Category Archives: Assessment & Testing

Grading Guidelines

On Twitter last week, Kristen asked, “What are your grading categories and what percent of the students’ final grade comes from each?”  Kristen is a 7th grade math teacher and was looking for suggestions because she wants to change her approach.


When I was in the classroom full time, I used a grading system that I had revised and honed over several years, that worked for me and my students.  Before I describe its details and justifications, let me first say that each school and classroom has its own considerations, so every teacher should do what works for your situation.  Also, I mostly taught high school math, so some of this would be different for middle school and 9th grade.¹


In my math classes, every test, quiz, lab activity, or hand-in assignment was worth a certain amount of points.  Quizzes were usually 10–40 points, Tests 50–100, Labs/Hand-ins were 20–50.  To find a student’s average, add up all the points and divide.

clipboardStudents need to show the mathematical thinking (“show your work”) in order to get full credit.  If they show good work, but have the wrong answer, they might earn 4 out of 5 points.  If they have the right answer but without supporting work, they only earned 1–2 points.  Any mistake that is carried through to later parts of a problem without making new errors does not get new deductions (akin to the AP exam free response question grading).

Each question on a test or quiz is worth whatever the mathematics warrants, from 1 to 10 points.  Thus every similar question throughout the marking period has similar weighting, it doesn’t matter if it is on a “test” or a “quiz”.  This is one reason I changed from “Tests 50%, Quizzes 30%” type system; in that setup, the same question on a test can be worth much more than on a quiz.  Also, I sometimes only had two tests in a marking period, which didn’t seem worthy of half of the student’s grade.

Lab activities and hand-in assignments meant that a student’s grade did not just depend on timed “higher-stakes” assessments.  Students with test anxiety could demonstrate their knowledge in another way, with less stress and time pressure.  I usually had one of these every week or two throughout the marking period.


I checked homework daily, for completeness (not accuracy). During the few minutes I took to get around the room, students were discussing the homework with partners or small groups, checking answers from a key, and resolving misunderstandings.  I marked down if homework was complete, incomplete, or not done.

The student’s homework results moved their grade up or down from their class average in a range from +2 to –5 percentage points.  My reasoning was that doing homework consistently helped their class average be as good as it could be, and homework was essential to success.  If a student did their homework all the time, their grade was increased by 2 percentage points; if they missed many assignments, they were penalized by losing up to 5 points. Many students counted on those two added points and worked hard to earn them.

I had felt that other systems for grading homework weren’t equitable.  For example, if the homework was worth 100 points (perhaps 3 points per night), students who had been running a 90% might have their grade go up 3 points, but students with a 70% might get a 10 point boost.  With the +2 to –5 range, every student got the same impact for doing (or not doing) their homework.


As for Class Participation or Notebooks, these seemed to be hard to capture with a grade, and often created extra record-keeping work for me.  Students might have viewed them as easy ways to bring their grades up, but I generally did not attach any grades to them.  If I valued notebooks or taking notes for a particular class, I might grade it as a lab, especially in middle school or 9th grade when I was trying to build habits for success for the rest of high school.  In some classes, we did a quarterly portfolio as a way to summarize, consolidate, and reflect upon the learning.²

Rating clipboardOther commentators in the twitter discussion pointed out that a teacher might value engagement in discussion, or seeking help, or collaboration with other students. Consider using a rubric (shared in advance with your students) to promote the student habits you desire.  Here is one on “Class Participation” along with a record sheet for students to analyze their contributions (thanks to Carmel Schettino @SchettinoPBL) and here is one on “Student Work Habits”.

Other types of Formative Assessment don’t fall into my grading scheme, because they are formative… the information being gathered helps steer my teaching and gives the student feedback on their learning progress.  Nearly everything that happens in the classroom is part of formative assessment, helping all of us calibrate where we are on the learning journey.³

The decision whether to do Test Corrections or Retakes is a much larger discussion, but basically I did not give retakes or give points back for corrections.  My experience while teaching high school was that if students expected a guaranteed option for a retake, they didn’t always take responsibility for being prepared in the first place.

