issue comments over and over. Content codes don’t directly or mathematically translate to the content grade, as the grammar codes do. Instead, they are writing guidance for students. It’s really just where the checkmarks fall on the rubric that determines the overall content grade.

    So, for the example on pg. 9 of the ebook, the bulk of the checkmarks fell into the “B” category. In my mind, I start there, giving the paper an 85 percent, a mid-B level grade. Then, I ratchet up or down a bit, depending on the value of the outliner checkmarks. In this case, flow, transitions, and MLA held more weight than a snappy title, so that slid the score down from 85 to 81, a B- at my school. Some teachers prefer to make each of the checkmarks on the rubric worth a specific number of points, but I haven’t needed to go that route.

    Definitely let me know if more questions or concerns arise as you work through the materials. I know there’s a lot to wade through there. 🙂

  8. Kimberly Wilber says:

    Hi Laura,

    Quick question! Since you are not using percentages, how do you enter each point category into your online grading system? I may be missing something very elementary…..


  9. Hey, Kimberly! In my district’s PowerSchool program, I can set up my categories as all having the same weight, “1.” I just enter that on my master page as the start of each year and then the points flow smoothly. You may use a different grade program, but I’m sure there’s an easy way to override the percentage screen. Site techs are good for this sort of thing. 🙂

  10. Hi Laura!

    I “discovered” you and your amazing video hacks this summer. I think you just might be the life preserver I need this year. I will have 165 middle school students in my English classes this year and the thought of 15-20 minutes per paper gives me a very sick feeling before school has even started! I really want to try the “codes”…but I’m a bit worried that my students will feel I don’t care enough…..that I didn’t take the time to write personal comments. Has this ever been an issue for you?

  11. Hey, Tedra, great question! I can see why you’d be worried about that, but this has never been an issue. Good news, right? I think it’s because I take care of those concerns before I even start grading the first stack. I’m upfront with my kids about my coding system and explain to them why I grade their papers this way – it benefits me and them. Then, I’m always sure to write at least one small compliment per paper: “Great thesis!” “Strong verb choice!” “Love this part!” etc. They are so psyched that a teacher has committed to getting their papers graded and back to them in five days that they’re on board. And, finally, we do a lot of things in my classroom to show that I care about my kids, from greeting them by name each day as they trickle in to hosting bonus-point competitions to telling/listening to funny stories that (sort of) connect to the daily lessons. The classroom is a comfortable place and they know I’m working hard on their behalf. So…do they miss the lengthy end note on their essays that summarize all of the things the codes already say? No. No, they don’t. 🙂

  12. Hi, Laura, since you give different classes’ finals different point values, do you give them different finals, too? Thanks! 🙂

  13. Hi, Kelsi, yes, sometimes the exams do vary while other times I’ll swap out just one section of the same final. It really depends on what happens with each section of the class each semester. No matter what, the final exam seems to evolve every time I teach the same prep. Guess I like change. 🙂

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