Grading Policy for Secondary Teachers

A lot of us teach in schools where the grading policy is set and there can be no changes to it.  This was refreshing for me when I was a first year teacher.  It was one less decision I had to make for my classroom and I was grateful.  When my husband and I moved for his job promotion, I switched from a large, urban public school, to a tiny not-so-urban private school in a small town.  At this new school I was given complete freedom in every aspect of my classroom – in my management strategies, curriculum design, and grading policy.

This ended up being a huge blessing, and this autonomy gave me the freedom to be completely creative in my curriculum design, which eventually led to the creation of my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  This was even exciting as I established my classroom management system.  I had the freedom to use strategies I had been reading about in educational research and of course, on Pinterest.  This was, however, the most overwhelming when it came to establishing my grading policy.

I know grades matter in all grades, but they especially matter in high school.  The grades these students get in high school will directly impact their plans after graduation.  They will affect scholarship opportunities, college acceptance letters, and internships.  Deciding on a grading system wasn’t something I was going to take lightly. 

I wanted a grading policy that was fair, accurate, and simple.  I wanted the number my students ended the year with to be a true reflection of the grade that they earned and the content they understood.  I don’t believe in curving grades, extra credit, or giving students 50%’s for assignments they don’t turn in.  I wanted zero manipulation of grades to be necessary.  So I sat down with a calculator, a stack of educational research, and my knowledge from my previous teaching experiences, and got to work, coming up with a grading policy that I have found to be the most accurate and fair assessment of my students’ knowledge and abilities. 

To keep the grading simple, I decided to split my gradebook into only two categories: MAJOR grades and MINOR grades.  Major grades would count for 60% of my students’ grades, and Minor grades would count for 40%.  I know a lot of teachers like to have many categories (30% for tests, 20% for projects, 10% HW, 20% labs, etc…) but I wanted my grading to be simple.  I wanted to be able to easily communicate to my students and to my parents what their grades really meant.   

Having only two categories allowed me to be able to quickly and easily determine if my students were doing poorly due to their knowledge or their effort.  Let me explain.  My major grade category consists of tests, quizzes, and 1 project given per quarter.  Thus every grade in this category (except the 1 project per quarter) is a representation of the students’ knowledge of the subject.  I don’t believe in open-note tests or take-home tests or anything of that nature, so these numbers were purely representative of their understanding and memorization of the material.  The minor grade category consisted of everything else related to effort: labs, homework, classroom activities, daily bell work, etc.  Although things in this category are often graded for accuracy, it is still a category that measures student effort, because for any and all of the assignments in this category students have the opportunity to receive my help in tutoring, use the support of their notes, and reference their textbook.

By just splitting my gradebook into two categories, I was able to very easily look at a student’s grade in a parent conference and say, “Okay Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Johnny has a 90% major grade average but only a 50% minor grade average.  Clearly his issue here is not doing the work he’s being assigned.”  Or on the opposite, I can tell if students are working really hard and just bombing tests, and know that I need to tutor these students in study strategies as well as quiz them on their knowledge in after school tutoring sessions. 

Not only was this grading policy simple, it was fair.  I believe that in the secondary classroom we cannot just pass students on effort.  They have to understand the content.  Because of this, the major grade category has 20% more weight than the minor grade category.  Now, this isn’t college though, and I don’t think students should only be assessed on knowledge.  We need to prepare them for college but also support them, while helping them cultivate solid studying habits and strong work ethics, which is why I do think having the minor grade category is necessary.  

Within each category to make sure the grading policy is also accurate, I use a points system to weight each grade.  I don’t believe that every assignment should be out of 100 points.  Varying the points gives me freedom to weight the assignments based on their depth and complexity.  A daily bell ringer that takes 5-mintues would only be a 5-point minor grade.  A small activity that takes 30 minutes would be a 25-point minor grade.  An extensive lab that takes 2-3 class periods is worth a 100-point minor grade.   For major grades, a test is always 100-points and a quiz 25-points.  I have found too that students can understand the weight of points for tangibly than they can understand the weight of percentages.   Note: If you put in all of your grades out of 100 points, you are basically putting all your grades in as percentages.

So I developed a system of grading that I found to be simple, fair, and accurate.  But did it really work?  I can honestly say that over the last few years and the 600+ students I have taught and assessed using this grading policy, I have never once ended the year and looked through my grades and thought that a single student didn’t end up exactly where they should mathematically.  And best of all – I have never once had to manipulate or adjust a grade to make it a more “accurate reflection” of my students’ knowledge.  It is such a relief to be able to teach and grade and know that my students are being treated fairly and are ending the year with a number that truly reflects what they know and have earned – and to be able to confidently stand by my teaching and grading strategies.


So what is your grading policy?  Did you get to design it on your own or do you have to use a school-wide or district-wide system?  I would LOVE to hear your thoughts and what has worked in your classroom!  Share in the comments below!

