Plan for Grading

Grades are powerful teaching tools, despite the angst they can evoke. Develop a strategy for grading that will leverage grades to maximize learning without putting yourself, the instructor, into an impossible workload situation.

Grading Methods and Strategies

On this page find recommendations for providing feedback, developing rubrics, evaluating student writing, and deploying time-saving techniques. In addition, learn about mastery-based grading and employ student self-assessment as part of your grading repertoire.

Montclair Grading Standards

The grade breakdown follows a familiar method for translating final letter grades to a 4.0 scale. Instructors are at liberty to determine how letter grades correspond to percentages or points, or to develop other logical and understandable systems.  The Canvas default grading scheme is represented below.

Research on grading practices at Montclair reveals what every student will tell you: instructors at Montclair subscribe to a broad range of grading theories and practices, and there is variation across disciplines — as is typically the case in American universities — but also across departments and even courses. Every department chair has access to university grade data and can be consulted to gain insight into the grading practices of their department and even in specific courses. Faculty working together to define grading criteria, rubrics, and systems can be extremely helpful in increasing students’ confidence that their evaluation is fair and equitable.

Grading for Learning

As a general rule, student learning is improved by frequent assessments that support regular practice and studying over infrequent high-stakes assessments. As an educated adult, you know that you learn new vocabulary by usage — reading, speaking, and writing a new word that has value to you — not by studying vocab lists. This same principle holds for all aspects of knowledge-building. The knowledge that students cram into their heads for a high-stakes multiple-choice test is not well-retained. That knowledge is much better retained through repeated and varied application: through conversation in a small group in class; application, extension or comparison to another context; incorporation in a written assignment; etc. Thus avoiding high-stakes assessments that encourage cramming (not learning) and rely on test-taking abilities doesn’t help us evaluate — grade — students for what we value, which is learning.

We need to think deeply about how we can evaluate learning!  And we also need to make it clear in all of our communications, including our rubrics, that we underscore our deep and abiding commitment to learning above all other achievements. Students aren’t always sure that faculty really care most about learning — the requirement and importance of grades in school and beyond undermines much of our preaching. What we can do is show that learning behaviors matter by rewarding such behaviors through grades.

Develop a summary grade rubric that emphasizes learning behaviors

For example, in the sample below, student work is distributed throughout the semester, and students are evaluated on a variety of different tasks, including a concluding semester project that asks students to reflect on their learning.

Final Grade Criteria

Short Homework Assignments: 20%

Quizzes (4): 20%

Group Project: 10%

In-class Work: 10%

7-page papers (2): 30%

Reflective Essay on Learning: 10%

Develop opportunities for revision/improvement to reward succeeding at learning outcomes

It doesn’t really matter whether students achieve learning outcomes on March 1st or May 15th, does it? If you share that view, that what really matters is how students end the semester, consider strategies for how you might build in possibilities for students to meet learning outcomes at an alternative pace. Some useful strategies:

  • Allow for revision of papers and other submitted projects. A good way to make this manageable is to require students to use track-changes or otherwise highlight changes and improvements to make it very clear how a paper has changed — it will make evaluation easier for you.
  • Include an improvement grade in your final criteria. Students do not enter our classes at the same point in their learning — by including a 10% improvement grade you recognize that growth is what leads to long-term success.
  • End the semester with a portfolio of best work, along with a short reflective essay in which students make the case for their growth and development, based on this work. The end of the semester portfolio, and grade, is another way to communicate that where students end up — how far they have gotten ultimately — is what matters most for final evaluation
Default Grading Scheme in Canvas


Grade Maximum Minimum
A 100 % 94.0 %
A- < 94.0 % 90.0 %
B+ < 90.0 % 87.0 %
B < 87.0 % 84.0 %
B- < 84.0 % 80.0 %
C+ < 80.0 % 77.0 %
C < 77.0 % 74.0 %
C- < 74.0 % 70.0 %
D+ * < 70.0 % 67.0 %
D * < 67.0 % 64.0 %
D- * < 64.0 % 60.0 %
F < 60.0 % 0.0 %

Note: “D” grades may be assigned only to undergraduates.

Incomplete grades

Sometimes, circumstances arise that make an incomplete grade appropriate for a student. Note that an “IN” will default to an “F” if the student does not complete the missing work, and so it cannot be used to avoid giving students an “F.”

The University sets the following deadlines for students to complete their work:

February 15 for IN grades assigned for the previous fall semester or winter session

June 30 for IN grades assigned for the previous spring

October 15 for IN grades assigned for the previous summer semester.

The full process is described here, including information on extending an incomplete.

Removal of an IN grade

Once the work has been submitted and the course grade determined, instructors will submit a grade change via NEST, following these steps. Notifications will be sent out via University email once the request is complete (approved or denied) and processed.

For “IN” grades that should become “F”s, faculty do not need to take any action.

University policies and resources for grading:

Last Modified: Wednesday, May 24, 2023 4:51 pm


For more information or help, please email the Office for Faculty Excellence or make an appointment with a consultant.

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