Grading using checklists, rubrics, and self-assessments


In 10 years of teaching, I’ve found that my grading philosophy sometimes defers from what’s expected from administrators and parents. We give students tests ten times more than we did when I started teaching. Of those tests, many of them are tests with over 40 questions. I’ve seen my students experience serious anxiety over these tests and I’ve seen the parents angry and confused when their student that’s been getting As on all the assignments pulls in a C as their final grade because they weren’t feeling well the day of the test.

I believe in one thing specifically: Grading based purely off of assessments is setting kids up for major anxiety and feelings of failure. 

I’ve seen students that have amazing scientific minds fail tests. Students that conduct their own science experiments at home based off of inquiries they have about their world.

I’ve seen business-minded students that make and sell items at home fail tests. These students understand profit and loss, reinvesting in their business, and marketing. These skills weren’t on the test.

I’ve also seen students that had no motivation to do anything in class ace every test and get a higher overall grade than the student that worked hard at school and at home.

So what can we do in class? How do we move the focus away from assessments, especially if they’re mandated?

We reimagine our grading and teaching process. We provide activities that allow for student choice (like project-based learning), and we grade them in a way that assesses the whole student and their abilities. We grade using checklists, rubrics, and self-assessments.

Grading using checklists

There are many different ways that you can grade students using checklists. You can keep track of their reading progress for a grade (see Sara’s “Status of the Class” below). You can create a standard checklist to check off when they show you they understand skills. You can even break it down into smaller skill-based items that you want students to master within a standard.

If you have 9 small skills on your math checklist this week, you can enter a grade based off of mastery of those skills. For example, a student with mastery of 9 skills will get a 9/9, or 100%. Mastery can be shown individually in small group, or in a quick formative assessment.

Remember that formative assessments typically involve qualitative feedback that focuses on the details of content and performance. This is also a great time to give students individual feedback! My formative assessments are always task-based.

Status of the class

From the guest post “3 Ways to Build a Community of Readers

Grading using rubrics

Rubrics are a great way to grade students on larger tasks, such as project-based learning. An added bonus to using rubrics is that your students know what to expect. You can even make a hybrid checklist-rubric that has boxes for students to check as they’ve completed them.

Project-based Learning Rubric

Get this free project-based learning rubric here.

Grading using self-assessment

One of the problems I often see with some students is that they don’t care about grades. Many students don’t even understand why they got a certain grade, and most won’t take the time to ask. Self-assessment is a really powerful thing because it allows students to get a grade that they understand. Most students are open and honest when they reflect on their work. You will likely even find out why they didn’t do well on the assignment because they will tell you when they were confused or what was hard for them. This is information that you can’t get when you’re sitting down by yourself grading.

Self-assessments and reflections go great with rubrics. If they know what is expected of them, they can easily give themselves a grade and justify that grade with the different parts of the rubric. My students got really good at circling a rating on each row of the rubric and then referring back to that on their self-assessment.

You can download the reflection and grading guide for free here.

student self-assessment free resource

However you choose to grade, remember that the grade should mean something to the student. It’s their future that’s being shaped and the best thing we can do for them is to give them some responsibility in the manner. You’d be surprised at how students react when given more power in their grades!


April Smith

Curriculum Writer and Online Professional Development Coach. 


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