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Quick Tip #4 – Rounding Grades

What’s your practice when it comes to rounding student grades? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Back in April of 2019, Megan Von Bergen wrote in Faculty FocusAlthough some students need a “second lap” to master academic skills needed for later coursework, repeating courses makes it harder for students to progress toward a degree. Time is money (literally, in higher education), and when students are asked to spend more of both on a class they already took, they may get discouraged or drop out.”

What are some of the questions you might ask when making a decision about rounding a grade up or down? Here are the recommendations for how to think about this from Von Bergen:

How did students perform on important assignments?

Suppose a student in your class misses some minor assignments, submits some assignments late, and who has a spotty attendance record. But this student has done really well in major or important assignments. In fact, the student has done quite well on all the major exams. Has this student demonstrated learning sufficiently? Are you willing to pass this student?

Did the student improve over the course of the semester?

Let’s say that you have a student who had a slow start in your class. Maybe they were unprepared for the level of rigor or weren’t quite ready for a college level class. So the first 2 weeks they struggled and maybe stumbled on a few assignments, and their first exam grade was not so great. Then 2-3 weeks into the term they began putting the pieces together and their performance on assignments and exams steadily improved. Compare the first assignments with the last – this student went from a failing grade to a solid B. Has this student demonstrated learning sufficiently to earn a B for the course?

Did the student meet the course objectives?

Von Bergen writes, “Course objectives are the finish line of a race: like a marathoner who leaves the course at Mile 20, a student who does not reach the objectives has not fully completed the course. If a student falls short of a significant number of the objectives, she should retake the course, so that she has the opportunity to acquire important skills.” Some of the courses you teach may have a long list of objectives. Are they equally important? There is a student in your class who has adequately demonstrated that she has met most of the objectives. How many of the objectives are students in your class required to meet? All of them? Most of them? Which ones really matter, especially for later coursework? Has the student who meets “most” of the objectives adequately demonstrated sufficient learning to earn a passing grade?


Von Bergen writes, “Even with assessment tools such as rubrics, grading is unavoidably contingent; any final decision always depends upon the individual student’s situation.” As instructors we tend to view all student work as complete, or not, correct, or not, rather than in a more holistic way. Some will argue that the work of teaching is to cover the material (and while I agree that this is true), let’s look at grading in a more holistic way.

Want to read more about grading?

Check out this Faculty Focus article, Grading and Chaos Theory: Frustrations and Exhilarations of Parsing Motivating Factors…”The academic freedom to evolve a philosophy of grading, thanks to tradition and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) encouragement of which, “The assessment of student academic performance…is a direct corollary of the instructor’s ‘freedom in the classroom…,’” provides a path of exploration regarding what, why, and how I grade.”

Here’s another recent article from The Scholarly Teacher, Grading as Instruction: Designing for Practice by Barry Sharpe. “There is much discussion about and research supporting the importance of formative assessments for student learning (Fisher & Bandy, 2019). I worry, however, that in practice, some formative assessments end up functioning more like summative assessments for students.”