Frame of Reference: Fair and Balanced Grades

GradesHow can you grade fairly when students are doing different assignments with different deadlines?


Our main character is a broadcast journalism teacher who has a class divided into teams for producing a daily or weekly newscast. Some of the students are second year, some third, etc. Some are excellent reporters; others have technical expertise. The teacher wants to inspire/challenge each student to use every minute of class time to be productive and to constantly increase the level of skill mastery that in turn increases the quality of the newscast. Still, the teacher wants to make the expectations attainable.
One method the"Make students accountable for how they use class time, by having them take some responsibility for their skill advancement and by measuring quality of the product." teacher has used was requiring that every student must produce X number of packages per grading period. Some produced that many quickly….and then loafed, assured of their grade. Some struggled to get that many and the result was sloppy work. Some procrastinated until the last week and then whipped out work that met the requirements, but both teacher and students KNEW that quality and quantity could have been so much greater. This happened because not all packages are created equal.
The teacher had also required that each student has to serve in X number of staff positions for the newscast during each grading period as a way of measuring contribution. But “serving in a position” doesn’t account for quality of work in that position or how much preparation is needed.  As a result, the teacher has become frustrated with trying to devise grading tools that will fairly and accurately reflect student effort, student progress, and product quality.


A broadcast journalism class which is producing newscasts is project-based learning, Assessment requires more than just evaluating the end product.
The structure of the class should be such that student time on task is maximized, that students advance in skill mastery, and that product quality is assured. The right assessment tools help teachers meet these goals by making students accountable for how they use class time, by having them take some responsibilityfor their skill advancement and by measuring quality of the product.

First, let’s discuss student accountability for use of class time.  When broadcast students are moving around with different assignments and different deadlines, some will find an opportunity to waste time saying “I can’t do anything until I get an interview” or “I’m not scheduled to edit yet.” How does a teacher make a student accountable for using class time on task?

I recommend a daily work report. This should be very short and require specific reporting by the student.  The student must complete it each day. Otherwise, students have room to procrastinate then try to do a vague writing.  This can be submitted to the teacher during the last 5 minutes each day via e-mail, blog, or hard copy.

What should the student write in the daily work report?  That’s up to the teacher.  For a beginning class with much teacher-led instruction, the student might be asked to summarize the day’s lesson including new vocabulary.  For an advanced class which is mostly production work, the report could include a summary of what has been accomplished (or attempted) that day, the problems that arose and what the plans are for the next day?
I recommend that you make these daily reports confidential.  Students should feel they can tell you about something they didn’t understand or a team member who’s slacking without fearing that their comments will become public.

When you begin requiring daily work reports, review them each day and give brief feedback so students know you’re looking at them.  If they’re electronic, a simple reply/comment will suffice.  If they’re on paper, choose three or four each day for a response note.  As you review the reports, note whether the content is confirmed by your observations during class.  If you notice the student is padding the report or omitting important information, say so in a note or individual conference.

Once the students are documenting their daily work, that is the first step toward establishing accountability. These daily reports can be used for student-led conferences and also give you important feedback about how students are managing time, what they understand or don’t understand, and common problems.

So how is this a grade?

"The highest level of expectations (top grade) must be realistically challenging but achievable by the most competent student."

Yes, the students are writing down what they do each day, but they’re all doing something different.  Howcan you grade that for a daily or weekly grade?  Use a rubric.  Here’s how:

Create your own rubric—don’t get a pre-made generic one from some website. and/or part of the grade.  If the report is used for grading, the expectations must be established early and communicated to the students.

The highest level of expectations (top grade) must be realistically challenging but achievable by the most competent student.

Think about the best student you’ve had or currently have.  What did that student do each day that made him/her “best”?  Come up with specific characteristics for “excellent”.  Did that student meet or beat deadlines?  Did that student master a new skill independently?  Did that student enterprise story ideas, assist others, work off campus, after school, or at home?  What made that student one of the best?  These characteristics for “excellent” will not be the same for every teacher reading this and that’s why it’s important that you make your own rubric that reflects what you can realistically expect of YOUR students.

I would suggest that you start the daily work reports now at the beginning of school and use them just for conference purposes.  Let the students build the habit knowing that you’re going to react to what they write.  If you feel that you need to give credit for completing the reports as assigned, you can do that.

At the beginning of the next grading period, present the rubric and tell the students that they will receive a weekly grade for their class time use that is documented on their daily work reports.  Provide an example of a week’s reports that would earn that student an “excellent”.  Do the same for the other rankings.  Show what number grade goes with each ranking on the rubric.

At the end of the first week, have the students self-evaluate using their daily work reports and the rubric. Don’t let them just rank themselves as “excellent” or “good”—require that they cite evidence that they deserve that ranking.  Compare what they do to what you get when YOU apply the rubric and get their grade. This will give you valuable information about their understanding and whether they’re viewing their own work through rose-colored glasses.  Share your own ranking with each student comparing it to the self-assessment. This will let the student know if you two are on the same page.
Once this system is in place, it’s important that you stick with it for a whole grading period.  Let the chips fall where they may. You’ve provided an achievable goal—give them time to reach it. Confer with students individually about how they can better use their class time, but do NOT waver from the realistic expectations you set on that rubric.  At the end of the grading period, revisit the rubric for the next grading period.  Even solicit input from your students.  As their experience/skill level increases, the expectations for “excellent” can increase.

The grade you derive from daily work reports is one way you can grade students who are working on different assignments with different deadlines.  It is NOT the grade for the course—it’s only one part and helps make students accountable for how they use class time and take some responsibility for their skill advancement. It should not be such a huge grade that it makes or breaks them for the course, but it should be sufficient to make a difference.  Improving use of class time per your expectations will help the less competent student and force the most competent to increase productivity.

Depending on the level of your students and your teaching style, you may use written quizzes and tests and certainly you will need a way to evaluate the QUALITY of their product (package, show script, PSA, showopening, etc.)  Hmmmm…sounds like a good topic for October!

Coming in October:  Fair and Balanced Grades? - Part II
How can I give a project grade that is a detailed evaluation but takes me only minutes to do?

Kerby00Janet Kerby is a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education specializing in broadcast journalism. Janet’s extensive teaching experience and award-winning program at Roane County High School in West Virginia provide the background for her current work in teacher training.   Janet has developed an online graduate course Teaching Broadcast Journalism and is currently teaching that course as part of Kent State University’s online Master of Arts Degree–Journalism Educator Specialization.