With back to school around the corner, it is so important in high school (and middle school) classrooms to have a fair, accurate, and simple grading system established.  This post details my tried and tested classroom strategy for grading that is perfect for not only 1st year teachers, but ALL!

37 comments

  1. I use a weighted system that is very similar to yours...I call my 2 categories "Accuracy" (65% of average) and "Completion" (35%). I teach HS algebra 1 and algebra 2, and find this system to be the best that I have found over the years. I find the breakdown of information to be invaluable when I need to conference with a student, parent, intervention specialist, counselor, etc. and it allows me to provide very detailed information for students with special needs.

    I still grade a ton of papers, but I don't do anything for accuracy until we have had several days for completion, practice, and correction before I hold their grades accountable for getting the answers "right". This allows the students time to process, make mistakes, ask questions, clarify, etc.

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    1. I LOVE this and I couldn't agree more about waiting to grade things for accuracy AFTER several days of other practice and clarification. I totally agree too about the division in the gradebook - makes it so easy with administration and parent conferences to show if the student is lacking in understanding (accuracy) or effort (completion). Thanks for stopping by and sharing your wisdom!

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    2. I teach some of the same subjects, but I have a question...how in the world do you allow SEVERAL days for completion, practice, etc., but not fall miserably 'behind' in your content? I'm concerned we'd never get through anything!!

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  2. I teach middle school language arts and I have three categories: Formal Assessments (projects, published writing, and tests), Informal assessments (quizzes, literature response questions, etc.) and participation (classwork, homework, bellwork). 40/30/30 percent, respectively.... SO MUCH easier than six categories of weighting!!

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  3. This article seems to be recommended on Pinterest recently to me, so congratulations on that. I was wondering what your policy is on late/missing work. If not turned in on time is it automatically a 0? If not, would you accept an assignment through the end of the quarter? I struggle when it comes to students who chronically submit assignments late, especially the ones that I can see struggling with difficult home lives and understand the material, but are always a couple of days behind on homework.

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    1. I do 10% off every day late and will accept late work until the end of the unit, not the end of the quarter. I have another blogpost about my reasoning behind it, so that may help! Link is below..

      http://www.itsnotrocketscienceclassroom.com/2016/06/teaching-controversy-accepting-late-work.html

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  4. I teach middle school and we must enter our grades onto a computer grade book that is accessible by parents. Categories can be created by the teacher and the weighting procedure is also managed by the teacher. I would love to try to implement a system similar to yours, but I fear having to send a letter of explanation home to parents would not be enough for some of them to understand the process. Also, on a separate note, though you don't count everything equal to 100 points aren't you essentially still grading off the same percentages in the end? Or, do you tally total points at the end of the quarter/semester and then average? I would love to hear/see more on how you actually enter and calculate the grades. Thanks for the post, it is the first in a very long time that has intrigued me as much! :)

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    1. We use an online gradebook too! It helps to explain it at your open house to parents as well. I've found between that and the letter home, parents don't ask many additional questions. I personally don't tally anything, since the gradebook does that for me. I just initially set the gradebook up at the beginning of the year with 40% minor and 40% major categories. Then within those categories I put in assignments that are worth different points, such as a 25 point quiz vs. a 100 pt test in the major category. This way when I input the grades, the test is going in worth 4x as much as a quiz, and both are still counting more than a 25 pt activity or 100 pt lab in the minor category. Our school has set up the gradebook to calculate our semester grades as 40% Q1, 40% Q2 and 20% the midterm exam. Hopefully that helps and makes sense!!

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  5. I also teach middle school students (math) and use an online grade book that everyone in the state uses. We can have it calculate grades based on total points accumulated out of total points possible. I weight HW, practice, activities, etc as worth fewer points. Students will have already worked with material some. If an assignment is worth 20 points and they miss half then they are only missing 10 possible points even though technically they have made 50% (which I do write on their paper to get their attention). If they work at reviewing and learning from those mistakes then they can make it up easily come test time over the chapter/unit. If a test is worth 100 points and they make 50% then they are missing 50 available points. I like to use an example in class to show them the impact. I also keep a record of the grade in my book and write down total points worth writing the "major" grades in a different color to draw my attention to it. Hope that helps!

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  6. I teach 8th grade math. I have been using a breakdown of 70% assessments and 30% class work/home work/projects. My philosophy is the same as yours. No extra credit, no points for missing work. This breakdown is easy to see who is or is not understanding the concepts or who is in need of a better work ethic. Parents like the easy and clear breakdown. As far as CW and HW, I grade for accuracy, however, I allow my students to revise their assignments to bring their grade up. They must re-do the problems they miss either on the original assignment or on another piece of paper and staple it to the original assignment. I believe students need an opportunity to re-evaluate the work they do and have a chance of improving their assignment as their content knowledge improves. I encourage the students to revise any work prior to the tests, that way they make sure they understand the concepts before they are tested. As far as late assignments go....the highest they can earn is 70%. Of course, this only applies to students who were in my room for instruction but chose NOT to do the assignment.

