What’s in a grade? (Part 1 of n)

My limited time as a teacher has allowed me to see a lot of things. There’s the usual: students come and go each year. Students in my homeroom growing up before my eyes. I saw Common Core roll into our department (and yours). The ensuing struggle to interpret the Common Core once it arrived. I saw social media post after social media post from parents and teachers alike sharing their opinions about Common Core. I’ve seen growth mindset become a “thing.” I’ve seen smiles, high fives, and fist bumps after a fantastic lesson. I’ve seen tears shed because of a loss, breakup, and final exam (true story). But something I didn’t see was a change in the way we grade; that was relatively consistent through the beginning of my career.

Earlier this month I sat in the audience listening to Thomas Guskey talk about grades, and I recall him asking a very simple, straightforward question: why do you grade the way you grade? Now, I’ve come a looooooooong way since year one, in many regards, but my thoughts when asked this question immediately rewound back to that first year: I graded my students like I was graded as a student. Come to think of it, I was, for the most part, graded the same way from kindergarten through elementary school, from high school through graduate school. I was given points. So, naturally, I gave points…a lot of points. And, in part because I really didn’t know any better and veteran teachers suggested I follow suit; so I had weighted categories. You know what I’m talking about:

Tests — 60%
Quizzes — 15%
Projects — 10%
Homework — 10%
Participation — 5%

The above is a pretty generic example, but you get the point (pun intended).

But shortly after I started teaching, I began to question what I was doing. Some things just didn’t make sense to me. I faced my first major dilemma in teaching: grades. It became frustrating to grade because I found that I frequently asked myself questions like:

What do my grades represent?
What should a grade represent?
Should effort be a factor when calculating/determining grades?
What’s the difference between a 79.63% and an 80.24%?
Why is there an 11-point spread to get an A?
Why is there a 60-point spread to get an F?
How emotionally damaging is it for a student to see a 12% in the grade book?
Wouldn’t it just make sense to give them an F? I mean, it’s still an F…
How much does a zero really impact a student’s grade?
But what does that F really mean?

These were just a few questions I pondered…

So my question to you is, what do your grades mean?


This is Part 1 of an open-ended series on grading and my journey to Standards Based Grading. Stay tuned to hear about where I was and where I am; they’re two entirely different places (in case you couldn’t already tell..).



  1. This is brilliant. If we did no other professional development for a year except reflect on how and why we grade, we would be more deserving of the students we are entrusted to teach.


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