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High School Grading Policies: Formative vs. Summative Assignments

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 9/11/2012

When the smartest kid in the class, who gets A's on tests but doesn't do homework, gets a lower grade than the kid who gets C's on tests, but does a lot of extra credit fluff assignments, it's time to fix your grading policies.

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    Grading is subjective. That's why we have grading policies.

    As school districts move to standards based assessments, teachers must adapt. They must understand the difference between formative and summative evaluations and teaching: a formative assessment is intended to help students develop understanding and mastery of the material. Classwork, homework, group assignments qualify as formative. Summative assignments are intended for students to demonstrate mastery of the material. They include tests, projects, and essays.

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    How to Make your Grading Better

    Here are some suggestions, something to think about, if you want grades to reflect student mastery of specified standards. I learned formative and summative evaluation from Rick Wormeli. I pass what I learned on to you.

    1. Grades should communicate student progress. Grades should not be used as a punishment or reward.
    2. Formative assignments should be a very small percentage of the overall grade.
    3. The bulk of the grade should be based on summative assignments--tests, projects, essays.
    4. Participation and effort grades, because they cannot be measured objectively and are no indication of mastery, should not factor into the overall grade.
    5. Group work cannot demonstrate individual mastery and should, therefore, not be factored into the overall grade.
    6. Students should be allowed to retake tests (within reason, of course).
    7. All formative assignments should have the objective of helping students practice skills they need to master.
    8. All assignments should be graded (not necessarily recorded) in order to provide feedback and show students that the assignment is worth doing.
    9. Summative assignments should require students to demonstrate mastery.
    10. Each summative exercise must have clear goals as to which skills are being assessed.
    11. Tests, project, and essay grades should receive multiple grades, based on the separate skills being assessed.
    12. On a 100 point grading scale, the lowest possible grade should be 50.
    13. The overall grade should reflect consistent performance over time.
    14. Teachers should define mastery and share it with students and parents.
    15. Use rubrics.
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    Tips for Implementation

    After I understood the basics of formative and summative evaluation and teaching, I realized I had a lot to change. Here are some tips for making your class grades reflect mastery.

    1. Read Rick Wormeli's book Fair Isn't Always Equal.
    2. Whatever you don't like, don't do.
    3. Evaluate your own grading policies and think about areas you can improve.
    4. Evaluate your tests and projects and determine whether or not they require mastery.
    5. Evaluate your homework policy.
    6. Evaluate your grading scale.
    7. Evaluate your homework and classwork assignments. Do they provide skills practice for the standards you want to teach or are they fluff?
    8. Create your own definition of mastery.
    9. Implement change one step at a time.
    10. Ask for student input.

Differentiated Instruction

If you keep doing things the same way, you're going to get the same results. These suggestions for differentiated instruction will make the transition possible.
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