Grading Smarter, Not Harder

by Michael Guenette on Apr 14, 2022

The book Grading Smarter, Not Harder: Assessment Strategies That Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn by Myron Dueck contains lots of great ideas about grading. Some of these ideas may work well in our school, while others may not. I am here to outline some of the ideas presented in this book, and to open the discussion for the true consequences of your grading actions. 


When giving a penalty, it is important to follow the CARE guidelines:

  • Care: The student must care about the consequences of the penalty.
  • Aims: The results of the penalty must complement my overall aims as a teacher.
  • Reduction: The penalty must result in a reduction of the negative behavior.
  • Empowerment: The students must feel empowered regarding the actions for which he or she is being penalized.


If these guidelines are not met, then there is very little guarantee that the penalty will result in any sort of reduction of the initial behavior. The goal should be to get the students to buy into the penalty, with an end result of reducing the behavior that triggered the penalty. The same idea goes for grading. We have to create a distinction between academics and behaviors, only grading for academic quality if we have hard evidence that it reflects their academic performance. On a grading scale out of 100, it is not fair to give a 0 for a missing assignment. The difference between all other letter grades is about 10 points, but from D to F is 65. This makes it very challenging to recover from. Academic grades are often used by teachers to try and change behaviors, such as a late penalty for submitting work or zero for a missing assignment. In reality, students who are missing assignments usually don’t care about the grade that is attached to it, including a late penalty or zero. Punitive grading does not change the behaviors of the students, and causes the assignments to no longer be an accurate indicator of their academic performance.


So how do we change this? One strategy would be to give incomplete instead of zero when a student does not complete an assignment. If you don’t have enough information to give an accurate grade, then the students should not receive a grade for the assignment or the class. If the students will not turn in an assignment on time, consider having them fill out a short form where they have to ask for more time. They must give a reason for not completing it, and the form can give them options for help such as tutoring. This helps to show the student that you are on their side and understand that sometimes things happen. If the student still does not complete the assignment then you can step in and plan interventions, such as after school or Saturday tutoring.


This strategy puts a lot of effort into ensuring that the student completes the work. By having all assignments completed the teacher is able to give a grade that accurately reflects the student's ability, and we have developed a separation between academics and behavior. Student responsibility and accountability are increased, and as a result student performance will improve. The students will eventually see that it takes a lot of effort to earn a zero, and it is far better to just complete the assignments. 


This is a huge culture change that cannot happen overnight, but small changes now may help to increase assignment submission rates and decrease undesirable student behavior. 


If you would like more information, or to see some other similar strategies, check out the book Grading Smarter, Not Harder: Assessment Strategies That Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn by Myron Dueck.