Graded vs. Ungraded

What activities/parts of the day are graded?


12 Responses to Graded vs. Ungraded

  1. Homework should be graded on a timely basis. Problems that were wrong should be re-done, due in two days.

    Quizzes should be graded as well. No partial credit. Use them to see how well the class is doing. Should not be allowed to re-take.

    Tests. Partial credit can be earned. Can be taken as many times as necessary until mastery is achieved.

    Spiral Tests. Tests given at specific points during the year. These are cumulative, should be similar to standards test questions. Can be re-taken as many times it is necessary for student to pass it. No partial credit.

    Final exam. Partial credit can be earned. Can only be taken once, unless there is time to squeeze in a re-do in special circumstances.

    Notebook. I want my students to have a well-organized homework so that they can keep track of the achievements, as well as to have a record of all the things they have accomplished throughout the year. Can count for 5% of final grade, or can count for extra credit for Homework only.

    ***Alternative to checking notebooks****
    I read online many months ago about a teacher that had Notebook quizzes. The teacher kept identical notebooks for each period. At random times during the month he would have “Notebook Quizzes” with about 5-10 questions. If the student was well organized, each answer can be found in a blink. Questions such as “What was the answer to question 5 on July 20th warm up,” or what was the answer to question 10 on Unit test 2″. If the student is well organized he/she should have no trouble getting an A on those quizzes. I like this idea because it puts the burden of keeping an organized binder on the students and consequently, frees the teacher from having to grade 120+ notebooks!

  2. MBP says:

    Last year I (basically) only graded quizzes and tests. This year I think that I’m going to be grading behavior and homework. Behavior I’m going to be grading with points. Homework I’m going to be grading with twice-weekly homework quizzes.

    I’m mega-ambivalent about assigning points for behavior. In principle, I’m fully on board with the idea that ultimately it’s harmful for students to create a point-grubbing culture, that the parent-student-teacher relationship suffers when the teacher has too much control over grades and that knowledge should be what we reward in grades.

    At the same time: kids do care about grades, I’m short on incentives, and classroom management is a huge challenge for me.

    Right now I’m hoping to assign behavior 10%, have knowledge-measuring stuff (quizzes/mid-semester/final) count for 80%, and have other stuff (behavior/homework/classwork) count for 20%. But is that enough to provide the incentive that I’m looking for? And how much am I losing when I assign more weight to the stuff that, ultimately, I only care about in a second-order way?

  3. Susan. says:


    You have a lot of really good questions. My answer to all would be to work on the relationships that you have with the students (this does not mean to be their friend, but take interest and show that you care), and be confident in the subject matter that you are teaching, and the values that you have as a teacher and the homework will take care of itself. I say this because if you turn your grading into an “incentive” for behaviour and doing the work and the homework it may backfire and do the opposite to what you intended.

    I do not grade homework. During my daily beginning of classignment assignment, during which I check attendance (with a seating chart, takes 2 seconds), I walk around the room checking the students’ open homework books, while they are quietly working. I check for completion and problems. If there are problems that many of the students had, I’ll go over them later. This walking around the room also lets me see how they are working on the beginning assignment, check absent/tardy notes, check in with students who don’t look well or who are off task.

    I would suggest that you seek out some help with the classroom management, either by doing some of your own reading and experimentation, or by enlisting someone at your school or in your community to help you. I’ve always believed that the most successful teachers are the ones who are willing to ask for help because they usually end up growing in ways they never imagined possible.


  4. MBP says:

    “either by doing some of your own reading and experimentation, or by enlisting someone at your school or in your community to help you.”

    See, I have been doing lots of reading. Lots of books recommend grading behavior. (Right now I’m reading Emmer/Emertson and Sprik.)

    And I’ve also experimented. I’m not sure why all of my experiments were failures, but I’ve tried a ton and failed at a ton. I know I have to do a better job structuring in natural rewards to the way I run class (ending with something cool, maybe a cool Friday problem to send them home with), and I’ll get better at that. But I need some negative consequences — I just do.

    And I’ve also talked to people in my school and community. Lots and lots of teachers grade behavior, and lots and lots of teachers also complain about behavior issues.

    The following argument is certainly naive, and probably wrong-headed, but, look: you grade a kid’s mathematical performance, right? Do you think that this provides an incentive for your students to do work? Do you think that, if we got rid of grade, and kept the rest of our school infrastructure intact, your kids would be motivated to do what you say?

    (For the record, I’m very sympathetic to the argument that most kids would be motivated to learn things that interest them, and that in the long run we should change the structure of school to allow for more and more of that. In the long run we might be able to ditch grades. But given everything else? Kids care about grades.)

    If you use grades to motivate math learning, I don’t see why you would have an objection to using grades to motivate behavior. It’s true — there are good ways and bad ways to grade anything. But what doesn’t work about including behavioral standards in SBG?

  5. New Teacher says:

    I feel like homework should not be graded for correctness, but for completion. I experimented with different styles in my student teaching and the “problem class.” I tried purely on completion (the way my cooperating teacher had it set up), completion, but turned in and checked for correctness, and grading on correctness.

