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Definitions for Grading Purposes

download_pdf_smIn the CLI Model, one of the major tasks of the Curriculum Coordinating Council is to lead the district in making decisions about grading practices. It is a difficult task and sometimes an emotional one, both because most teachers feel strongly about the issues involved, and because they all want to “do the right thing” for their students. Notice we’ve said the council members “lead the district.” They do not make the decisions themselves; however, it is their responsibility to get things started. Council members discuss the issues and come to consensus about the most important ones, and then decide how to gather information and opinions of all staff. Questions addressed include such things as:

  1. Should all levels (elementary, middle, high school) adhere to the same grading guidelines?
  2. Which, if any, specific grading practices should be uniform at the building level? District level?
  3. Should outcome assessments be weighted to “count” more than other marks/scores? If so, how much?
  4. If students retake an assessment, do we use “best score,” an average of the scores, or some other means of determining a score to include in the assignment of a grade?
  5. Does work ethic or other behavior count towards a grade?

There are many other questions to address when making decisions about grades. Interestingly, discussions often get bogged down in the beginning because participants are not all using the same vocabulary for the elements involved. The following definitions provide clarification.


Any type of notation that indicates whether a student has completed a particular task to meet an expectation. It usually consists of a checkmark or tallies, and is used for “yes or no” situations. Examples:

  • Was the graph appropriately titled? (yes – checkmark) Did it include both before-and-after data? (yes – checkmark) Was the correct type of graph selected? (no – no checkmark)
  • Weekly journal entries are to be checked ten times throughout semester. Did all sentences begin with a capital letter? If there were seven tally marks in this column, this student used capital letters in all sentences seven times.


Usually a number, indicating the quantity of points a student attained on a particular assignment or assessment. Sometimes these numbers are expressed as percentages, other times as raw scores or rubric designations. Examples:

  • Chris received a score of 86 percent on the paper-pencil test about plant growth.
  • Aaron’s score for the experiment was 14/17 (14 points out of 17 possible)
  • Sue received a “3” on the first two traits of the rubric, and a “4” on the third one.


Teacher-determined levels at which students must demonstrate learning before starting the next set of lessons. Individual teachers usually set their own criteria for component assessments, as well as any assignments for which they are recording marks/scores. In most districts, the criteria for outcome assessments are determined by the assessment authors. Examples:

  • Students must start sentences with capital letters in 9 out of 10 evaluations.
  • Students must achieve 80% on the plant growth assessment.
  • Students must get at least a “2” on the first rubric trait, and at least a “3” on the remaining traits.
  • Students must: provide two examples of their design choice; achieve 75% on section 1 of the assessment; achieve at least a “2” on each trait of the rubric for section 2; and complete a self-evaluation for section 3.


A symbol (number or letter) reported at the end of a specific time period as a summary of marks/scores indicating student achievement. A grade should communicate academic performance; behavior and work ethic should be reported separately. Examples:

  • U (unsatisfactory performance overall); S (satisfactory performance overall)
  • 84% (achieved 84% of the points possible from marks/scores for this grading period)
  • A, B, C… (Letter grades reflect the district’s grading scale, i.e. 90-100% = A; 80-89% = B)
  • M (meets criteria set for total performance); P (does not meet criteria but is making satisfactory progress) N (does not meet criteria and is not making satisfactory progress)

It’s easy to see how misunderstandings might occur if we don’t use a common vocabulary. One person might say, “I don’t think we should average grades” when she really means “average scores.” Another could say he feels strongly that we never accept assessment grades of below 70%; what he’s referring to is criteria. We need to be able to communicate clearly when making decisions as important as those related to student grades. In order to do that, we need to speak the same language.