We Asked, You Answered: How To Make 2020 Grading Less Complicated

It’s ok to change the way you grade in 2020.

2020 grading
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Grading, like everything else in 2020, has become, well … complicated. When we give an assessment, it’s so important that it’s fair. But what is fair has become, well … complicated. If some of our students are taking a test at home while others are testing in school, we can’t guarantee the same testing environment for all students. I wish I could simplify things, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also the fact that a lot of schools started much later than usual this year, so many teachers find themselves without enough grades or data to report on students’ progress. We asked teachers in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE Facebook group to share what they are doing to simplify pandemic grading, and they answered!

Problem: I don’t know if my students or parents are doing the work!

Of course, we want to give our students the benefit of the doubt, but we also have to be realistic. When our students aren’t in the classroom with us, we don’t know if they are getting help on quizzes and tests and, if so, who is helping them. We question if this is fair to the students who are learning in the classroom. Also, how can we trust our assessment data?

Solution: Design assessments that emphasize the process, not the product. 

So many teachers suggested that when students are solving math problems, we need to require more than the answer. Ask students to show their work and explain their thinking. Design questions where you miss a step and ask students to explain what you missed. Another great idea? Include a place on the test where students can name the strategy they used to solve the problem.

Don’t worry, humanities teachers; there are solutions for you too. Teachers suggested asking open-ended, short answer questions where students have to elaborate and use critical thinking instead of multiple-choice questions. We love Flipgrid, where students can make videos in response to any question you ask. It’s a great tool for assessing book talks! 

Problem: I don’t know what’s going on at my students’ homes, and giving them zeros feels unfair. 

Grades tell us very little if we aren’t grading students equitably. There are so many factors we can’t control during remote learning, and families are experiencing all kinds of challenges this year that make school less of a priority. A student might have a computer but no access to Wi-Fi. How can we fail them for not doing work? Doesn’t that mean that what we are really grading is their home life? Whenever we are going to grade students, we have to pause and ask ourselves if what we are asking is fair, and if it isn’t, we can’t, in good faith, grade it.

Solution: Less is more, and communicating with families before assessments is a “must do.” 


Teachers in our group suggested that we don’t have to grade everything, and we don’t have to grade as much this year. This doesn’t mean we lower our standards or that it isn’t important to use assessments to report on students’ progress. It does mean that we have to be realistic about what is possible and what is fair, given the fact that learning in 2020 is very different from 2019. Many teachers suggested reaching out to families before you give an assessment to make sure they can create a testing environment that will allow the student to focus and have the tools they need to do their best. If that’s not possible, don’t give the assessment.

Problem: It’s really hard to give students a participation grade when they don’t always show up.

We heard this from a lot of teachers. So many students aren’t showing up for their online classes, and if they aren’t there, it’s really hard to grade participation. It’s also challenging to informally assess them and know whether you need to reteach, give them more practice, or you can move on. 

Solution: Use online assessment tools so students can share what they’ve learned anytime.

This is where online assessment tools can help. Check out our roundup of online assessment tools  and tips for how and when to use them. Other ideas from teachers: we can ask students to create a video to show us what they’ve learned (thanks to free and easy to use tools like Loom and Screencastify). If you’re worried that mom or dad is helping students with their test, this removes that concern. For younger students, Seesaw is an awesome tool because it allows them to make a video, record their voice, and draw pictures right in the app.

Problem: I don’t feel like I have a good handle on what students know and need more help with.

It’s not easy to check in with individual students if they aren’t always coming to class or virtual office hours. For many teachers, 1:1 conferences were a classroom staple, especially for assessing students’ writing. It’s hard to “read the room” on a Zoom class, and many of our quieter students slip through the cracks. 

Solution: Give more self-assessments and try virtual conferences.

Many teachers shared that they are relying heavily on virtual self-assessments and creating 3-2-1 reflections or entrance and exit tickets using Google and Microsoft Forms. Some teachers shared that they are using virtual conferences for summative assessments. Students can schedule a time with you (we love the free scheduling app, Calendly, which will automatically link to your digital calendar). This is such an authentic way to learn what students know and what they need to practice more. Create a rubric beforehand and give it to students, so they know what to expect.

Problem: Our school grading policies are the same, but so many of my students have late and missing work! 

This was the most heavily debated topic in our Facebook group. Teachers are really torn on how to handle late and missing work in 2020. Many teachers shared that their schools’ grading policies haven’t changed, and what they’ve always done isn’t working. Another common problem was that it is impossible to keep up with all the late work, and it creates a cycle of nonstop grading that teachers can’t sustain. 

Solution: Reconsider late and missing work policies.

There are a lot of factors that are outside of our students’ control right now. Many students are helping out at home with younger siblings. Some students have family members that are sick, and their lives are changing day-to-day. This isn’t to say that we should lower our standards or not set clear expectations for students. If you used to take off points for late work, does that feel fair this year? Try to be as flexible as possible.

Problem: My students told me that other teachers have different grading policies and that mine are unfair.

This is a common problem whether you are teaching in person or online. It happens a lot in middle and high schools where there aren’t transparent and unified systems in place. Teachers shared that some of their colleagues aren’t accepting late work, while others are. If students get a zero in one class and a 60% for missing work in another class, you can see the issue here. 

Solution: Align policies within your teacher team (or at least find out what other teachers are doing).

This year is confusing enough, and it’s really hard for students to keep track of grading policies when every teacher is doing something different. If you can, align as a grade-level team. Look to your administration for support and guidance. The more unified your grading policies are, the better for you and your students. What’s tricky here is that how to handle grading isn’t always up to teachers. We have policies that we have to follow, and those policies might make us feel like we are doing something that isn’t fair. This is when we have to speak up and advocate for our students and ourselves. It’s the only way that we can work towards change. 

Problem: I’m barely making it through this year, and I am an adult. Are grades really that important this year? 

A lot of teachers shared that they are exhausted, anxious, and doing their job feel really hard this year. One teacher pointed out that we need to consider how our students are feeling. If the adults are struggling, why do we expect the kids to go about school business as usual? It’s really uncomfortable to accept that we can’t do as much as well as we normally do, but many teachers feel (and I agree) that it is necessary in order to get through a tough year. 

Solution: Trust your teacher gut: Grade is only one letter away from grace.

Nothing is normal about this school year, and if we approach grading “normally,” then we are setting an unrealistic expectation for ourselves and our students . Consider how teaching during 2020 has affected you. Have you dropped the ball? Are you more tired than ever? Are you dealing with stressors you’ve never experienced before? If we are feeling worried, anxious, and overworked, you can only imagine how our kids feel. That’s why we love the reminder from Dr. Teresa Littrell McSweeney, a principal in Jackson, Tennessee: grade is only one letter away from grace. If there’s one lesson we hope our students will master this year, it is this: your physical and mental health are more important than any grade you will ever receive.

What are you doing to making grading in 2020 less complicated? Share in the comments below.

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We Asked, You Answered: How To Make 2020 Grading Less Complicated