Deciding what to grade

One of the advantages of a balanced assessment plan is that you have a variety of ways to assess students’ needs and evaluate their progress. As you look through your assessment materials — portfolios, formal assessment tests, informal checklists, anecdotal records, running records, and learning logs — you will see not only records of the reading, writing, listening, speaking, and viewing skills students have mastered but also their growth and history as learners. How then do you decide what to “translate” into a letter grade? And how do you build a scoring/grading system that accurately reflects the developmental process of learning? There is no single correct answer to these questions. You’ll want to select an approach with which you feel comfortable.

Using Informal Assessment Information for Evaluation

When you review the work and information collected in your students’ portfolios and in your evaluation notebook, you will need a way to document student performance and academic growth. A first step in this process is to design rubrics that have guidelines for what to observe and evaluate. You might want to create a rubric that is both process and product based for each reading/language arts area represented on your school’s report card — for example, reading; writing; spelling; and listening, speaking, and viewing. You can then evaluate a student’s performance and progress for each criterion, based on the informal assessment information you have collected over the marking period, such as

  • observation checklists
  • anecdotal notes
  • running records
  • student portfolios
  • teacher/student conference notes
  • learning logs

As you review and evaluate, a picture of each student’s progress and achievement will emerge — one that you can describe, explain, and support on a report card or in conferences with students or parents.

Letter Grades

If you are required to assign letter grades, you might want to have your rubric show whether a student has demonstrated the behaviors important to each grading area consistently (+) or inconsistently (-) over time. Once you have completed the rubric for a particular area, you can assign a letter grade based on its totals.

The next several pages take you through the process of determining one student’s grade for writing. Your rubric for writing might look like this one.


Criterion + Notes
Uses prewriting technique y n
Organizes drafts in a
logical order
y n consistently uses
graphic organizers to
plan writing
Elaborates with relevant details y n
Shares drafts with others y n works well with peers
in conferences
Revises effectively y n
Uses conventions of grammar,
usage, and mechanics correctly
n y needs work esp. on
avoiding run-ons, using
commas, using quotation marks
Proofreads and makes
necessary corrections
n y needs to work on
proofreading techniques
Shares finished writing
with others
y n
Experiments with new writing
ideas and skills
y n tried science fiction
story, news article,
poem tried unusual
points of view
Shows ability to write in
different modes
y n
Completes writing assignments
on time
n y
Keeps writing folder/portfolio
in order
y n
Total 9 3

For each criterion on the rubric, reviewing relevant checklists, notes, and papers will help you determine where the student is for that item. For example, for “Uses conventions of grammar, usage, and mechanics correctly,” you might have before you three Writing Attitudes and Habits checklists; two Informal Assessment Checklists; conference notes from four teacher — student conferences; several Literacy Activity Book pages from various grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons; and your comments on three Reading/Writing Workshop papers. Your review of these materials might show that the student has not consistently used these conventions correctly. You check the minus column and write a summarizing comment on the rubric. (You might also write a reminder in your evaluation notebook to suggest that the student make improvement in this area a goal for the next marking period.)

In this example, you have evaluated the student as consistently demonstrating nine of the twelve important behaviors for writing. The writing grade she would receive depends on the grading scale you establish. For example, since this rubric has twelve items, you might assign an A for consistency in eleven or twelve criteria, a B for consistency in nine or ten criteria, and so on. The “sample student” would receive a B for writing.

Other Types of Report Cards

If you are using a report card that requires you to write detailed comments, you can still use a rubric and you can make it more detailed.

For example, instead of using consistently and inconsistently, you might want to have more than two columns to check. Perhaps your school or district provides categories that you want to use, or you might show a spectrum of descriptors such as consistently, occasionally, seldom, infrequently or independent, proficient, developing, beginning. In this way you turn your rubric into an outline for the notes you’ll write for each student.

Writing Anecdotal Notes

If your school does not use letter grades — and perhaps even if it does — you probably spend a great deal of time writing anecdotal notes on report cards. One of the advantages of conducting informal assessment regularly is that you develop a set of comments on which you can draw at report-card time. The evaluation notebook that you set up at the beginning of the year and the comments you have made in student portfolios become rich resources of information. Your report card narrative can repeat some notes and summarize and synthesize others, always emphasizing what the student can do.


Criterion Independent Proficient Developing Beginning Notes
Uses prewriting techniques y n n n always prewrites; tries different techniques
Organizes drafts in a logical order n y n n usually good sequencing; some trouble w/compare-contrast
Elaborates with relevant details n n y n usually includes one detail, if any
Shares drafts with others n y n n much improved from early in term
Revise effectively n n y n works too quickly; misses some obvious fixes; good on clarifying ideas
Uses conventions of grammar, usage, and mechanics correctly n n y n works too quickly; wants to get on to next thing
Proofreads and makes necessary corrections n n y n needs to work on proofreading
Shares finished writing with others n y n n much improved from early in term
Experiments with new writing ideas and skills n n n n
Shows ability to write in different modes n n n n
Completes writing assignments on time n n n n
Keeps writing folder/portfolio in order n n n n


Using Formal Assessment Information

Once you have surveyed your informal assessment data, filled out your rubrics, and so on, you can factor in student grades on whatever formal assessment instruments you have used. The weight that you give them (10 percent, for example) is up to you, but remember that formal assessment is only one part of the assessment picture.

Weighting Grades

To weight two grades to be 90 and 10 percent of the final grade, multiply the numerical equivalent of the first grade by 9 and the numerical equivalent of the second grade by 1; total those figures and then divide by 10. Follow the same procedure for other weighting ratios (for a 70 — 30 split, multiply the first number by 7, the second by 3, and divide their sum by 10; and so on).

Alternatively, you may decide not to differentiate between informal and formal assessment measures, using the formal test results to inform your judgments about student growth and achievement as you fill out your rubrics for each student.

Involving Students in the Process

As your students become more familiar with rubrics for evaluating writing and for preparing report cards, you may want to involve them in the process. Depending on your grade level, you might have them

  • evaluate themselves according to the criteria in one of your rubrics and make a list or write a letter to you explaining their judgments
  • help you develop additional rubrics or revise existing rubrics
  • help you develop a “teacher evaluation rubric” for the class to fill out each term.

Again, their participation, no matter how elementary, in the process will make them more active learners who are more conscious of and committed to their learning.

Evaluation of students is a difficult and time-consuming process, but it can be a positive one for both teacher and students. As you fine tune your balanced assessment plan over time, you will find that reporting student progress at term’s end will become more manageable because you will already have the necessary information at hand.

Home/Community Connection
If parents are aware — through parent conferences, parent letters, portfolios occasionally sent home, and so on — of the assessment and evaluation techniques used in your classroom, they are more likely to understand and support your methods.