Why I Hate Grading Besides the Fact that It Ruins a Good Weekend!

November 8, 2009

I love to read student work that delights and surprises me, but I hate assigning grades. Unless the work to be assessed is an “objective” test with right and wrong answers—and I’ve already written about how I feel about those—I find grading to be challenging once I’ve seen which students’ work is clearly deserving of an A. Please note that I am aware that many subjects require the acquisition of specific knowledge and that there are tests that do have right and wrong answers and that demonstrate that the student has learned things s/he needs to know. I am not talking about these subjects or those kinds of tests. I am talking about papers and projects and other assignments where there is room for students to show creativity and commitment to learning in their responses.

So here’s my quandary: Either the work is of high quality, the response to the assignment is thorough and thoughtful with careful language and examples that bring the work to life, and the paper, the project, or the short answer essays earned an A, making my job is easy, or—here’s the hard part—the work doesn’t meet these criteria and I have to decide which variation of “not A” to assign. And that’s what I hate, assessing care•less work. It may be adequate. It may even address all of the scoring guidelines, but there’s no sense that the student stretched her or his mind in an effort to do more than just address requirements and meet minimum standards for completion.

Once the care•lessness is apparent, usually almost immediately, I have to decide a) if there is anything worth grading, and b) if what’s there should earn a B or a C. Forget about the D or F. I don’t play that game. I generally return this kind of inadequate work, noting that it isn’t ready to be assessed. I also offer the opportunity to resubmit assignments because I assume that students would like to do good work if given the chance. I also understand that sometimes work that may appear to be uncaring to me is actually the product of a student who was clueless about what to do. My goal is for students to be able to demonstrate caring because, after all, they’re spending time and money taking the class, so why wouldn’t they care? I take late work and I offer opportunities to redo work because of this.

I understand the reasons for handing in something slapdash, the kind of product I call “done on the bus” work because it looks like it was finished at the last minute (and probably was). Perhaps you didn’t feel well or you ran out of time or you just didn’t care about what you were studying or your child was sick or you had to go in to work unexpectedly or there was some other emergency in your life or you thought you knew what you were doing and realized you were confused when it was too late to get more information. . .there are many reasons for doing substandard work that shows little or no effort. Most teachers can overlook the occasional sloppy or uncaring work from an otherwise caring student, although any student hands in such work at her or his peril since not all teachers will be understanding about it or offer second chances.

Here’s what really matters when you’re doing assignments: Does your work represent an honest and mindful attempt to demonstrate that you cared about the course and your learning within it? Or does your work show that you didn’t listen, didn’t pay attention, didn’t read, didn’t attend class, and just didn’t care, so you blew it off?

I have long said that if I were queen of education, I would have only two grades: cares and doesn’t care. I feel the same way about teachers; we should care or we should find something else to do. But no matter how kind and caring and understanding I try to be, I believe that it’s a waste of my time to look at care•less work. After more than twenty years of teaching, I still don’t understand why any student would think that I should feel it my duty to give my attention and my interest to work that the student didn’t pay any attention to creating and was obviously not interested in. I care and I think students should too.

This week I asked my students to write about their grading policies, so here’s your question: What’s your policy about the work you hand in to be graded? Is it get it done quickly and hope it will pass even though you didn’t put much effort into it? Or does your work show that you believe in putting effort and thought into creating something you’re proud to submit?

Quality is never an accident it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.
• Attributed variously to Willa F. Foster or John Ruskin or Bob Desseker or Anonymous (If you know for certain, let me know, because I like this quotation.)



  1. My policy for the work that I hand in to be graded is to only turn in work that I have put my 100% best effort into. This is because I am a perfectionist who is also extremely motivated. I honestly cannot get a good nights rest when I have a paper due if I have not thoroughly completed my assignment to the best of my ability. There is rarely a time when I am not proud of what I turned in. This is because I have spent a large amount of time and effort in creating it. I am not always sure that the teacher will feel that it is a wonderful creation, but at least I can go to sleep knowing that I have done my best.

