One of the biggest complaints I have heard from students when it comes to studio /lab coursed is having instructors that cannot justify their grading in some tangible way. Grading can be one of the more difficult parts of our jobs as design educators, if we let them be. The key is to build a good overall grading policy and stick with it, as well as set specific criteria in a rubric to help guide the assessment of the more subjective aspects of graphic design projects, process and production. The clearer your guidelines are, the better it will be for both you and your students.
Part One - Overall Criteria
Start the process with developing an overall grading policy that sets clear expectations for your students. With every class there is a weighted points or percentage system based on the different areas or activities that are in your curriculum. The common ones are participation, quizzes, exams, worksheet/activities and projects. Looking at your curriculum overall, ask yourself, what is the most important to student outcomes? Is participation a larger portion than your quizzes? You may end up with something like:
This of course really depends on the class. If you are teaching design history, you may not have any projects so your exercises and tests might weigh more. The one area that really tripped me up was participation and what that means. How will you grade participation? Is it attendance and/or engagement? Either way you should set criteria for what you see as valued participation and make sure you give some sort of points each week towards it. You will create a lot of issues if you try and grade participation off of your memory and what you think each individual student contributed.
You will also need to set rules on grading late work. Do they lose a full grade point if they are late? Do they get one free late assignment without penalty? Do they need to turn in all assignments to get their participation points? Think through the scenarios when making these decisions. One consequence of a no late work policy with a zero grade consequence is that students will not attempt to turn in the assignment at all. Yes this will cause them to possibly get a poor grade, but the bigger problem is they are not learning the skills needed to build into other courses. Teaching is about guiding students learning so build your grading criteria in a way that supports their success.
Part Two — Rubrics
Rubrics can help you define the more subjective parts of grading. This is used for studio work or the project or production part of the grade. It creates clear guidelines for the questions about the validity (goodness or badness) of design. More importantly, rubrics give students a understanding of expectations and build consistency and fairness across student work when you are grading. They will also save you a lot of time because you won’t be going back and forth between projects as you go, revising grades based on things you see the farther you get into grading.
A rubric can take the objective and subjective parts of the project like following directions, using typography rules correctly, visual hierarchy, appropriate presentation of process etc. and put them into grading categories with assigned point values. Each grade as you move up the scale includes additional and stronger skill sets. Start with the all of the criteria that would constitute executing at the highest level. What is required of the student to get an A on the project in relationship to your objective for learning? Note, you should take into account the process of making, not just the finished project, so build that into your rubric. Then adjust the criteria as you go down the grading scale.
Below is an example of an introductory first semester, non-design based class where we worked on creating ads with supplied copy and images. You can see with each grade level there is additional criteria being met, or criteria being met at a higher proficiency than in the lower grades.
As you move through the first semester of teaching your class, continue to evaluate your grading criteria and make notes for the future. Evaluate your grading along with the curriculum. Did the grading methods effectively support the outcomes of the course and help build student learning? If not, make adjustments for the next rubric or the next syllabus.