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    1. Hi Marcy! So sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I've been out of town with no internet access or technology! Love hearing your strategy and what you do in your classroom! I love your philosophy on re-doing problems too. Definitely something I see as highly critical in a math course. I have students do that in tutoring with me for my physical science class since it is so math heavy, but I don't usually give them points back for it. Thanks for stopping by!!

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  7. I'm trying to set up an excel spreadsheet to make this grading work for me. Do you have an example of what your grade book might look like?

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    1. Hi! I don't unfortunately, as my online gradebook is not accessible in the summer time. For a written gradebook I literally just type students names in a vertical column and print a landscape page with blank columns. I write in the names of assignments along the top and record scores below, but I mainly use the online gradebook!

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  8. How do you always have tests equal to 100 points? Would you always have the same number of questions? I'm not sure how this works.

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    1. I do not always have the same number of questions - different questions are worth different amounts so it does always equal 100! For instance, there may be 30 multiple choice questions worth 2 points each. That is 60 points. Then I will have 40 points of open response. 10 of that may be matching, and then there could be a 5 pt open response question and a 4 pt, etc. until it adds up to 100! Hope that helps!

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    2. With tests, I always convert the grade to a percent. This way my tests are always out of 100. This way I don’t inflate any part of the test. If a test has 75 points and score 70 of those points, they get a 93/100

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  9. Hello! I have been looking for ways to evolve our grading practices at my school and I truly believe this is a step in the right direction! I am going to pitch it to my teachers next week and was wondering if you could give me a list of a few major resources you've used to come up with this great policy? I'd just like to keep my ethos up by having additional places teachers can go to read supportive material as this is a big shift for them! Thanks for the help!

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    1. Hi Kaiya! Thanks so much for stopping by. I do not have any resources that I came up with this from - it is just the policy my previous school had that I've continued using at my new school because it has been so successful! Hope you can find what you are looking for!

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  11. As a third year teacher in a middle school (still very stressed with grading) this helped me so much and this is what I am going to use this year!
    Thank you for making it so simple.

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  12. I am a brand new teacher, teaching high school. I don't care for some of the grading policies some other teachers use because I feel they don't accurately represent what the students know. I love your ideas and I am going to try it out this year! Thank you for posting!

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    1. Thanks so much Liz! So happy you found this helpful and I hope you have an AMAZING first year!!

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  13. What if I labeled the 40% Practice and the 60% Performance?

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  14. I have changed my grading philosophy over the years and I no longer go with "if they memorize it they know it" as memorizing usually means remembering for the moment and then it's gone. I now give kids opportunities to show they've learned the standards through hands on, research based assignments and assessments and if they struggle the first time they may have an opportunity to improve scores by relearning the material and reassessing. My gradebook is divided into two catergories, one being practice, which does not count toward or against the overall grade, and the second being assessments. The assessment grade is based on the standards being assessed at that time. I explain the practice by talking about learning to walk. Since they weren't a good walker when they first started walking should that be figured into their overall walking average over time lol. I tell them if that's the case then the might be considered just ok walkers! This seems to make sense to them that the practice work still goes on the gradebook but doesn't count against them if they do poorly. They can improve the score by redoing the work and a comment goes in the gradebook stating this is the second attempt so parents can see they've taken the initiative to learn the material.

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    1. That's a super unique strategy! I love hearing how you do it. I completely agree about the memorizing which is one of the reasons why I am super passionate about cumulative tests and the students really learning the content well enough for it to last in every test - and I think you are right that the real learning comes best through experiencing the material.

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  15. Are your student having to show proficiency in standards to earn a diploma and if so how does that work with your grading system? Our administration has said we have to enter standards-based assignments out of 100 and all the practice and lab work does not get entered at all.

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    1. We do not do standards based grading at my school, so I don't have any experience with it to answer your question. So sorry!

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  16. For each unit do you assign points to the minor work to total the number of points possible on the unit major work? For example, Unit One you had 5 minor assignments and you assigned points to each that would total 100 for the unit (equal to the major assessment max points for the unit). Then if so, do you keep the points possible per unit the same for all units?

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    1. I do not! Some of my units are 4 weeks and some are as long as 8 weeks, so that wouldn't work. I also don't worry about points total for major vs. minor since I weight those categories - overall major is worth 60% of grade and minor 40%, so it doesn't matter the total number of points in each. I have significantly more minor grades than major grades though, but many worth way less points.

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  17. How do you grade your practice packets?

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    1. Most practice handouts I do not grade, or if I do grade I just grade them for completion during my Prime Time Bell ringer and then we go over them immediately after. If you have any of my units, you can find more specifics on which sheets I grade and for how much on p.5 in the "Read First" document in the Implementation folder for each unit!

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  18. Thanks for writing this! I am changing careers from business/marketing to teaching and taking various classes for my license. The professor asked us to create our grading policy. I'm only 1 of 3 in the class doing post-secondary and this article helps me so much. Thanks! The comments were wonderful too.

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