The most tedious task a teacher has to do, which is why so many of them have gone to multiple choice tests which require little work to grade, even though they don't measure comprehension nearly as well as other types of test.

Grading can also be depressing when you see how little some students remember of what you taught, or even more so when you discover a case of plagiarism.

Grading assignments seems to be every teacher's bane. I really like teaching. I think it's a lot of fun, and I like to think that my students enjoy class, too. Teaching means that, whether my research goes well or poorly, I still accomplish something every semester - a bunch of people walk away from my class knowing new stuff. Teaching is really rewarding and mentally stimulating for the teacher as well - we have to learn all the intricacies of a domain so that, no matter the question, we can field it.

Unfortunately, people want to receive grades. And despite claims of grade inflation, that means that I can't just give everyone an A. Instead, I must assess their understanding of the material and their ability to utilize that knowledge to solve problems and create systems. Which means I have to grade them. Dammit.

Grading really, really sucks. I truly do see the appeal of Scantron. But, since I am teaching at the university level, fill in the bubbles just doesn't cut it as a learning experience or as an evaluation tool. So I have to assign interesting assignments. Not always - the first one or two assignments in any given class are usually of the "do you have a pulse?" variety - but for the most part, I feel that I am letting students down if their assignment is either uninteresting or easy. Unfortunately, interesting and tricky assignments are usually a total p.i.t.a. to grade.

Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about. Recently, I told students to write a program that would analyze a text and then print out all the proper nouns in said text and a count of how many times each noun appeared. I told them that I didn't expect perfection, but that I would be testing their scripts on Moby Dick, among others, and if they didn't at least find Ishmael. their program wouldn't cut it. Since computers can't understand text very well, their programs are necessarily going to be a little dicey, so I told them to do their best.

That, it seems to me, is a very interesting problem. Recognizing parts of speech is very much a non-trivial thing. Not only that, but it's also nice because it is easy to write a program that does a mediocre job, and then it is pregressively more and more difficult to refine that progam into a superb one. It's also horrible to grade.

So now I have 17 programs that analyze text and print out proper noun frequencies. Some of them take a long time to run. Some of them suck ass. Others are elegant little masterpieces. So I have a general idea of which ones are pretty to look at and which ones work well. Unfortunately, "You did okay" is not a grade. So I need to figure out whether "You did okay" means they get 50%, 75% or 100% but no extra credit. Not only that, but I have to figure out whether or not student A's "Okay" is better than student B's "okay" so that A can get a 73% compared to B's 79%. And now my job, which I have been putting off for over a week, is to assign little numbers to each program that indicate, to two digits of precision, how good their program is.

A cursory glance through their code has not found any cheating - which is nice, as discovering an instance of cheating means that I get really pissed off and have to stop grading for 24 hours - but these numbers that I assign aren't just data in a vacuum, they impact the self esteem and progress of the people to whom I give them. Every student that I tell "your program is teh sux0r" to will go away feeling shittier because of it. Everyone in the class worked hard on their homework (I think), which means that they are now emotionally invested in how good I think it is. So telling a student "you get a 40%" doesn't just affect their grade and how they feel about the class, but it also affects their future performance.1 Self esteem therapists aside, a person who is told that their work is lame generally feels bad afterwards. And nobody does good work when they feel bad. So I have this heisenbergian dilemma - tell a student they are doing poorly so that I can assure future poor performance, or lie. And since I'm not going to lie, I have to steel myself every time I send out grades.

Most professors hate grading, so it is famously farmed off on grad students and/or teaching assistants. Unfortunately, this also separates the teacher from student feedback, because every missed answer or uncaught bug is another clue to the teacher that a particular area was not covered well enough. This means that professors tend to become insulated from criticism, especially once they get tenure and are no longer even required to give out student reviews at the end of the term.

As for me, I hate grading, but I think I will continue to grade as much as possible myself, because the knowledge I gain about students' understanding is invaluable. But know that every time a teacher picks up that red pen they get a little pissed off. One prof told stories about how he yells at students' midterms as he grades them - "NO!" "Don't do that!" "You were doing so well!" "You got it!" "Stop trying to make me fail you! I HATE FAILING PEOPLE!". That's how he vents. For myself, I bitch about my students to my ever loving and supportive partner. My personal ratio seems to be that for every 2 hours of grading I need about 15 minutes of venting more or less. And of course, grading well requires that I spend more time at it, thus increasing the burden on her shoulders and the amount of invective that streams from my mouth.

Grading sucks.

  1. I am also given student reviews on how much they liked the class, which subsequently affect my reviews from the college and those of my future employers. Lots of good statistics have shown that student's expected grades in a class directly correlate to how much they like a particular teacher, so if you want them to like you, you should give better grades. Giving bad grades isn't just crappy to a student, it also imapcts their review of me. Now you can see some of the pressures that drive grade inflation...
In the field of education grading is the assessment of performance by assigning a grade or score. The process customarily involves the assigning a mark of performance level; generally connected with assigning letters, A, B, C, D, and F--A being of excellent or a higher performance than B, and so on.

This process gives feedback for students, parents, and teachers as to how the student has utilized higher order thinking skills. Additionally they are used effectively as grades on report cards at the end of each quarter to evaluate the overall achievement of student performance.