    Simple fact, with the three preps and coaching that I had, grading every single homework burnt me out. So, I backed off and offered 10 points for the assignment, with the chance to get 1 extra credit point by getting the randomly chosen problem correct. This method was very well received by the students and didn’t take very long to do. The students liked it since they were still only graded on completion, got that elusive extra credit, *and* received feedback on how they were doing. I’m going to start my new year this way as well.

    Quizzes are an assessment that I like to grade on a 2 point per problem scale. 2 points for correct process and answer, 1 point if they know the process but had an algebra mistake, and 0 points if they were completely off.

    I like the behavior grade, but I’ve always seen it being lumped with a “materials” grade. Students at the school I student taught at were required to bring their agenda, book, and calculator to class everyday. They also earned an attendance grade (25 points per day) that was lumped with behavior and materials. I like this as they are an easy cushion that is very easily handled by the students, but at 10%, it doesn’t *usually* effect the overall grade to the point that if someone were truly deserving to pass or fail, that they wouldn’t. They’ll fight for that 10% because it seems like a lot, and I think that it does help them take responsibility for staying out of trouble, coming to class, and bringing the tools to help them succeed.

  6. Susan says:


    “The following argument is certainly naive, and probably wrong-headed, but, look: you grade a kid’s mathematical performance, right? Do you think that this provides an incentive for your students to do work?”

    I’m thinking back on the last two years of students that I’ve taught. All classes were middle school math, some were advanced, some middle of the road, and some were remedial. To me, there are three different types of students, regardless of the type of math they were taking: motivated students (because of self or parents), come-to-class-students (some days motivated, some days not), and unmotivated or deeply math deficient students.

    Grading mathematical performance does not, in general, provide an incentive for students. For some, yes, for the moment, but not that deep, internal motivation that I want them to have. For me incentive comes from a number of other things. Helping students understand the concept, and verifying and providing feedback that proves that they have understood (not necessarily graded) provides incentive. Exposing students to novel situations, interesting projects and really cool math tricks or patterns provides incentive. Having conversations with students about math, and working on your relationship with them, individually or as a class, provides incentive. Having high expectations, and making the math clear and manageable for them provides incentive. Providing students the opportunity to work together in groups, to solve problems, talk about math, share explanations and encourage each other also, I find, provides incentive.

    My goals have evolved over the years. I now look at the whole year, and decide what I want my students to have learned by the end of the year. And by learning, I mean: that they will be respected as a human being even if they cannot/will not do math; that they will grow as math students in the way that they are able over the course of the year (this is different for each student); and, that they will each be held to the same high standards of behaviour and self-control.

    MBP, thank you for the opportunity to allow me to think deeper about this issue.


  7. zshiner says:

    First, let me say that I love this discussion a ton. Now that that’s out of the way…

    @New Teacher: If you grade on completion only, I am curious how you check for correctness (is that the 1 problem EC point?). Last year I graded on completion only by circulating during the warm-up looking at students’ work. My major issue with this strategy was that a student could have a misconception which invalidated every single problem, but still get full credit. Giving the student full points for the problem without noticing the misconception merely reinforces the problem. As my good friend says, practice makes permanent

    @MBP: I have a couple problems with the idea of grading behavior (at least in high school and, to a lesser extent, middle school). What it boils down to is the meaning of grades. Are grades determined by the students’ mathematical content knowledge? How much students grow? How well they show up on time and exhibit productive behaviors? At the high school level, where classes build off one another more and more, I find that grading anything other than ones ability to be successful in the subsequent math class can serve to hurt them in the future.

    Ideally I would want to structure my classroom in a way that students need to work cooperatively with each other and unproductive behaviors debilitate ones ability to learn the mathematics, and are therefore tied to their grades. How this manifests inside the classroom is beyond me. Nonetheless, I believe that grading behavior is a crutch that I don’t want to lean on.

  8. MBP says:

    @Susan: What you describe is what I want my classroom to be like. Unfortunately, it usually isn’t like that. I’m not good enough to motivate my students in the ways that you describe. So the question is, until then, what do I do? My students will learn less this year unless I have some non-learning incentives, both positive and negative, to present to individuals and the class. Them be the facts as far as I see ’em. And so I start looking for incentives. And then I notice that kids care about grades. And so, I say, “Why not grade their classroom performance?”

    And I think that it’s worth discussing something about grades, in the abstract. Ultimately, quarter/semester grades are just feedback with two special characteristics:
    (1) Parents and colleges see grades.
    (2) Grades take multi-dimensional data and project it into one-dimension, so that information is lost.

    The projection of lots of variables into one variable of feedback had distinct disadvantages. In short, lots of information is lost. Strengths and weaknesses all get boiled down and mixed up into one number. On the other hand, this way of presenting information does have advantages. It’s hard for humans to take in lots and lots of data, and so we need better ways of representing multi-dimensional information. Is it best to reduce everything down to one dimension? Maybe not. But *some* sort of projection is needed. Otherwise the feedback would be overwhelming.

