Why/How I Round Student Grades

I just read an article in the Faculty Focus daily on the dilemma of rounding grades. This inspired me to write about the process that I use for making this determination in my courses.

First, it is important to discuss issues that some instructors have with rounding grades. Many feel that the total points that a student earns in the class should be the total points that a student will get in the class. Rounding grades therefore can provide an unfair advantage that students have not earned. Also, the idea that some students will get a higher grade based off of rounding anything that is higher than .05 seems unfair to those students who miss that mark by such small margins.

The article (found here) highlighted other issues that instructors face regarding the question of rounding grades. Initiatives to encourage college graduation in four years and students paying increased tuition to repeat courses can play a role in the decision to round grades. College is expensive and most students do not have unlimited funds or time to retake classes. Therefore the small margin between a C and a C- can make or break a college trajectory and delay graduation.

I will describe the process that I use to make the determination of whether or not to round a grade. I believe it is fair and addresses the issues described above. And the responsibility rests solely on the student, which makes it much easier for me.

My method is to use participation to determine the rounding of final grades. Each semester, I outline this process in the syllabus and discuss it with students throughout the semester. I provide the total possible points for completion of all assignments in the class and breakdown the number of points needed for each step on the +/- grading scale. Then I describe in detail the process for earning participation points.

Participation in my courses are earned in the following ways:
  • Students who actively participate during class discussions. This includes asking questions, responding to questions, engaging classmates, and volunteering for in-class activities.
  • Students who visit office hours (more than once) during the semester. This includes students who just drop by to say hello and those that have specific questions. Or those students who make an appointment outside of my identified office hours.
  • Students who talk with me before or after class. I typically arrive to class 10 minutes early to provide students an opportunity to meet with me if they can’t make office hours or have immediate concerns.
  • Students who engage using thoughtful questions or comments with guest speakers. These are students who make our class guests feel welcomed and important to the discussion.
My experience as an educator has taught me that student potential, passion, and ability is not always best demonstrated through traditional assessments. Exams, papers, homework, and presentations only tell a part of the story. Often the capacity to learn or the demonstration of that learning is not reflected by a final grade. Therefore, I find that my justification for rounding grades is an equitable method for students to earn the additional points that they may need.

Image credit: Casio calculator by Mc681. CC BB-SA 4.0



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