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Two For One: Combining Grading and Assessment in One Process

For many reasons, including the significant time, energy and expertise devoted to grading, the fact that grades are insufficient for assessment purposes is puzzling and frustrating for some faculty. In fact, many educators use the words evaluation (grading process) and assessment interchangeably; yet, they are distinct concepts with different definitions, outcomes and intents. Speaking to this conundrum, Linda Suskie points out, "Obviously there is a great deal of overlap between the tasks of grading and assessment as both aim to identify what students have learned" (10). Like it or not, "Grading is … accepted within the culture of higher education. It is a pervasive system by which the institution communicates to various audiences about individual student learning" (Walvoord 13). Indeed, faculty view grading as an integral aspect of their teaching responsibilities.

This predicament can be addressed by considering the following assessment components that are often missing in the evaluation/grading situation.

  1. Ensure that learning outcomes provide the basis of assignments/learning activities. This action is important in bridging the gap because assessment is based on the attainment of learning outcomes, whereas some factors included in a course grade, e.g., attendance and participation or extra credit, are related more to classroom management and/or incentives, than to evidence of learning.
  2. Create and use rubrics with specific performance criteria that describe levels of competency. When rubrics are created, they should be developed collaboratively with other faculty who teach your course. This is particularly critical in bridging the gap because standards for grading may be vague and/or inconsistent over sections of the same course – or perhaps even from semester to semester in a single section of a course. In situations of multi-section courses taught by many instructors, rubrics are instrumental in providing grading consistency.
  3. Obtain valid data about student learning by using course-embedded assignments that are based on the learning outcomes. This is important in bridging the gap because grades do not necessarily reflect exactly what students have or have not learned.
  4. Create a feedback loop of results, i.e., use the data to determine a course of action designed to improve teaching and learning. This action is important in bridging the gap because improving teaching and learning based on data is the essence of assessment. With grading, once grades have been awarded to students and submitted to the departmental office, it is too often the case that is the end of the process.

To summarize, Walvoord reminds us that "A letter grade by itself does not give enough information about the learning that was tested or the criteria that were used. However, if the performance and criteria are made explicit, and the feedback loop includes the institution or department, then the grading process is an excellent basis for direct assessment of learning at the departmental, general education, and institutional levels" (Walvoord 13).


Suskie, Linda. Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide. Boston: Anker Publishing Company, Inc., 2004. Print.

Walvoord, Barbara E. Assessment Clear and Simple. San Francisco: Jossey Bass Publishers, 2004. Print.

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