    So, @zshiner, you feel uncomfortable assigning a grade for behavior.
    Do you feel comfortable providing feedback for behavior?
    Do you think that it’s important for you to give feedback concerning behavior?
    Are you providing feedback regularly to your students about behavior?
    If you are, then how are you processing the data so that your students will be able to get a grasp on whether they need to improve or not?

    Truth be told, I’m sympathetic to the argument that it’s just damn confusing to students to combine behavior and dynamic knowledge into one number. At the same time, if you leave behavior out of the grade, then students get the message that you don’t really care about behavior. I think that there are two ways to react to this problem. First, you could try to show students that you DO care about behavior. Second, you could try to make it less confusing to students, and help them understand that their grade has two distinct parts.

    Also: In case it’s not clear, thank you so much to everyone who shares and engages on this site. It’s a gift to learn from you all.

  9. In my mind, here is the fundamental question: how do I get students to care about something without assigning it a grade? I feel we have a mentality that if something is ungraded, a student will stop caring about it. This makes it awkward to grade certain components that we, as teachers, care about for our students. Some examples: ability to work in groups, neatness of assignments, tardiness, volunteering answers in class, being prepared for class (book checks, having a pencil, etc) – in essence, behavior, social, and organizational skills that I will refer to as ‘life skills’ here on out. How do I, as a teacher, encourage this without assigning it a grade?

    Much of the argument above relies on the following assumption: kids care about their grades. My question: Why? Why do we assume that students, when they enter our class, will care about their grades? (A bit of background: one of my teaching experiences was such where this wasn’t the case – I could not rely on grades as either a positive or negative incentive for these students).

    My belief: students care about grades because, at some point, someone made it essential to their classroom that these students care about grades. The come-to-class students probably have a parent or community organization (sports teams come to mind) who believe this too. The highly-motivated kids have probably stopped thinking about ‘grades’ and now think about ‘knowledge’, making sure they know the material so they can increase their knowledge of the world and ultimately improve as a human being. This is not something that every student has built-in – it is something we, as teachers, ingrain in them, and then use as a crutch to think about these life-skills that we would now like teach and emphasize. Instead of trying to use grades as the sole way to encourage these skills and behaviors, I need to find a way to make these behaviors essential to my class and encourage my students to care about these life-skills just as I do.

    How I plan to do this: incorporate a social or organizational skill into as many assignments and classes as I reasonably can, and make them requirements as opposed to incentives. I will give them clear guidelines and procedures for how to do these things (interact with people, settle an argument, create a heading for a paper). Some assignments will require group work (jigsaws, cooperative learning, think-pair-share, group projects) where interacting with peers is a necessary part of the grade, and I will not accept non-participation. If necessary, I will assign a small, itsy-bitsy portion of the overall grade to these components (I feel this is common for neatness/organization requirements). Students will get used to this – they will come to see participation and socialization as one of the fundamentals of my classroom – just like grades, yet separate from grades.

    This post is already long (sorry), but here’s my last point: students need to take ownership of the fact that socialization, behavioral, and organizational skills are important for them, not for you. Explaining this to them will create some of that realization. Having them come up with behavioral expectations can have them take ownership of it. Asking them to reflect on how a particular behavior is affecting their experience in the classroom is the best (my two favorites I stole from a friend: “what is something you have been doing to help you succeed in this class?”, ”what is something you can start doing to help you succeed in this class?”).

  10. Mark Barnes says:

    It’s a simple, one-word answer — nothing.

  11. New Teacher says:

    @zshiner … I tried a lot of things in one class in particular because test and quiz grades were poor and I questioned the grading for completion. While I was circulating through the room checking for completed homework, the homework answers were displayed on the board for students to check. After that, we’d spend time going through and answering any questions students had about the problems.

    I then went to my collecting and grading a random problem. During that time, I’d also look at the other problems to see how kids were doing, and that’s how I could determine if we needed more review time or I could approach individual kids. Or just kind of mark what they were doing wrong and remind them that they can come in for help. That seemed to work out better than them simply checking, because then I could know for sure if the kids needing help, got it. Or at least they knew I wanted them to come in or seek help.

  12. Ms. Miller says:

    First off, I have never graded homework — it’s always been a completion basis. I do this partly because I think of homework as practice, and I don’t think practice should be graded. I also do this because life is too short to be grading something that was (at that time) only counting for 20% of their grade.

    A couple of years ago, I had a student whose grade went from failing to passing when I eliminated a couple of zeros she had on homework. That incident changed my whole thinking on how I handle homework. After my epiphany, I decided to treat homework as extra credit. The way I explain it to my students is that for every homework they attempt (which I check as I’m checking roll), they earn one point added onto their six-weeks average (up to 10 points). This makes it purely an incentive system and not a punishment system. Also, if a student is truly advanced enough that he doesn’t need the practice, he no longer has to jump through hoops to “play school”.

    Following the SBG model, I think it’s more important that a student learn a concept than that he learn it on my timetable. Therefore, I will allow re-takes until the next-to-last day of the six-weeks (but re-takes must be done outside of class). No re-takes are allowed on the six-weeks test.

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