How to Create and Maintain a Grade Book
Whether you are teaching a class online or in-person, the information below will be helpful. Over the years I have developed a system for keeping records for my classes. When I taught at the high school level, student grades needed to be kept in a traditional grade book, and I learned a lot from my mistakes made being a new and eager teacher. Then software programs for keeping records gained in popularity and lessons were learned about how to maintain an electronic grade book. Now, I instruct at places where I use a "grade book" that is nothing more than a series of rows and columns created using a Word document.
Seek Out Free Grading Tools
It is always great to do some field research. Know what types of products are out there to help you. And get to know how others are creating and maintaining their grade and roll books.
Here are some helpful links for grading systems and software:
Article that catalogs and discusses different grade keeping programs
Do Not Use the Real Book at First
Often I do not use the physical grade book, if required to use the traditional kind, until week two. At the beginning of the term, semester, school year, etc. there is a lot of shifting taking place. So what I do is one of two things:
- Print out the class list and keep the attendance on that sheet until the end of the second week of class.
- Use a Word document and use the import function to copy student names in and use that until the class list is steady. Then I print out the copy that has the official list of students after two weeks.
Class Record Books
Have a Back-up
While you can never save your work enough, it is wise to at least copy your work in a different location every two weeks. Sometimes I transfer my grade book to a flash drive if I am using a system like GradeKeeper, which is a flat file. If I am using a traditional grade book or Word document, I just photocopy the pages.
The point is, you never know when your computer might crash, the online system you are using in inaccessible, or a gust of wind will come by and blow your folder with your grade sheet across the parking lot. A bit dramatic, but do not forget Murphy's Law.
You Need White Space
I always like to leave one row blank at the top of the grade book for any new student that might be transferred in and has a name at the beginning of the alphabet.
Try to leave 2 to 3 blanks slots at the end of the page if using a traditional grade book. This allows room for if I add an extra assignment and there is no room to write the name and points in the vertical or slanted slots up top. These spaces can also be used for students added to your roster whose names are towards the end of the alphabet.
I also like to leave 2 to 3 columns at the end of the grade sheet or book page. This allows me to put a tally at the end of the row for grade's to date or the end of the year/semester calculations like one column for the points earned, the final percentage, and the letter grade.
If I am using a Word document as my grade book, I like to leave open space at the bottom after my table. This way I can add notes to myself and important information. Then I will not have tons of scraps of paper that have notes about whose work will be late and messages from e-mail communications.
Aim for Clarity
Since your grade book has to be turned in at the end of the school year, semester, term, what have you, make things easier on yourself and administrators. If someone has a question about a grade, you want them to be able to answer it for themselves to avoid getting a call while you are on vacation or not near your book. Here are three basic tips to avoid confusion:
- Place the name of school, name of course/class, and semester and/or year at the top of the page, especially when using something as simple as a Word document or Excel spreadsheet. This obviously makes for easy identification when a copy is requested. The same steps should be taken when naming your file or electronic grade book. I usually use the construction of my first initial, last name, semester and year. I normally do not add the name of the institution because the file is house in a folder with the name of the school already.
- Always put the name of the assignment in the grading block. This sounds simple, but sometimes educators just put "Assignment 1" or something like that. This could work if you make the designation of "Quiz 1," "Essay 1," etc. But if you are not, then you need a brief description so you remember what the assignment was. This helps when recapping grades with parents and students. I also like doing this so I can tell students, "Your grade to date includes..." and have the specific name for assignments in short form that were used at the top of the prompt sheet.
- Put the total possible points or percentage for each assignment next to the name of the assignment. This way, if a discrepancy arises, you can see if it was a point error or transcription error.
Keep It Safe
There are many laws about protecting privacy. The most important for educators, especially in higher education are FERPA laws. Of importance for grades is keeping them confidential, even from parents who might be paying for their child's education. Here are some main ways to make sure you are keeping records safe and secure:
- Never put a name along with a personal identification number that is based on their SSI number or phone number.
- Shred all your records with names on them after the designated time to keep student records. Usually the time frame is a year, but there are institutions like colleges that require you only keep the records for one semester after the end of the course.
- Try to make your grade book, if using a Word document or online source, password protected.
- Do not put text that would identify your students as special needs or receiving certain accommodations and the like (see below for how I handle this).
- Start by using a pencil or erasable pen. There will be many times that grades need to change or student names might change. For example, in one of my courses this semester, a student was on my list one day and was gone the next. However, I had gained a student in her place. This was an online class, so I did not think much about it. But it was a college that is not known for shifting students around after the official start date. Students might be removed from the list, but rarely added. The first assignment was already downloaded. But when I went to open the assignment from the "new" student, it was the same assignment as the student who dropped, the only difference was the last name. It turns out my student got married and moved from the end of my roster to the top alphabetically. This created a gap near the end of my grade book, and I did not plan a space at the top that I normally might since this school is not know for adding students to classes after they begin.
- If a student has an IEP, 504, or other special accommodations or needs, I use a highlighter to identify them. You will know what it means, but you are not broadcasting to the world the status of your students. Imagine if a student or stranger got a hold of your grade book the damage that could be done. So this ensures I maintain privacy. I might also color code things. For example a yellow highlight is for students with special accommodations and a pink highlight is for students that have been granted extensions for the course.
- It is always helpful to come up with a key for markings/notations you make in your grade book. For example, I use an asterisk to note students I need to contact, an "NL" to note that a student contacted me in advance that there work will be late, so the "NL" is "Not Late" and it reminds me days later when their work comes in to not take the standard deduction, a circle around a grade if it has been updated or changed, and so on. This can be helpful for times when a student claims he or she received a certain grade and your book says different. You can tell whomever (administrator, student, parent) about the change based on your notation style.
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