I turned in grades last Friday for my classes.  And in two weeks, I have to turn in another set of grades, and a set of grades for my final exams.

What are grades, exactly?

I mean, I try extremely hard to make sure that no one in my classes gets a D or an F.  I work pretty hard to make sure there are few C’s over the course of the year, too.  But I’m reluctant to give A’s too.  On the surface it appears I’d rather keep everyone in the B+ to B- range, and I wonder how to justify that.

There have been some posts on other blogs recently about the problems with incentives, and I guess that for me, a person who demonstrates that they have consulted more than just Wikipedia’s entry on Alexander the Great and the textbook deserves a higher grade.  But I don’t see anyone doing that, any more.  Every couple of years, I’d have a student come along who would do extraordinary things, like the girl who made an illustrated timeline of the Paleolithic Age. She got an A.  But what about the kid who turned in a paragraph on Julius Caesar who couldn’t even be bothered to put his own name on it, and who misspelled “Caesar” twice?

Over the long haul, my school has been unhelpful about grades.  My first grading advice came from a long-serving teacher, who advised me to give a check-plus for excellent work, a check for mediocre work, and a check-minus for poor work.  Various iterations of that system served me for my first decade of teaching, but left me singularly unsatisfied.  I didn’t have any metrics to judge whether a student was really making progress, and mostly it seemed so subjective.

My current system isn’t much better, and it’s weaker than usual given the nature of online work, and digital creativity, and grading work in a semi-public sphere — even if it’s only a class wiki closed to the public.  How do other people handle grading in the 21st century? I haven’t got much of a clue at all, and it’s just getting worse all the time.

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