  2. Hallelujah! I am the same way. My work isn’t always wonderful because sometimes you just have to stop, but it always represents my sincere effort to do a beyond adequate–and sometimes into the stellar category–job. W-OZ

  3. My own personal standard for work I turn in is based on the same basic principal as what I ask of my first and second graders: do your best. We don’t always have perfect days, and therefore the work we do will not always be perfect, but doing your best at the given moment is what matters. This is what needs to be reflected in the work handed in to be graded. This happens all the time with state and SAT-type tests where students can only perform on the test that day as well as they feel and as well as they are prepared. A student can try and do their best, but if they are sick or tired or under a lot of stress at home, it will undoubtedly affect their grade. And the opposite is true. If the student feels great and things are going perfectly, it will also be reflected in their grade. My motto is simply: do your best at the given moment. If you have time to complete a ‘project’ then obviously you have more opportunity to ‘refine and revise’ and therefore that project should reflect even higher standards and effort.

    • I really like the way you put this. I have seen many students have a hard time with testing due to something going on at home, or just waking up late. I like the idea of taking that into consideration in your grading and giving students other options. Sometimes I get into the grind of things and I forget that something like a test can send you over the edge if you’re having a bad morning. I know that my work is definately effected when I’m having a bad day. I either throw myself into it and do an amazing job, or throw things together to just get it done.

      I also agree with what Rachel said about how much I put into an assignment relating to what I feel I’m getting from it. If I feel like I’m not learning from the assignment, I don’t put a whole lot into it. Some of the things we have been working on for this class have really made me have to work. Poetry is not a strong point for me. I feel like I am getting so much more out of this class now because I have had a break from taking classes for a few years. I am excited to learn from others, and share ideas.

  4. I absolutely love how this post was originally written, especially the “care and doesn’t care”. I tend to remind students that their work is like putting on clothes when going to school. I usually ask a student if they would wear dirty and wrinkled clothes to school. A typical student usually responds with an enormous “no”! I then ask why you would turn in work that looks like similar to dirty and wrinkled clothes. In most cases this will get the point across, unfortunately a few students like the grungy look. I at least attempt to get my point across in a gentle manner using humor and I typically get results.
    For me personally, I stress about things and can think them to death until I am sick. It is best for me if I read the directions a few times, do the assignment, check it quickly, and then turn it in to the teacher. I will make mistakes, but I go back and correct the errors. I can relate to the kids that may experience performance anxiety and try to account for this possibility, especially since the population I work with is primarily emotional disturbed students. I really personalize each student and look for individual accountability and effort for each task.

  5. Often times how I respond to an assignment depends on the assignment – sometimes I feel I have been given assignments purely as busy work. If I feel this is the case I may not put my all into – because the assignment doesn’t have value to me. I want to grow from an assignment – so if the assignment is one that I believe has value I will put my all into it because I want the assignment to reflect my understanding and growth as I result I am proud of my work. I wish teachers would realize that students know the difference between “busy work” assignments and assignments that truly do have opportunity for growth and understanding. I believe even my first graders know when the work I assign them has value – they are excited about it – they ask to do it again – they take pride in their effort and want to please and they show growth.

  6. This seems to be a topic that unites educators at all levels. Students and teachers must be honest with one another with what expectation comes with an assignment. Neither group wants to have their “valuable” time wasted by an assignment or piece of work that has little significance to the direction of the class. Teachers and students must improve in a number of areas to solve this crisis that is taking away joy from the classroom experience. First, expectations must be clearly defined. What is the objectve of the assignment? How is the teacher planning to assess it? Second, the amount of effort seen in the material should determine the time given to it. Managing time is clearly that parties involved in the education business must grasp.

  7. When I began teaching, it was hard not to look at each and every piece of work a student produces – that is the “task-oriented” part of my personality. However, as it happens when you meander through the teaching process, what you thought was important at the beginning, does not seem so important at this juncture. I also attach a note on my Grading that gives me more of a total picture of that student – where they need specific help and where they shine.