Generally speaking classes have several students who are way ahead of the game while several others are way behind the curve. One element of teaching is to try to encompass the spectrum of most learning styles. It's always a good idea to check those pulses! And it might include an overall assessment as to what level to start off at. The purpose of a student’s assignment is to communicate an understanding of the content to the instructor. Creative assignments are great for interest, but understanding and application are key issues when determining grades.

The structure of the evaluation tool is just as important as the construction of the lesson plan. As teachers the nice part about exercising academic freedom is the opportunity to design our own tests. Part of designing teaching objectives is to include an efficient way to grade the testing instrument too. If the test has a teacher tearing his or her hair out over it then perhaps another way might do the job just as well. Having something creative, as a process to motivate students is always a great idea, but keep in mind that balance is the key to keep things running well between students and teachers.

Small quizzes that don’t impact the final grade are a terrific way to let a teacher know how well the instruction is going so that the lessons can be monitored and adjusted. Oftentimes aids grade these and the teacher can browse the scores to get a thumbnail sketch as to how well the rate and degree of understanding is progressing.

Subjective testing leads to subjective outcomes. Making them quantitative is a must. It’s important to put the objective of the test in writing, because it reveals a lot to the teacher as to what direction the lessons will go. It also leads to ideas of how small increments of understanding by the class can lead to success within the final objective. This process is applied to all levels of education from Kindergarten to master degree courses.

Many times teachers become frustrated with grading because there is a disparity in congruency between what is being taught and what is being tested. To have a successful test, a teacher designs the diagnostic survey, administers it and interprets the results. By being able to interpret the results quantitavely this gives the teacher a way to effectively set up improved learning strategies in the classroom. In this scenario the teacher’s objective is to have the students “write a program that would analyze a text and then print out all the proper nouns in said text and a count of how many times each noun appeared” by adding that ‘finding Ishmael from Moby Dick will cut it’ adds a goal for the student to shoot for but maybe it’s too general for effectively interpreting the results. This might be the time to sit down and re write an objective.

Grading could be based upon how times a particular part of speech that occurs more often in text, like maybe the article the. To refine the grading process and evaluate the rate of student success in a more solid structure the teacher could assign the text the students use as the first of two tests. This makes the grading and testing concrete. It also offers an immediate opportunity for a second chance and the student can redeem their efforts. As an extremely simplified example the assigned text could be:

    Grading is the process of sorting fish by size, usually with some sort of screen or cage. This is necessary to prevent cannibalism in dense populations. It also allows the fish culturist to apply feed at the appropriate rates since all the fish in a given tank will be roughly the same weight after grading. 1

    The processing sequence starts from grading the fish by species and size. Sorting by species or on the basis of freshness and physical damage are still manual processes, but grading of fish by size is easily done with mechanical equipment. Mechanical graders yield better sorting ... 2

In the sample the occurs eight times out of 100 words in this quote. To get 100% the program has to identify all eight. Seven out of eight is an 88%, six out of eight is 75% and so on. If the majority of the students are scoring at 88% and above then the teacher may want to see how the program they created would analyze a text of their own choosing. The feedback originates from the student and their results, while concrete enough to easily grade. It eliminates making any kind of judgmental comments and instead focuses both the teacher and student on the mechanics of the program and what could have gone wrong.

This is where real teaching and learning can occur. Students who aren’t satisfied with their results are going to learn a lot from their mistakes, may look at the others work to see how they can improve and when it comes to future performance most likely do better. Students know exactly where they went wrong and the teacher's actions are congruent to the objective. If a significant number of students are scoring below 88% that’s a red flag. It would be best if the teacher were to review the lesson goals, learning outcomes and make sure the objectives are measurable, observable, definable and understandable.

The suggestion of starting with a known outcome for students on a test is useful so that when things go wrong for those that are trying to catch up, both the student and teacher know what went wrong; this levels the playing field and provides a jumping off point for most of the class.

Once a student knows he or she has a solid foundation in the skill being taught then a teacher gets challenging the students with fuzzy descriptions, creativity so that they can apply critical thinking skills. That's where all the fun begins! It moves toward a more complete learning process. One cannot be successful without the other. Omitting the creative problem solving process would be a disappointment to everyone. Here is a student brimming full of new knowledge and then no chance see the payoff of using it successfully

If a student is unhappy with their grade or the outcome of what they learned and says something in his or her review the teacher has ample evidence that they were provided with a solid foundation plus the opportunity to use what they learned.

Grading to me has always been a great reward in my chosen profession because I looked forward to seeing the results of my teaching efforts. It’s an opportunity to communicate one on one with a student. By welcoming student reviews that are typically offered at the end of each semester there is enough time over the break to read what the students have to say and evaluate lesson plans and tests to see where they can improve the overall success rate of what happens in the classroom.

I would encourage any teacher who finds grading frustrating to consider taking a course at a university or college of education that includes a major focus on the issues of grading. There are a great variety of tools and methods available that may fit your needs and it can go a long way towards making the job more enjoyable.


1 Hatchery Glossary: recreational/hatchery/hatglossary.html

Heintz, Susie,"Essential Elements of Instruction." Tucson,Arizona 1991(Lecture presented at Flowing Wells Institute For Teacher Renewal and Growth.)

Pregent ,Richard. Charting Your Course: How to Prepare to Teach More Effectively, 2000.

2 Preliminary processing of freshwater fish:

Teaching Objectives: tomprof/newtomprof/postings/170.html

Grad"ing (?), n.

The act or method of arranging in or by grade, or of bringing, as the surface of land or a road, to the desired level or grade.


© Webster 1913.

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