Our University College’s mission statements and goals are essentially the promises that the University College is making to its students, their families, employers, and the society at large. Today’s industries need people with the attributes we promise. The globe   needs skilled thinkers, and problem-solvers. The market needs people who are prepared to act ethically and to participate meaningfully in an increasingly diverse and global society. 

To this end, our University College is strongly working on quality of education.  As we all are aware, teaching-learning and assessments are highly interrelated and interdependent processes of education.  For successful quality work on both teaching-learning and assessment, the University College has different working policy, and strategy manuals like Teaching-Learning Policy andStrategy Manual, Students’ Assessment Policy and Strategy Manual.

The objective of this article is to share good practices of the University College in terms of academic grading system. To this end, first, I will give brief explanation on what assessment is; why we assess and how grading system is a part of assessment. Then I will present the University College’s actual practices in terms of academic performance grading after giving short overview of the two common grading systems: norm referenced and criterion referenced.

What is Assessment?

Assessment is all about processes of collecting information about how much knowledge, skill and attitudes students have learned (measurement) and making judgments about the adequacy or acceptability of each student's level of learning (evaluation). Both the measurement and evaluation aspects of assessment can be accomplished in different ways.  For instance, instructors can give different tasks like examinations, oral questions, projects etc. to determine how much learning has occurred. Teachers can then evaluate the scores from those activities by comparing them either to one another or to an absolute standard (such as an A equals 80 percent correct). The assessment processes in classroom education are done to continuously improve what we do as teachers by looking directly at student work. Assessment helps us implement and evaluate strategies that respond to the diverse needs of our students and to meet the ever-changing community and workforce demands.

 Why should we assess students' learning?

The most common reasons for assessment are to: provide information on teaching- learning progress, diagnose specific strengths and weaknesses in an individual learner, motivate further learning, and provide summaries of learning.

Formative Evaluation

One of the reasons for assessing students is to monitor their progress.  Instead of mere “teaching” what teachers want to know from time to time is whether students are learning or not. . For students whose pace of learning is either slower or faster than average or whose understanding of certain ideas is faulty, you can introduce supplementary instruction, or remedial instruction.


If you discover a student who is having difficulty keeping up with the rest of the class, you will probably want to know why in order to determine the most appropriate course of action. This purpose may lead you to construct an assessment that will provide you with specific diagnostic information.

Effects on Learning

Assessment has potentially positive effects on various aspects of learning and instruction. It consolidates learning and affects the development of enduring learning strategies and skills.

Summative Evaluation

 The other reason for assessment is to provide to all interested parties a clear, meaningful, and useful summary of how well a student has met the educational program's objectives.   The Primary purpose here is to sum up how well a student has performed over time and at a variety of tasks.

As it was pointed out above, assessment is all about processes of collecting information about how much knowledge, skill and attitudes students have learned (measurement) and making judgments about the adequacy or acceptability of each student's level of learning (evaluation). The second component of assessment, making judgment about the adequacy or acceptability of each student’s level of learning (evaluation) could also be named as grading system. The most common grading systems are: nor referenced and criterion referenced systems. The two most common types of grading systems used at HEIs are norm-referenced and criterion-referenced.

 Norm-Referenced Systems

Norm-referenced grading measures students relative to each other. For example, the top 15 % of the students could be grade as A, the next 25% could be awarded B grade. It rests on the assumption that the level of student performance will not vary much from class to class. In this system, the instructor or the department usually determines the percentage of students assigned each grade. Such a ranking system removes the incentive to numerically inflate performance scores. Academic assessment procedures can be implemented to further discourage numerical inflation. Such a system then permits use of standard statistical procedures in calculating the variance and standard deviation.

The class curve constitutes a norm reference based system. The class average may or may not be taken into account as a basis for assigning grades. A predetermined class GPA may or may not exist. If so, this GPA may be set by the individual instructor, or by the department, or even by the institution for all departments. If the class average GPA is not set in advance it can be expected to vary from class to class and course to course.

Advantages of Norm–referenced systems

Rank-based grading is popular among some educators in the context of grade rationing. The arguments for grade-rationing are that:

·   Grade inflation is a serious problem in education –  in which nearly all students receive high grades – is impossible in a rank-based system.

·   Rank-based grading may push classes to their greatest performance potential by appealing to their competitive instincts.

·   Rank-based grading shows how the student compares to other students, who all had the same instructor with the same lessons and homework during the same time period. If grades are meant to represent the student's relative ability to learn, rather than to certify that the student knows and can do certain things, then rank-based grading shows clear superiority in methodology to non-curved methods of grading. Theywork well in situations requiring rigid differentiation among students, where, for example, due to program size restrictions, only a certain percentage of the students can advance to higher level courses.

