Over the years I have seen thousands of course grade books and a disturbing quantity have glaring errors. This phenomenon isn’t limited to a specific institution or LMS. Some of them are misuses of the tool, some of them are misunderstandings, and a lot of them are just negligence. The scary part is that this means tens of thousands of inaccurate grades are reported every semester.

I gave a talk at Jasig Sakai 2012 about common pitfalls of the grade book but a more accurate title would have been “You Suck At Grading And You’re Terrible For Not Caring More”, though that talk would have had a harder time getting accepted. The reality of the situation is the grade book tools in all the various LMSs I’ve used are not that complicated, but instructors make them complicated. Here are some poor decisions I see frequently:

  • Grading with fractions of points instead of integers
  • Using percentages instead of points (or worse, percentages OF percentages)
  • Monolithic lists of undifferentiated items
  • Overly complicated grading schemes (there are 147 quizzes but I just take the highest 32, then I curve against the 2nd best and 13th worst students)

Another title for that talk could have been “You’re Not As Good At Math As You Think”. It’s not that you can’t make these weird grading methods work, but why should you? What benefit is there to having a wildly complicated grading scheme? It’s more error prone, it’s more difficult for your students to understand, and it’s way more error prone because you are not as good at math as you think.

Want to eliminate most errors from your grade book in just a few easy steps?

  1. Grade with points (not fractions of a point, and not percentages, letters, or anything else)
  2. Check two students final grade by hand calculation (if it’s different than your grade book, check again, then ask someone for help. If it’s too complicated to check by hand that’s a sign that it’s too damn complicated!)
  3. Chant over and over to yourself that a dash in the grade book is not the same as a zero. You need to zero out unsubmitted work to accurately reflect a student’s final grade
  4. Seriously, do not ignore step three. That error alone is responsible for a mountain of inaccurate final grades

Please don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues, your instructional designers, or your technical support, for assistance. Assigning a letter to something as ethereal as “learning” is already kind of spurious; let’s at least assign the correct letters.