There were some times when everyone bombed an assessment, and usually that means I didn’t do the job as the teacher.  We would reteach, review, reflect, and then take a second version of the test that was averaged with the first.  I wanted to send the message that the first (poorer) grade doesn’t go away.


When a good opportunity arose, I would put a bonus question on an assessment or give extra credit for an optional part of a lab activity.  The points earned for these things accumulated as a separate “bonus quiz” for each student, rewarding them for doing more math extensions on our current work.

geometry working at deskIf a bonus was worth 5, you got 5/5 in your bonus quiz.  By the end of the quarter, students had bonus quizzes worth anywhere from 1/1 to 35/35, and some had none.  The bonus quiz didn’t fill holes of points lost elsewhere, but helped boost your average on the margins.

I’ve seen teachers who have successfully added ON bonus points (or included a grade such as 5/0).  This method allows bonus knowledge to make up for mistakes, which I have tried when coursework is very difficult and/or class averages are very low.  But if class averages are doing well, the 5/0 method results in averages greater than 100%.  It also might imply that you can make up for not knowing/doing some math last month by doing an extra project this month, and I wanted to make the point that all our work is important and students can’t avoid some work while still earning top grades.


I did NOT give pop quizzes, because I felt that to be a punitive practice (kind of like, “Gotcha! You’re not prepared”) that could be used by teachers to combat other issues, such as poor behavior or not doing homework.  Students always knew in advance what a test or quiz would cover, and most classes had designated review time in the day(s) prior.

Whatever your school’s grade scheme (letter grades, numerical grades up to 100%, 4.0 GPA, etc.) decide in advance what your cut-offs and rounding routines will be.  I had a firm “.50 and higher rounds up, .49 and lower rounds down” policy, which meant that a student with an 89.48 did not get the A– for the quarter.  If this feels unfair to you, decide in advance what you would do; options are to “borrow” the .02 from the coming quarter or to be lenient if you feel that particular student has earned the higher grade level.


stopwatch checkboxWhatever your grading system is, perhaps the most critical thing is to be prompt returning graded items with feedback.  The learning process is a partnership between me and my students, and if I delay or deny feedback, I’m not doing my half of the job.  When students wait days before getting a quiz back, they cannot learn from mistakes on concepts that are the foundation for new material.  Often, the same topics will be on the upcoming test, and I want my students to benefit from having the quiz to study from.

Be transparent about your grading system and keep students informed of their current grade and progress.  This gives students agency over their performance and the grade they have earned.  Back in the day (before online grading portals), I would print grade slips from my spreadsheet or grading software and hand them out several times during the marking period.  I had a physical piece of paper to hand to the student so there was no grade mystery and no surprises at the end of the quarter, and I could give them a verbal or written comment if something specific needed to be addressed.

If you decide to change your grading system part way through the year, be honest with students about the changes and your rationale for making them.  Discuss with them the incentives you want your system to provide.  Linda Wilson wrote a 1994 Mathematics Teacher article, “What Gets Graded is What Gets Valued” and that is true to a large extent, for better or worse.  I found that if I didn’t check or grade homework, my students wouldn’t do it; so if I valued that practice, I needed to include it in my grading structure.

Ralph Pantozzi (@mathillustrated) notes that whenever people are given a metric that they will be judged upon, they behave so that they perform well against *that standard*.  His advice is to “make your system revolve around students doing the math you value” so that they will work to achieve those goals.  Well said.



¹For younger students, I used +3 for homework (which I also did for HS when material was very difficult).  I required test corrections in some middle school classes as a homework assignment, to place clear value on understanding what went wrong and what can be done differently to avoid errors in the future.

