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3 Reasons to Switch to Rubric Grading in Secondary Math Classes

Updated: Nov 6, 2018

When a new principal gets started at a site, teachers are often skeptical and weary of the new initiatives and programs. It’s understandable. Some veteran teachers have seen their fair share of Principal’s walk through the school doors only to see them leave one or two years later leaving those initiatives only partially complete.

At the start of my second year of teaching I had a new Principal who strongly suggested (forced) all teachers use rubric grading. As a second year teacher I was eager to absorb new ideas and try new pedagogy in my classroom. We read through Dr. Robert Marzano’s book, Formative Assessment and Standards Based Grading (Marzano Research, 2009) in our school wide professional development that summer to understand why and how to make the switch to rubric grading. I was hooked! Once I got used to the system, I absolutely loved grading this way and brought it with me to the next two large urban comprehensive public schools that I taught at in the following years.

I encourage you to check out Dr. Marzano’s work yourself, but here is a very quick snapshot of his rubric found on his website:

When you grade student work, students either get a 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4. This rubric fits wonderfully with personalized learning, competency based, or standards based grading models. In this blog post I share 3 reasons why I love rubric grading for secondary math classes and why you should consider switching to rubric grading too!

1. Makes grading fast and easy

I got in the habit of giving a formal formative assessment every Friday with 5 questions:

#1 is a simple question. If students got it right, without help, they got a score of 2.
#2, 3 and 4 are questions that reflected our target learning goal, or if students could show that “I know it as well as my teacher taught it.” If students get two of those three questions correct they get a score of 3.
#5 is an application to something outside of what we covered in class, or show “I can take what what my teacher taught me and apply it to a different problem.” If students get this question correct, and the majority of the others, they score a 4.

Here is an example of a formal formative assessment:

#1 assesses the simple concepts of solving an equation with variables on both sides.

#2, 3, 4 are all more complex concepts, assessing if students can combine like terms, distribute, and solve equations.

#5 ends up having no solution, which we hadn’t talked about in class yet, assessing if students can reason beyond what we’ve covered in class.

It’s very easy to grade a five question quiz once a week and it gives me great data about my students. With this data I was able to easily create ability groups for support or intervention and have a good feel for whether the majority of my students understood the material that week before moving forward.

2. Avoids the “zero” grade

Giving students a zero (or even 12%, 20% or 44%) is hot topic in education. A report conducted by Hanover Research says it well,

“If a teacher uses a points system that determines grades by averaging together all of a student’s scores over the course of a semester, then assigning just a few zeroes can prevent a student from achieving academic success.”

There is lots of research and many opinionated blog posts about the topic that you can search and read, so I’ll just summarize my opinion in a few sentences. An F is an F. Whether a student got 12% or 20% or 44% of questions correct, they got an F. Is it really so horrible to give them a 50% in the gradebook? We spend time in our classrooms encouraging a growth mindset and teaching students to persevere through solving math problems, but sometimes our grading practices aren’t matching up. What motivation do students have to persevere when the grading practices won’t ever allow them to make a comeback? Why should students believe their brains can grow and learn math when their grade will never be able to level out? Embracing and adopting rubric grading makes it easier to move past the “zero” conversation with teachers.

3. Gives students hope

As a teacher of struggling math learners, I’ve never seen my students filled with so much hope! Many of my students have gotten F’s in math for their entire educational lives. But with rubric grading they were more engaged because improving their grade was never unattainable. If they had missed or bombed a few formal formative assessments, they could still recover and that filled them with hope and a desire to re-engage.

Rubric grading allows teachers an opportunity to grade quickly, move past zeroes, and fills students with hope. I absolutely love using rubric grading in a secondary math class and I hope you or your staff will consider making the switch as well. Personalizing learning, competency based education, and standards based grading are all big trends in education right now and rubric grading is at the core of them all. If you or your staff would like support and guidance around implementing rubric grading, contact us today and we’ve love to collaborate with you!


Marzano, R. Formative Assessment and Standards Based Grading. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research, 2009.

Hanover Research. (2011). Effective Grading Practices in the Middle School and High School Environments, Independent School Administration Practice. Retrieved from

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