After a lengthy discussion with my husband last night in which he advocated for total points as the ideal higher education grading system while I posited that weighted categories are easier to manage, it became clear that we were both clarifying some misconceptions. It occurred to me that there are probably many instructors who could use some clarification. I am admittedly biased toward weighted categories, but I’ll do my best to present both options so that others can make an informed decision.
In a course that is graded using total points, each assignment has a point value that is a predetermined part of a whole point value. The weight of the assignment on the final grade is therefore tied to the number of points available in the assignment. Example: Johnny is taking a course where he can potentially earn 450 points over the semester. Five discussion boards are worth 10 points each, 50 points total. Johnny knows that he has 400 other points to earn from other assignments. A major project is worth 100 points, twice as much as all of the discussion boards combined, therefore Johnny can see that the project is weighted more heavily than the discussion boards.
The difficulty with total points (from my perspective) is that it impedes flexibility. What if Johnny’s instructor normally has students participate in an ungraded in-class assignment, but is unable to attend class on a specific date. The instructor wants to assign the activity as an out of class assignment and needs to attach a grade to the activity. Where do those points come from? I can add in another assignment, making the course total 475 points now instead of 450, and this is probably fine, but what if my syllabus stated that discussion was to be X% of the total grade (as many do)? Now the percentages are thrown off. Over time, as courses get reused from one semester to the next and passed on from one faculty member to the next, assignments get added and subtracted until the proportions are no longer reflecting the most important aspects of the course.
By establishing categories (participation, in-class work, quizzes, final project, journals) and assigning percentages to those categories, the instructor can predetermine how much of the student’s final grade will come from each category. This is done with total points as well, but with weighted categories, the instructor has the flexibility to add or remove assignments as needed because it will not effect the overall point structure for the course.
Example: Johnny earns 9/10 on his first discussion board post. Discussion are worth 15% of the final grade. Johnny has earned 13.5 of his 15 points, so he has a 90% so far. On a quiz, weighted at 25% of the total grade, he earns a 90%, or 22.5 out of 25. His current grade is a 96% even though he has earned 2 grades, both at 90%. The quiz is weighted more heavily than the discussions so it was worth more of his overall grade.
The difficulty with weighted grades (some may argue) is that the student may have trouble determining what assignments are really more important if they are accustomed to more points= more value. With weighted categories, it doesn’t really matter if Discussions=500 points and a final exam=100, the weighted categories determine the impact on the final grade, not the points. There is also a concern that the flexibility offered by weighted categories leads to poor planning. It is also perceived as complicated for the instructor in grading. Who wants to do all of that math on every assignment?
I tend to disagree. Using our current grading tools in Blackboard, it is fairly simple (1 hr +/-) to set up weighted categories in the Grade Center that can be used throughout a course, every time it is taught. Hopefully this provides some clarity. What are your thoughts? Do you use total points or weights and why?