²Portfolios took some time, but were worthwhile in both Algebra 2 and PreCalculus.  A good resource for portfolios is Mathematics Assessment: Myths, Models, Good Questions, and Practical Suggestions edited by Jean Kerr Stenmark (NCTM, 1991). These same classes also did writing in Math Journals with a few prompts each marking period. A nice summary of how to use writing is Marilyn Burns’ article “Writing In Math” in Educational Leadership (ASCD, October 2004).

³Thanks to Steve Phelps @giohio and Martin Joyce @martinsean for these points about Formative Assessment.  I have also found the book Mathematics Formative Assessment by Page Keeley & Cheryl Rose Tobey (Corwin, 2011) to be helpful.


Testing Tips: Using Calculators on Class Assessments

If you’ve been using TI graphing calculators in your teaching, you may have contemplated how to implement the calculators for in-class testing.  Whether you are giving a short quiz, a chapter test, or end-of-term exam, read my post on the TI BulleTIn Board Blog for some tips for how to use TI calculators successfully on class assessments.

Testing Tips: Using Calculators on Class Assessments

There is much more in the full post, but here is a summary:

  • Determine the Objectives: decide which math skills and problems you will assess with and without the calculator.
  • Separate the Sections: separate the calculator and non-calculator problems into two sections.
  • Set up the Handhelds: to be sure the calculators are useful tools for students and don’t interfere with assessing their math knowledge, set up the handhelds for security and equity.
  • Electronic Quizzes with TI-Nspire CX Navigator: take advantage of electronic quizzes if your classroom has the TI-Nspire Navigator System.

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End of Quarter Feedback Is a Two-Way Street

[Note: this is an excerpt from my blog post on the TI BulleTIn Board.]

With the first marking period winding down here in the northeastern US, teachers and students are focusing on the grading process.  How might we make end-of-marking period evaluations into a constructive tool for the teacher AND the students?  Here is one idea…

Rating clipboardAt the end of a marking period, students’ grades indicate their progress and achievement in math class.  It is also a great time to encourage reflection and feedback on what teaching and learning practices have played out in the classroom and what changes can be made so the class is more productive in the future.  Here is how I have turned my end-of-quarter evaluations into valuable conversations about how to make math class better for all of us.


My Four Questions

My students answer these four open-ended prompts.  Names are optional.

  1. Tell me something specific you did well or are proud of this quarter.
  2. Tell me something specific you want to improve for next quarter.
  3. Tell me something you think I did well.
  4. Tell me something you want me to change or improve.

I give students time to reflect and write, and the ground rules are that they can’t say “nothing” and can’t propose major changes like “stop giving homework/tests”.  Because I require them to be specific, they have to find some details about their learning and my teaching to discuss.  Most of the time, students write about things that are actionable in their evaluations.

I feel that this process makes evaluation a two-way street, since students are commenting on me and my teaching but also on themselves.  By asking them to name what they are going to do differently for the coming quarter, I place the responsibility on their shoulders for making changes in their class performance.  The set of four questions opens the door for us to communicate constructively about improving our math class experience for everyone.

What Will You Do?

I’m interested in what other teachers find useful for end-of-marking period feedback.  Let me know what works for you and your students here in the comments or on Twitter (AT KarenCampe).

Notes and Resources:

Some helpful blog posts about End-of-Quarter/Semester feedback are here and here from Sarah Carter (twitter AT mathequalslove) and here from Jac Richardson (twitter AT jacrichardson).  Thanks so much for sharing!

Read the full post on the TI BulleTIn Board:

End-of-Marking Period Feedback Is a Two-Way Street

Testing Tips: Using the TI-84+ on the SAT

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The fall dates for the SAT and PSAT tests are around the corner.  The TI-84 Plus CE and the entire TI-84 Plus family of graphing calculators are approved for use on the Math–Calculator section of these College Board tests. Read my post on the TI BulleTIn Board Blog for tips on how to leverage your TI-84 Plus for success on test day…

Six tips for using the TI-84 Plus CE on the SAT®

Good luck!