To Grade or Not to Grade? That is the Question…

A hot-button topic in education over the last few years is grading and assessment. Should teachers give homework? Should teachers allow late work? Should teachers give zeros for grades? What does a grade really mean? These are just a few things my district has discussed over the last couple years, as we adopted a new grading policy. The three “no-budge” components of the grading policy are: 1) Teachers must allow retakes. 2) Students cannot have a zero has a part of their final grade. 3) Teachers cannot take points off for homework being late.

This new policy caused waves of indignation and anger through the teaching staff. We had been discussing grading and assessment and then it seemed to us like this new policy came out of the blue, without enough input or discussion with and from teachers. I have completely revamped how I assess students now, because of this policy. I never allowed retakes (unless under rare or extreme circumstances) before, and now students are retaking tests all the time. I grade homework and give feedback on homework, but the scores don’t count in the students’ actual grade and are weighted 0% in the gradebook. I no longer count off late points on homework, but do count a responsibility grade for each assignment, that also counts as 0% in the gradebook. So what I explain to students and parents now is that I still consider homework important and students need to complete it for their learning of the content. But their actual grade shows how well they understand the content and their responsibility grade shows whether they are keeping up with the class and completing work on time. But I now have many problems where students don’t see the benefit of homework and choose not to complete it, no matter what I tell them. So they have several zeros, because it just doesn’t count in their grade.

Many teachers agree with me that we understand the intention of the grading policy and why it’s important, but it wasn’t or hasn’t been implemented effectively. We realize that a student’s behavior should not be part of their grade (hence- not counting points off for late work) but how does that reinforce responsibility in daily life? We understand the crucial importance that learning the information is a must and if that learning takes place before the summative test- great! But if that learning occurs two weeks later- how will students show their teachers they now understand? (Hence allowing retakes). But we have seen that most students only care about the points and their grade and actually wanting to learn the information has taken a seat on the back burner.

Here are two blogs that discuss the topic of grading and assessement- blog #1 and blog #2. These blogs make for some good food for thought.

So- what are your thoughts? Should zeros be allowed in grading? Should retakes be allowed? How accurate is a letter grade to demonstrate a student’s knowledge in your content area? I have an open ear to your thoughts and opinions. I still have a lot to learn and digest myself.


9 thoughts on “To Grade or Not to Grade? That is the Question…

  1. tahancock

    First, let me say the two blogs you linked on your blog were interesting to read. I go back and forth on the issues of grades. In the past, when I was teaching a self-contained classroom, I had to give letter grades. This year, in teaching computer skills to K-5, I give an assessment of S (Satisfactory) or N (Needs Improvement). At first, giving an S or N didn’t seem right to me because I had given A-F grades in the past. As the year has progressed, I like giving the S or N grades. It shows students, parents, and administrators who is working to his/her potential and who needs to “buckle down” and get busy. For those receiving N, I discuss with them what they can do to improve. Mainly it stems from poor attitudes which then reflect in poor work.

    That being said, our school has a different approach for our core subjects. We have a no-zero policy, which means if a student does not have work completed he/she stays in noon-study hall (no recess) until the work is completed. The student receives the grade earned on the completed homework with a percentage taken off for being late (20% the first quarter, 30% second quarter, 40% third quarter, and 50% fourth quarter). As far as retakes, it is up to each teacher.

    I have always felt that some students are just not interested in grades. Grades don’t have any meaning for those students. On the other side you have students who are only interested in grades. Some students are pushed by parents and some are “self-pushers” to earn good grades. I think if you give meaning to the assigned work, something that connects it to life-skills, then you won’t have to worry about grades. Students will do the work because there is a reason to do it – The assignment is something that will help them as they continue in life.

    1. bmaine Post author

      I agree with a lot of what you said Teresa- there are definitely types of students who don’t care at all about their grade and ones who only care about their grade. It gets frustrating! Your description of the S and N grades was interesting- if only we could do that in high school! 🙂


    We are going through the same issue in my school district at the moment as well. Our middle school has taken on the teachers must allow retakes. Students cannot have a zero has a part of their final grade. Teachers cannot take points off for homework being late. My husband is in the middle school


      I am finishing my reply down here. Sorry.
      My husband is in the middle school in my district and they are going through the same challanges. He is completely against the whole system because he feels the students are just not old enough to be responsible for their learning and to understand that homework needs to be done no matter what. There needs to be a grade attached in order for the students to remain accountable. I also feel that retakes are sometimes in order for students, but they should not become a common practice.

