5 Alternatives to Traditional Grading Methods | Edchat Recap

This week’s evening #edchat discussion tackled the controversial topic of traditional grading systems in public education. No matter where you stand on the topic, there was much to learn on incorporating more authentic grading methods into your instruction in order to encourage students to become life long learners and provide more valuable insight for parents on their child’s progress.

There are many faults with traditional grading methods. Relying solely on letter grades can actually be more harmful than helpful when it comes to student learning, empowering and engaging all students, and measuring growth. These are some of my favorite quotes from the discussion that summarize the problems with traditional grading systems:

Traditional grades are often subjective.

@gfred33: The differences of grading between teachers is so huge, how can the grades really inform anyone of anything?

Traditional grades are often meaningless.

@spedteacher: (Students) often can’t really explain what a D is without reference to a C and B. All meaningless to me.

Traditional grades are often restrictive.

@gfred33: Grades keep some students from taking risks and others from seeking challenge.

Traditional grades are often misguided.

@whatedsaid: I don’t believe grades motivate students to learn. They motivate students to get grades.

Traditional grades are often unrealistic.

@Zweibz7: YES! How do we assess IRL? RT @edtechsteve: When was the last time someone got a letter grade for something they did after college?

Traditional grades are often invalid.

@tomwhitby: If a kid is workin @ 100% of ability and is failin do we grade on acheivement or ability?

Traditional grades do not take into account the needs of 21st century learners.

@edtechsteve: Redefining 21st cent success as being able to be a creative/flexible problem solver throws a wrench into grading

Alternative Grading Methods

Reshaping grading methodology in public education is impossible without also examining and reshaping traditional teaching methodologies. Most of the suggestions for alternative grading methods require teachers to change how they plan, instruct, and/or assess. Taking the risk and trying one of these new methodologies has the power to successfully transform your instructional effectiveness, student learning, and parental involvement.

Standards Based Grading

In the past few years there have been pushes in many states towards standards based grading. In fact, the district I taught for in Arizona used a F.A.M.E. scale to measure mastery of standards. Determining what mastery looks like became a subjective task for most teachers. After coming to this realizing, my district attempted to place a percentage scale on each letter grade, ultimately linking this new standards based grading system to traditional methodologies. Standards based grading like traditional grading methodologies must also include some of the following components.

Individual Learning Projects with Rubrics

Projects based learning or self-directed learning breeds life long learners and trains students how to complete real world research and tasks. Rubrics provide students with a road map for success and teachers with a more objective way to evaluate student progress. When designing rubrics, don’t be too vague or it might lend itself to subjectivity. Focus on the performance, process, and progress, not solely on the final product. Check out premade rubrics or make your own for free with Rubistar.

Self-Assessed Learning Goals

Goal setting is a strategy every student needs to learn in order to be a productive adult in today’s society. Students should be empowered to analyze, assess, and reflect on their progress, goals, and achievement. Have your students come up with goals – personal, academic, and creative. Motivate, encourage, and enable them by providing them with a structure for measuring, monitoring, and mastering these goals.

Observations, Anecdotal Records,  and Progress Monitoring

In most jobs performance is measured via observations, anecdotal records, and progress monitoring meetings. The teaching profession is no different. Assess your students creativity, innovation, flexibility, communication, collaboration skills, and more using these tools. Here’s a tip – Create a notebook, folder, or binder with a blank page for each student. Always carry a clip board with you with sticky label paper or sticky notes. When you notice something worthy of noting, jot it down. Once a week place these stickies on the student’s page. Try to make observations about each student at least once a week. These notes can be used for student feedback, parent conferences, recognition, and more. Meet with your students regularly to discuss progress and set goals.


Portfolios are an excellent way to document, monitor, and assess student growth. They also serve as incredible motivators which enhance student effort. Whether the portfolio is online or in files parents will love being able to physically see their student’s progress. One of the challenges with reshaping traditional grading methodologies is building parent support. Parents expect grades, but a viewing, student reflection and teacher discussion of a portfolio is much more authentic and meaningful for parents. Try it at your next conference!

If you are interested in learning more about alternative grading methods, check out former blogger of the week, Joe Bower’s abolish grading archives. He teaches in a school that requires grades, yet in his classroom grades are meaningless..

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