Assessment and Grades
Course grades are assigned to individual students to indicate the extent to which they have met
the instructor's expectations for a given set of course requirements.
Assessment results are intended to reflect the extent to which all students achieve the outcomes
of a course or program of study. Clearly, grades and assessment differ in that one
focuses on individuals and courses and the other with groups and programs.
Why can't we use course grades for assessment?
Grades are insufficient because:
- Grades don't necessarily tell us what the student knows and doesn't know. The grade
in the course may be a composite of various grades on differing assignments and not
reflect what aspects of the actual outcomes of the course the student mastered. For
example a student may earn a grade of B on a research paper and may have learned a
good deal about research methods but we cannot tell exactly what aspects of the research
process she has mastered.
- Grades are assigned based on one instructor's judgment only. Courses often have multiple
sections with different faculty who may grade assignments using different standards.
How grades are assigned varies across courses and course sections. This means we can't
compare grades across courses to make inferences about the program as a whole.
- Grades include student behaviors that may or may not be related to course goals (i.e.
class attendance, participation, late submission of assignments). These practices
can help a student earn a fairly high grade even though they may not achieve some
of the learning goals.
- Grades give us information on student performance in individual courses or course
assignments, but not how well the students have learned holistically over an entire
program. And they don’t give us any information about what students learned from their
Grades are important indicators of student learning
if they are based on direct evidence of learning that is clearly linked to major
learning goals. See this short video
on how to revise your grading system. See also this video
on aligning your course learning outcomes and assignments.
Both sources below offer numerous practical suggestions about how to tie grades to
explicit learning goals and standards:
Suskie, L. (2004). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide. Bolton, MA: Anker
Publishing Co., Inc.
Walvoord, B., Anderson, V. (1998) Effective Grading: a tool for learning and assessment.
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.