      1. bmaine Post author

        I agree Jackie- I also think there needs to be a grade attached in order for students to be held accountable. I just finished grades for this quarter and there were so many zeros, as a part of daily work that doesn’t actually get calculated in overall grade, because students just didn’t care to complete them. And unfortunately it affects their grade negatively. It sounds like your school is in the same boat as mine- good luck with it!

  3. sdr33

    I can see why teachers are upset about this new grading policy. What level is this for or is it district wide? While I see the point behind the retakes, it seems like it would be a grading and filing nightmare. Also, why would a student take a test seriously if he/she knows it can be retaken? When students don’t complete an assignment, what would you give other than a zero? How do you grade nothing? Finally, not taking late points for homework assignments after a certain grade seems unacceptable to me. At what point are we going to teach students responsibility? When are they going to learn about deadlines? If I pay a bill late, there is a consequence. Students don’t seem to care about much because a lot of times they are not held accountable for their actions (or lack thereof). If our goal as educators is to produce effecting, contributing members of society, what lesson are we teaching them to say life is full of “do-overs” or “don’t worry, get around to it when you feel like it?” Is that the same attitude their boss will have when they show-up late, not at all, or don’t have their work done on time?

    1. bmaine Post author

      You have a lot of great questions! And a lot of the same ones I have asked myself. The level I’m talking about is I believe 8-12, but I think other grading and assessment policies were put into place in younger grades also. A student not taking a test seriously is one of the reasons I never allowed retakes- I don’t want students not to care and just think “Oh I’ll just retake it, I’m not going to study tonight”. It gets very frustrating. The one silver lining is the retake can be in any format, so mine is all short answer. So students have to write out a ton of information for a retake and it’s more difficult, which has deterred some students from retaking things. If it’s an assignment that does count in their grade, we can only give them an “incomplete” when it comes time to give a grade at the end of the quarter or semester. Students are required to make up the incompletes (but again- what is forcing them to make up the unfinished work?). If it’s an assignment that does not actually count in their grade (like my homework category), then I can just give them a zero because it’s not calculated in their grade. And lastly- it’s funny that you asked about how this prepares students for the real world, because our admin has talked about that and how there aren’t really consequences in the real world for being late on payments or late to work, etc., that nothing happens to people in those instances. Crazy, huh?

  4. Elaine Snyder

    What a question!
    This year our district put a new homework pilot in place. Teachers are not permitted to grade homework. Homework should not hurt a student’s grade. Over 90% of our teachers were not sure what this new policy meant or how they can use homework. They became very creative to get around the policy. Classwork can be graded, so the homework is started in class. If it is not finished the student must finish it on their own. It will be graded as classwork not as homework. Some teachers assign homework, then the next day give a quiz. The students can use their homework to take the quiz. If the student did not do their homework, they typically do not do well on the quiz. Students are not doing homework because they know it will not hurt them. When a teacher assigns classwork and it is not done, they can take off points for it being turned in late, but with students with IEP, they are granted extra time as an SDI. They cannot lose points.

    I really do not think today’s schools are preparing students for the working world. By not grading homework students are not being held accountable for their work. Are we teaching the importance of due dates? Are they learning things need to be done by a certain time or else there are consequences? What happens if they do not pay their credit card bill or phone bill on time? The students may be learning that they can pick and choose what they want to do. Is this how the working world works? Can we pick and choose the task we want to do when our boss tells us to do something? Do we get unlimited time to complete the task? Do we get to redo the task over with no consequences if we failed it the first time?
    The underlying lessons being taught in the schools are being under-minded. The lessons of responsibility, following directions, accountability, doing your best because you are proud to do your best, and self-satisfaction of a job well done are not being taught. These are important lessons. Grading homework is one way of teaching these lessons.

    1. bmaine Post author

      I think it’s funny/interesting to read how your colleagues have gotten around the homework policy. Very creative! I agree that the underlying lessons are being under-minded. School is about more than just teaching content- it’s about teaching responsibility, citizenship, how to be nice and get along with people, etc. and students will not be prepared for life outside of school if those things are not taught.


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