Things I Like – More Authentic Grading

There’s a lot of talk in Education about strategies and ideas “That Work”.  Sadly, these conversations have generally implied two things:  That all other things before have not worked, and that this idea is the one and only answer.  “Things I Like” is simply about thing I use in my room – and I’m always looking to improve

Mr. Kramp was a mentor teacher to me for many reasons, the primary one being we are both hilariously short.  He  taught social studies when I arrived at Robeson.  He had an incredible way of dealing with students – tough but fair, friendly but commanding.  He could rock a Phillies shirt and shorts 5 days a week and still be the most respected guy in the building.

Sadly, Mr. Kramp has left us for an administrative gig1, but I still remember one of his great ideas.  Mr. Kramp started American History with a quiz on the 50 states.  It was a simple as possible – here’s a map, label it.  The catch was a student would earn above an 80% or receive a mandatory make-up (and an F).  That’s it, that’s all.

It’s beautiful in its simplicity.  How can you talk about slavery, he would pontificate, if you don’t understand which states are in the South?  Either you do a great job or you didn’t do well enough – there’s no middle ground.  I loved this because it made so much sense.  “Do great or try again” is the “realest” grading system I’ve seen.  I relate it to students as a driver’s test, a college placement test, or the army physical exam. You can or you can’t – that’s life.

I started adapting this for grading writing.  I ask for two examples and a student gives me one?  “Incomplete”, try again.  If we worked on in-text citation, I would first look for the citations before reading the paper.  The next year,  I moved towards the 5 point grade scale2:

5 – Mastery/Above standard

4 – At Standard – on target

3 – Approaching standard

2 – Below standard, needs intervention

1 – Incomplete or grossly inadequate

“You’re great, you’re good enough, you’re not there yet.  And if you’re not there yet, try again”.  For my smaller assignments, I’m pretty close to binary:  Check, check-minus, or zero; you tried, you didn’t try enough, or you didn’t do it. For papers and projects, I use a 5 point rubric with multiple standards.

( I still dabble in the 0-100 scale for vocabulary quizzes, where we have a quantifiable amount of knowledge.)

I don’t like this because Kramp liked it, or because it makes my grading life easier, or because I really like the number 53.  I like it because it makes sense. What does a 74% mean?  You know 74% of the content?  You can complete 74% of inferences?  You’re paying attention 74% of the time?  We get the job or we don’t, we succeed in a project or we fail, we lose those 10 pounds we promised or we wait until next year.

Grades, assignments, and the work of school should reflect reality.  I think this is a good start.

((If you like this you can find, as usual, way smarter people writing about it.  Definitely check them out.))


  1. his responsibilities include ignoring my happy hour invitations 

  2. This is not my invention, nor is it the best – I’m sure 4 or 10 would work fine 

  3. I do 

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