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Strategies for. Fair and Conflict-Free Grading


Make a plan for evaluating the students and stick to it. Evaluation procedures should be decided on when the course is in the planning stages. If you are working with teaching assistants or colleagues, meet with them and decide what kinds of evaluation methods are to be used. Then decide how the students’ work should be graded and what proportion of the final mark each assignment, quiz, etc., will comprise.
This is also the time to set out a policy for missed or failed midterms and late assignments. For example, consider giving students two days of grace (or whatever length of time seems appropriate for your class) that they can use any way they’d like in assignment due dates. Without penalty, if they need to, they can then turn in one assignment two days late or two assignments one day late each. This gives students some flexibility from the start, but it allows you to insist that there will be no other exceptions.
Once all of these things have been set out explicitly, take the earliest opportunity to make your students aware of these policies. Tell the class what you expect from them and how you plan to measure their progress in achieving the goals of the course.
Explain how the evaluations, marking procedures, and policies will help both to achieve these goals and allow you to evaluate the students’ progress fairly. Good planning and clear explanations will prevent student confusion— and possibly anger—later on.
Keep accurate records of your evaluation of each student throughout the quarter. Such records will make it easier for you to justify and/or reevaluate a student’s final grade if necessary. Keep track of all elements that will be included in the final grade, including attendance, participation, and out-of-class meetings, as well as grades for any exams and assignments. You should also keep your records for several years since students may come back later to question a grade, finish an incomplete, or ask you to write a recommendation.
It’s a good idea to make a graph of the distribution of grades on each quiz or assignment. Distributions will tell you at a glance how the students are doing and make it easier for you to see how good your evaluation method was. Uneven or badly skewed distributions suggest a poor testing method.
If you plot similar distributions for a number of assignments or quizzes, you will be able to see how consistent your marking has been and also if there is (one hopes) a trend toward improvement in the students’ performances. An individual student’s grades can also be plotted this way, making it easier to assign a final letter grade. These statistics are also informative for students who are concerned about how they are doing with respect to the rest of the class.
Save copies of the exam distributions for your future reference and for the use of future teachers in the course.
Occasionally students will dispute a test score or a final grade. In that case, it’s important to give the student a courteous hearing. You may have added incorrectly, overlooked work, or not been able to decipher the writing on a test. If, on the contrary, the grade should still hold, most students appreciate an explanation of how the grade accords with the policies you set forth.
The clearer your records, the easier it will be to reexamine and justify your grades. Here are some additional suggestions:
You’ll find it easier to handle grade challenges if you do not attempt to re-grade exams or projects with the concerned student looking over your shoulder. Have students explain carefully whatever problem they see in the grade, then askthem to leave the graded work with you.
TAs need to be careful not to get caught between professors and students on re-grading questions. TAs should find out beforehand if the professor expects to decide grading disputes or if the TA is supposed to settle the matter with the student.

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