Elements of Grading (by: Doug Reeves)

In his book “Elements of Grading: A Guide to Effective Practice“, Doug Reeves synthesizes the research on effective grading practices by proposing 4 essential boundaries.  He suggests that these should serve as the basis for exploring the effectiveness of how we grade students in our schools.


The Essential Boundaries of Grading:

  • Boundary #1 = AccuracyHow can we make our grading system accurate? “What we ascribe to a student must be not only a matter of judgement but the consequence of evidence and reason.” (pg. 1) Essentially, “The grade must reflect the performance of the student.” (pg. 9)
  • Boundary #2 = FairnessHow can we make our grading system fair? “What we describe as proficient performance must truly be a function of performance, not gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.” (pg. 1) Essentially, in grading we must seek to reduce the impact of external variables and focus on achievement alone. “The grade must not be influenced by… other factors unrelated to academic performance.” (pg. 9)
  • Boundary #3 = SpecificityHow can we make our grading system specific? “Telling a student he or she is ‘average’ or a ‘C’ does little to help students, parents, and teachers collaborate for improved learning. Students must receive detailed information on their performance so that they use feedback to improve.” (pg. 1) Essentially, grades must not be reduced to a game of averages, but must provide specific details for how to improve. “A grade is not an evaluation, but feedback. Students, parents and teachers must understand not only what the grade is, they must also  have sufficiently specific information … to improve student performance.” (pg. 9)
  • Boundary #4 = TimelinessHow can we make our grading system timely? “Even if grades are accurate, fair, and specific, students can not use that feedback to improve performance unless the grades are provided in a timely manner.” (pg. 1)  Essentially, students need regular, frequent feedback pertaining to their achievement in between the 5 week marking intervals. “Students should receive a steady stream of feedback, much in the way that students in music and sports receive from their coaches feedback that is designed not merely to evaluate their performance but to improve it.” (page 9)

Each of the above quotes were taken from the introduction to Reeves’ book and essentially outline the premise of his book.  Each of these boundaries and the correlating research is laid out in-depth in the subsequent chapters.  The research on best practices in grading has been consistent for over 50 years.  Yet, much of it has not fully permeated our profession. A careful reflection of our practice as it pertains to grading and each of these boundaries will ensure that our grading practices support student learning to the best of our abilities.

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