  8. During a work sample of mine in attaining my Bachelor’s Degree, I was studying the results of the pre-test and the post-test. That was when I realized that I wanted to give the student that started with an F (no knowledge of the subject) and ended up with an B+ a better grade than the student who started with a B and ended with a B+. The first student had put so much EFFORT into it. Assessment is really something to think about. This year I also had 7, count em 7 students who were slow processors in their timed math facts. They ALL had F’s. Even though they were slow, every answer they did get down was correct! I wanted to delete the report card category. One old fashioned teacher next door to me said, “In life, you can’t be slow-processors.” Well, excuse me, they already ARE slow processors!
    I can see why you call this a rant. I’m having fun capitolizing and using the exclamation mark!

  9. I have to thank my seventh grade math teacher for my attitude toward effort and caring in school. I was a kid who found the classwork to be easy, and liked working quickly just because I could. One day (to be funny) I decided to bunch up my paper and unfold it as many times as possible and still have it legible before I turned it in. The next day, I found my 100% paper with a big fat red-marker “A+” on it, posted on the bulletin board at the front of class. Embarrassed, I asked for it back, and he said, “No. Aren’t you proud of your work?” I hung my head and disappeared to the back of the room.

    It was then that I learned to take pride in ALL aspects of my work. Of course, in later years I found this much easier to do when I was passionate about the class I was in.

    As a teacher myself, it is immensely rewarding to see a child’s heart and soul in their work. My students are 6 and 7 years old, and (lucky me) they almost always do the best they possibly can. It is in their nature to show off what they are capable of… as they are so young and eager to prove that they are ‘big’. Even still, I hope that my words of encouragement,dances of success, and whoops of joy partnered with high-fives will somehow be carried in their hearts and influence how they continue to pour themselves into their work as the years go by.

    After all, it only takes one teacher to make a difference.

  10. Expectations that I set for myself are extremely high. On rare occasion I manage to produce a work that I am very proud of and that I believe reflects accurately what I was trying to convey. Positive feedback and honest constructive comments are the things I value most; these serve to motivate me.

    The real struggle is assessing student work. I am prone to evaluate effort maybe more than I should. Effort will get you somewhere eventually if you stick with it, but where does effort leave you now? All the effort in the world, if not channeled correctly, will result in spinning in circles. It is a true challenge to assess a work, provide constructive feedback, and provide motivation for the student to press on. It is quite an art to guide the formative writing process without stifling creativity. While a ‘good job!’ comment pasted on an assignment may be acceptable it does little to provide direction for improvement.

    I hate giving grades. I would prefer to formatively assess work, and provide as much motivation as possible through positively framed feedback. Students too easily accept their grade as what they are not what they do: “I am a ‘C’ student.” Once this self-perception is created it is difficult for students to see beyond it.

  11. Just an observation: the date and time of these submissions is not accurate.
    If it is correct then:
    All my clocks are wrong;
    It is daylight at 2:30 am;
    It’s way past my bedtime.

  12. Assessing student work is perhaps one of the most time consuming things that we do in this profession. Some things are easier to be graded then others and students receive credit. The expectations are always the same for the student. All the work they do in my class is expected to be at their 100% effort level. “Is it your best work?” I ask them. Assessment will always inform your instruction and help you to differentiate for your students.
    The level of assessment for each assignment and subject varies depending on the student objective. In math for instance all their work needs to be shown. I need to see how they got to their answer. I am constantly assessing them during the math period. Once they finish their work they are provided with an answer key to check their answers and make corrections. Sometimes, we will correct an assignment whole group. I stress 80% accuracy. They like to be 100% accurate. Formative assessments are occurring daily.
    I have a spelling homework routine and they are expected to be responsible and turn in their assignments or lose their free time and my own to get it done. The students do a great job, but there are usually a couple of students that need extra time at school to get it done. The students know that they are to be held accountable for all of their assignments. Once the tests are given on Friday and they are assessed you can see who put the work in throughout the week.
    The expectations I have on myself about getting the job done the right way are extremely high and I transfer those same expectations to my students. If I have an assignment to do or a lesson to prepare I want my students to learn and to have fun while they’re doing it. They tend to pay better attention that way.

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