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Illinois State University
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Design Your Course

Module 9: Developing A Grading System

Anticipated Module Outcomes

Upon the successful conclusion of Module 9, you will have:

  1. Reflected on your personal grading philosophies.
  2. Familiarized yourself with a variety of possible grading models.
  3. Begun designing a grading system for your course.
  4. Been introduced to a variety of rubrics.
  5. Considered the applicability of rubrics to your teaching/grading practices.

The final phase of course design involves developing a grading system, reflecting on possible problems, writing your promising syllabus, and planning for the evaluation of the course and your own teaching.

Activity 9a: Articulating Your Grading Philosophy

The following questions should help you to reflect on your personal philosophy of grading. Please use Worksheet 9a: Articulating Your Grading Philosophy as you answer the following questions:

  • What are the most important things you want your course grading system to accomplish—for you and for your students?
  • Do you believe good work in one area of the course should be able to compensate for poor work in other areas? Why or why not?
  • Which is more important to you: what the student achieves by the end of the course or what the student achieves during each discrete “unit” or on each individual assignment?
  • Which would motivate your students most: receiving summative feedback periodically throughout the course; receiving formative feedback early and summative feedback only toward the end; being able to choose when, how, and on what basis they will be graded?
  • Do you believe only a certain number of students should be able to achieve an A in your course, or do you believe in rewarding all learning with the grade it deserves?
  • Do you believe student work should be assessed in light of a specific set of criteria or do you believe student work should be assessed in terms of how it measures up against the work of other students?
  • Do you believe in assessing penalties for late work and other infractions? Why or why not?
  • Do you believe in allowing extra credit to allow students to compensate for failures? Why or why not?

Models for Calculating Course Grades

Four models for calculating course grades include:

  1. Weighted Letter Grades
  2. Accumulated Points
  3. Definitional System
  4. Portfolio Grading

Weighted Letter Grades


Your grade will be determined as follows:

30% Average letter grade on unit tests
30% Letter grade earned for group project
30% Letter grade on final exam
10% Letter grade for class participation

Note to Students: Your participation grade will be based on your consistency in submitting completed homework and assignments, your contributions to discussions in class or online, and the submission of an up-to-date learning log as requested.

You might use Weighted Letter Grades if:
  • You believe that each performance/assignment is distinct from the others and should be valued differently.
  • You want to keep student performances in different categories distinct from each other (tests, homework, class participation, etc.), minimizing variations among performances in a distinct category.
  • Different kinds of performance/excellence are differently valued.
  • You want to be able to reward development (requires weighting within categories).

Accumulated Points


Your grade will be determined as follows:

300 pts. Unit tests
300 pts. Group project
300 pts. Final exam
100 pts. Class participation

NOTE: Class participation includes the following: homework (40 pts.) contributions to in-class and online discussions (30 pts.) and learning log (30 pts.)

A 900-1000 pts.
B 800-899 pts.
C 700-799 pts.
D 600-699 pts.
F 599 pts. or fewer
You might use Accumulated Points if:
  • You believe that good or poor performance in one area can be offset by work in other areas.
  • You’re looking for a model that rewards student development over the course of the semester.
  • You want to allow students to decide where/when to focus their efforts.
  • You want to offer students the opportunity to earn more than 100% (or more than one way to earn 100%).

Definitional System


  Unit Tests Group Project Final Exam Class Participation
A A average Grade of B or better for project B or better on exam A for participation
B B average Grade of C or better for project C or better on exam B or better for participation
C C average Grade of D or better for project D or better on exam C or better for participation
D D average Grade of F or better for project F on exam D or better for participation
F F average Grade of F or better for project F on exam F or better for participation

To earn a particular grade in this class, you must meet or exceed the standards for that grade in all categories. For example, if you earn A’s in the categories of unit tests, final exam, and class participation and a B in the category of group project, your grade for the course will be an A. If, however, you earn A’s in the categories of unit tests, final exam, and participation, but only a C on your group project, your grade for the course will be a B.

You might use Definitional System if:
  • You believe that all categories of work are equally important and one should not substitute for another.
  • You want to give grades (not just “pass/fail” or “+/-”) on all work.
  • You are willing to patiently (and repeatedly) explain your grading system to students, as it is not a common one. (HINT: Be sure a clear explanation appears in your syllabus!).

Portfolio System


Your final grade for the course will be determined by your final portfolio, which will showcase your work from the semester. Along the way, I’ll be providing formative assessments (in the form of comments and advisory grades on individual assignments). These assessments will be designed to help you prepare your work for inclusion in the portfolio, but they—especially the advisory grades—will not contribute to your portfolio grade. That is, your portfolio grade will NOT be an average of your advisory grades. Instead, it will reflect the overall quality of your writing and writing processes at the end of the semester, as evidenced by the reflective introduction and the portfolio drafts of the papers you choose to include.

You might use Portfolio Grading if:
  • You believe that students develop over the course of a semester and you want clear evidence of that development so it can be rewarded.
  • You want to involve students in the reflection on and evaluation of their own learning/progress.
  • You (and your students) can live with a certain amount of ambiguity in grading.
  • You are willing to patiently (and repeatedly) explain your grading system to students, as it is not a common one. (HINT: Be sure a clear explanation appears in your syllabus!)

Determining which system is best for you

To determine which system is best for you, consider:

What will you grade?
  • Are these items diverse?
  • Do they allow you to evaluate student achievement in relation to all course outcomes?
How much weight will each item carry?
  • Is the weight carried by the item appropriate for the relative importance of the outcome the item evaluates?
  • Which system is the best fit for your grading philosophy and the nature of your discipline and your course?

Time for Reflection

Which grading system is best for me… and my students?

Please spend a few minutes considering which of the grading systems discussed seems best suited to your philosophy of grading, the course you are designing, and the students you expect to teach.

Grading Rubrics

If you are thinking of using a Grading Rubric you may consider:

  • What is the course objective/learning outcome this assignment addresses?
  • To what professional competency/competencies does this course objective/learning outcome relate?
  • What are the “observable criteria” that would tell me (and my students) the extent to which they have achieved the objective/outcome and are moving toward competency?
  • At what distinct levels might students perform?
  • How can I describe the levels at which each criteria might be met?

Activity 9b: Developing a Grading System


Please use Worksheet 9b: Developing your Grading System to develop the grading system for your course.

Module Review

We hope that Module 9 has helped you to:

  • Develop a grading system.
  • Consider the applicability of rubrics to your teaching/grading practices.


Walvoord, B. E., & Anderson, V. J. (1998). Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Thank you for completing module 9 on creating a grading system for your course. Module 10 will help guide you through anticipating possible operational problems and designing solutions for these.

Don’t hesitate to send questions related to this module to the facilitator, Dr. Claire Lamonica.

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Dr. Claire Lamonica
Dr. Claire Lamonica
Director, Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology
Illinois State University
Normal, IL
Phone: (309) 438-2542
2017-08-24T13:21:10.332-05:00 2017