·   As many corporations used rank-based evaluation measures, sometimes even related to termination  such grading prepares students for the corporate world. By limiting success and recognition to the top-performing students, the grading system becomes a relevant measure of student performance in relation to their peers.

·   Norm-referenced systems are very easy for instructors to use.

Disadvantages of Norm- referenced systems

·   an individual's  performance and grade is determined not only by his/her achievements, but also by the achievements of others;

·   in small classes, the group may not be a representative sample;

·    One student may get an A in a low-achieving section while a fellow student with the same score in a higher-achieving sectiona B;

·   it promotes competition rather than cooperation;

·   rank-based grades become meaningless when taken out of the context of a given class or school.

To understand what a rank-based grade indicates, it is necessary to understand the overall performance of the entire group on an absolute scale.

Criterion-Referenced Systems

Criterion-referenced grading measures how well individual students do relative to pre-determined performance levels. There is no predetermined class GPA. All students can, in principle, earn the grade of A. Teachers use criterion-referenced grading when they want to determine how well each student has learned specific knowledge, skills and attitude. Another way of doing criterion-referenced grading is by listing class objectives and assigning grades based on the extent to which the student achieved them. For example, A = Student has achieved all major and minor objectives of the course; B = Student has achieved all major objectives and several minor objectives; etc.

Advantages of criterion referenced systems

·   Students are not competing with each other and are thus more likely to actively help each other learn.

·   A student's grade is not influenced by the caliber of the class.


·   It is difficult to set a reasonable standard for students without a fair amount of teaching experience.

·   Most experienced instructors set criteria based on their knowledge of how students usually perform; thus, criterion-referenced systems often become fairly similar to norm-referenced systems.

Be it norm referenced or criterion referenced, a given grading system should achieve its objective(s).  In this context, there are some characteristics that should be met by a given grading system.

Characteristics of a Good Grading System

1. Grades should be relevant to major course objectives. Students often criticize that there is no connection between the stated course objectives and the way they are assessed. For example, one frequent complaint is: "Instructor  X said the most important thing he wanted us to get out of this class is to be able to think critically about the material, but our entire grade was based on  multiple choice exams which tested our memory of names, dates, and definitions!" When preparing your grading system for a course, begin with a list of your objectives for the course. Assign relative weights to the objectives in terms of their importance. Be sure the items you are including as part of the grade (e.g. exams, papers, projects) reflect the objectives and are weighted to reflect the importance of the objectives they are measuring. The objectives right from the very beginning should include all the learning domains with their respective levels.

2. Grades should have recognized meaning among potential users. Because the purpose of grades is to communicate the extent to which students have learned the course materials, grades should be based primarily on the students' performance on the continuous and summative assessments specified at the beginning of the course. 

3. The grading process should be impartial and compare each student to the same criteria. If you are willing to offer extra credit or opportunities to retake exams or rewrite assignments, the offer should be made to the whole class rather than only to individuals who request these opportunities.

4. Grades should be based on sufficient data to permit you to make valid evaluations of student achievement. It is rarely justifiable to base students' grades solely on their performance on one or two exams. Unless the exams are extremely comprehensive, one or two exams would provide an inadequate sampling of course content and objectives. There is also likelihood that an off-day could lower a student's grade considerably and be an inaccurate reflection of how much he/she has learned. Generally speaking, the greater the number and variety of items used to determine grades, the more valid and reliable the grades will be.

To meet the ideal characteristics of academic grading systems, Admas University College employs criterion referenced.

Our actual practice

While calming that they are using criterion referenced system people confuse the concept of criterion and   cut score.  A common misunderstanding is the meaning of criterion. Some people understand criterion referenced academic performance grading as a mere process which involves cut score, where the examinee passes if their score exceeds the cut score and fails if it does not.  But the criterion is not the cut score; the criterions are being able to meet the learning domains of subject matter specified in the curriculum, teaching- learning material and assessment activities. For example, the criterion may be "Students should be able to correctly add two single-digit numbers," and the cut score may be that students should correctly answer a minimum of 80% of the questions to pass.

Fortunately, however, our University College is properly implementing the criterion referenced academic grading system. To this end, it has developed a continuous assessment format which works in all campuses which offer degree programs.  First, the general academic grade descriptors for the letter grades are properly stipulated.

