Developing an Efficient and Effective Grading System

As a teacher, creating an efficient grading system is one of the most important tasks you can do to help you manage your time and your teaching practice. Still, despite its importance, the process of developing an efficient grading system isn’t discussed much in college teacher courses. The amount of grading responsibility might not even rise to a level of awareness until you’re drowning in stacks of ungraded papers in the middle of the school year. At that point, it might feel like it’s just a burden you will have to bear for the rest of your career. Well, I’m here to tell you something of exceeding importance.

Grading IS NOT the most important factor in your teaching.


I’m aware that I’ve written about Standards Based Grading. It truly was transformative to my teaching experience and I would never suggest that it wasn’t of importance.

Still, I think some teachers equate their grading load with being a better teacher. If they make their students complete more stuff and they provide more individual grades, their students are learning more. This is a fallacy that has generated anxiety among teachers for generations.

Therefore, let’s be clear. You are not a better teacher if you grade more or a worse teacher if you grade less. More grading does not equal better learning for your students.

Instead, creating an efficient grading system, where all assignments have meaning and purpose, will greatly influence student learning and development. It will also leave you with more time to enjoy the best aspect of teacher – generating meaningful relationships with your students.

To support you along the journey of creating an efficient grading system, I’ve developed some simple rules to guide your thought process.

1. All Assignments Should Have a Purpose.

Whenever you assign any work for students to complete, you need to have a reason for them to complete that work. Maybe they’re going to collect historical information and categorize that information. Perhaps they’re practicing their historical thinking skills. You might want to see if they understand the new content. Of course, an assignment may be measuring their knowledge and mastery of content. Whatever the reason, the work you assign students must have a purpose. I know this might seem obvious, however, everyone hates busy work. Parents hate busy work, students hate busy work, and teachers should hate busy work also! (Side note – if you haven’t read this post from Cult of Pedagogy about Grecian Urns – it’s essential reading for all Social Studies teachers.)

2. Don’t Grade Everything Students Write.

I’ve shared this rule previously when I wrote about grading hacks. I think it’s important to READ everything you have your students write (even if a simple scan to check for understanding). However, you don’t need to grade everything they write. Some assignments might get a straightforward “check.”

Check – yes you get it!

No Check – You don’t get it – fix your answer!

As long as every assignment has a purpose, this check should be more than sufficient to make sure that students are aware as to whether they’re developing their content and skill knowledge.

3. Feedback is more important than a grade.

Most students do want feedback on their work. They want to know what they did wrong and how they can improve. Sometimes, a grade can actually get in the way of meaningful feedback. Even further, not all feedback needs to come from you. Peer-to-peer feedback can offer just as much meaning to students. Therefore, with any assignment, determine whether a grade is actually warranted, or whether students might benefit just as much from peer feedback.

4. Make sure that your assignments aren’t redundant.

There’s a certain teacher I know that piles on the assignments for her students. By the end of each quarter, there are over a hundred grades in her grade book. Whew. The worst part of this situation is the fact that many of the assignments are redundant. The students complete very similar tasks about the same information at least several times in a row. Those students who are faithful to the assignments spend hours making sure that they are all completed. Nonetheless, most of the students cheat their way through the class or at the least, they find a way to “simplify” the workload. You don’t need to be that teacher. When each assignment has an individual purpose, students can then refer back to that work for review or retention. They don’t need to complete the same lesson 5 separate times.

5. Don’t create assignments that students won’t complete.

I used to have review assignments that students were meant to complete on their own time. I handed them out at the beginning of the month, and then reminded students almost every day that the assignment would be due at the end of the month. Despite all of the effort on my part, students were awful at completing these assignments with any fidelity. Most turned in the assignment late, others cheated, and others were just absolutely clueless about how to complete the assignment. Then, I had to grade the awfulness! Eventually, I realized that the assignments I had created were developmentally inappropriate and I removed them from the list of tasks.

In summary.

Before you start your next teaching year, really sit down and assess your grading system. How many assignments will you have per week – per month? Which ones will you grade? How many will be just feedback or a check? Plan out your grading system and eliminate redundant assignments or any meaningless busy work.

By creating an efficient grading system, you will leave more time in your daily schedule for nurturing one-on-one relationships with your students and generating new and engaging curriculum. Grading is extremely important, however, you don’t want it to overtake everything that you love about being a teacher. This type of system will help you to retain that love for your career.

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