Grading Philosophy

I’ve decided to put my grading philosophy on my pseudo-syllabus.  Many students come in with strange ideas of what grades are/ought to be, that I’ve decided to be very explicit about what they are in my class.

Grading Philosophy

A grade is a way of classifying a students performance in the class.

D : The student has a minimally acceptable level of understanding and skill

C : The student demonstrates mastery of the majority of skills and at least superficial understanding of all concepts

B :  The student demonstrates mastery of all skills and solid understanding of concepts

A : The student demonstrates excellence

Excellence goes beyond mastery.  Not only has the student mastered the skills from our curriculum, they understand the concepts at a deep enough level that they have the ability to apply their knowledge in a new and different context.  They can make connections between elements of the material being studied.  I want to emphasize that making connections for yourself is very different from recalling connections that have been pointed out to you.  One is a symptom of A-level work, the other is something that can be found in C-level work.

The important thing to recognize here is that an true evaluation of this can only come toward the end of the semester.  Grades given during the semester should be approached from the point of view of feedback.  Feedback should not be confused with praise or blame.  I give feedback to make you aware of the current quality of your work, so that you can adjust your performance.  I am always happy to meet with you individually and help you come up with strategies to improve your mathematical performance.

Later on in the syllabus I talk about the actual grading policies that mean that your course grade can recover from a bad exam (and this semester I’m going to point out from the beginning that quiz grades are weighted so small that they should be viewed as opportunities for getting feedback, rather than a time to worry about points.  Now when we go over all that, I have this to point them back to.

Also, I think I’ve decided the word of the semester is “Feedback”.  More on that later.


4 thoughts on “Grading Philosophy

  1. Being explicit is a good idea. My university publishes a guideline in our college bulletin: “In general, A indicates excellent work, B indicates good work, C indicates satisfactory work, and D indicates passable work and is the lowest passing grade.” Yours might do something similar. If it does, the extra effort to tie yours to the university one adds credence to yours and protects you in case of grade appeals.

    • Mine does have something very similar in our course catalog, except it describes a C as “average” work. I prefer your university’s language.

      I may add a line along the lines of “This is consistent with the university grading policy”, and include a link to the document in the online version. Thanks for the idea.

  2. bretbenesh says:


    I love the theme of “Feedback.” Could you emphasize it more by, say, grading the quizzes on completion (or not grading them at all)? It seems like this might really drive home the idea that quizzes are for feedback.

    • I’ve thought about it and gone back and forth a bunch. I suppose I have until 10 am tomorrow to really make up my mind. But I’m not sure how many major changes I should commit to at one time, and I’m committed to the blog project. I need to post about that.

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