 The descriptors are stated in generic languages so that specific disciplines, programs, and courses can develop their own descriptors using these generic ones as a benchmark. When each discipline, program, or course develops specific descriptors, they will consider the following points:  expressing all pass grades in positive words about what the student has to demonstrate of achieved mark/grade and customizing some of the generic phrases used in the generic document into specific discipline, program, or course as appropriate.

 Admas University College employs both formative (60% of marks) and summative (40% the marks) assessments. Consequently, the UC uses criterion referenced grading system with the cut scores provided below for its first degree programs.

Table 1:Grading Scales for Degree Programs in Admas University College

The general descriptors for the letter grades are excellent (for A grade), above average (for B grade), average (for C grade), unsatisfactory (for D grade), and failure (for D grade) at:

·      exhibiting  memory or previously earned materials;

·      demonstrating understanding of facts.

·      using Knowledge to solve a problem

·      breaking down of information into parts and examining it;

·      combing elements in a new pattern;

·      presenting and defending opinions by making  judgments about information, validity of ideas or quality of work based on a set of criteria;

·      paying  attention to a lesson;

·      participating in the learning process;

·      attaching a value  to an object, phenomenon or a piece of information;

·      putting together different values, information and ideas and accommodating them within  his /her own schema; comparing , relating and elaborating on what has been learned;

·      holding  a particular value or belief that exerts influence his/her behavior so that it becomes a characteristics;

·      using sensory  cues to guide motor activity;

·       getting  ready to act;

·      learning a complex skill that includes imitation and trail and error;

·      learning a complex skill in a way learned responses become habits,

·      involving in a complex movements of patterns quickly & accurately.

·      developing skills which enables modifying movement patters to meet special  requirements; and

·      creating new movement patterns to fit a particular situation.

Along with this, academic grade (performance) descriptors for each category of performance  (as  stipulated in the standardized continuous assessment format) for each course of a program are being developed by the senior staff of the University College. The academic performance descriptors are being prepared in the way they adequately incorporate the three learning domains (cognitive, affective and psychomotor).  Below is a draft academic performance descriptor for one area of continuous assessment for the course entitled “Sophomore English”

S. No.

% Range

Letter Grade



















Below 30



Admas University College

Department of Allied Fields

Draft Assessment Descriptor

Course title: Sophomore English                                   Course code:  ENG 201

Assessment 1 Para graph Writing

Allotted mark for the activity 10%

Scale & Range

                                            Performance Descriptors






9 to 10

·  Combines the supports and the main ideas,

·  Identifies and lists  appropriate supports for the main idea.

·  Recalls, understands & applies the information that a paragraph contains one idea.

·  Evaluates the paragraph for its unity, coherence and language.

·  Values the necessity of the supports to convey the main idea.

·  Responds to the needs of supports for the main idea.

·  Receives and responds to the information that a paragraph contains one idea.

·  Organizes the paragraph in a way it will have unity, coherence & appropriate language use.

·  Displays the main idea with its supports.

·  Moves the supports of the main idea into their right place.

·  Chooses and writes only about one idea in a paragraph.

·   Composes a paragraph which has unity, coherence and appropriate language use.

Very good       7 t0 8

·  Identifies  and lists appropriate supports for the main idea

·  Recalls, understands & applies the information that a paragraph contains one idea.

·  Combines the supports and the main ideas

·  Receives and responds to the information that a paragraph contains one idea.

·  Values the necessity of the supports to convey the main idea.

·  Moves the support of the main idea into their right places.

·  Chooses and writes only about one idea in a paragraph

·  Displays the main ideas with its supports.



·  Recalls, understands & applies the information that a paragraph contains one idea.

·  Identifies and lists appropriate supports for the main idea.

·  Receives and responds to the information that a paragraph contains one idea.

·  Responds to the needs of supports for the main idea.

·  Chooses and writes only about one idea in a paragraph.

·  Moves the support of the main idea into their right places.



·  Recalls, understands & applies the information that a paragraph contains one idea.

·  Receives and responds to the information that a paragraph contains one idea.

·  .Chooses and writes only about one idea in a paragraph


 0 to 4

·  Doesn’t recall that a paragraph contains one idea

·  Doesn’t receive the information that a paragraph contains one idea.

.Doesn‘t write about one idea in a paragraph.

As can be noted from the above example, each area of assessment in the continuous assessment format is made to incorporate all learning domains and their respective levels. The academic performance descriptors are also made to coincide with the learning outcomes of each curriculum, course and unit.  Following this performance descriptor based assessment; students are given constructive feedbacks at least before the next continuous assessment.

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