Dear MC,

Progress report season just passed, and it brought up a lot of lingering questions about our grading policy. One we can’t seem to agree on is, how do we enter missing work in the gradebook? Entering a “1” doesn’t seem like it reflects what students know. But also, some kids aren’t doing homework. That should show up in the gradebook, right? Any advice?

Missing answers about missing work


Dear Missing answers about missing work,

Progress reports are where the rubber meets the road, and “report card day” provides a great incentive to look at how your grading policies play out practically. Kudos to you for doing the work of digging in and examining your policy!

Your instinct to enter a “1” could be spot on—maybe, maybe, depending on your school’s pedagogical approach... After all, in a mastery system that “1” should represent “Not Yet,” as in: The student has “not yet” provided sufficient evidence of mastery. Even better would be a grading system where you can enter the words “Not Yet” instead of the “1” that may feel punitive to you.

Separately, there’s a homework-related issue to discuss here. In a mastery system (or any equitable grading system), grades should be a message about where students are on the path to mastery of skills and knowledge. So, grades should not be used to reward completion of a task and/or to reward compliance (showed up on time, was not disruptive, etc.). A grade for turning in homework is a completion/compliance grade. Maybe your school needs a grading policy that specifies what kinds of tasks get entered into the grade book--these should be rich assessments of student learning.

Homework, do-now’s, and other smaller/faster checks for understanding  may not be grade-worthy evidence of student learning—but they’re invaluable information for you about how much students are getting traction with the instructional goals in your class—and they are a great basis for timely coaching and feedback to help students get the traction they need. In addition, tracking these sorts of smaller tasks may give you a picture over time of who’s making steady progress and who needs support—so while we suggest not grading these more grain-sized checks for understanding, we do suggest, tracking them in a way that doesn’t impact students’ grades, but give you a record of what’s going on on a more daily basis in your classes. Instead of entering a “1” or a “NY” for tasks that are skill practice, like homework, classwork, or formative assessment, try tracking these tasks without grading them. Let us know how it goes.

Thanks for writing, and happy progress-monitoring!