anxious cartoon face

Why Grading Makes Us Anxious Too

anxious cartoon face

Submitted to 2018-2019 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium by Ileana Hernandez, Ph.D., LMHC, Florida International University

“There is nothing more demoralizing than the thought that the countless hours we spend grading might be dismissed as meaningless.” – Elizabeth Barre

Although many students think “they are the only ones who worry about grades,” writes Elizabeth Barre, in a recent blog post, “anxiety about grades is also a central feature of faculty life.” While students often worry about how their grades will affect their progress toward graduation, faculty often worry about whether their approaches to grading are valid, fair, and efficient, or as Barre puts it, “meaningful, moral, and manageable.” This tip explores ways to better align learning and grading, so attention to one translates to attention to both.

Are my grades meaningful?

When considering whether her grades are meaningful, Barre thinks about grades as measures but wrestles with what they are actually measuring: “performance, competency, growth, or effort?” To make grades as meaningful as possible, we must first define clear goals for student learning. Then, we can design assessments (e.g. projects, tests, quizzes, assignments, and so on) that collect evidence of students’ progress toward those goals. If our assessments measure what we intend for them to measure, the grades students earn with their work will align more closely with their progress toward accomplishing the goals of the course–and therefore be more meaningful.

Are they moral?

When exploring the morality of her approach to grading, Barre is really concerned with the issue of fairness: creating “a system of grading that ensures students in similar circumstances will be treated similarly.” Because developing them helps us define evaluation criteria, rubrics are invaluable tools for making grading more fair. They can help keep us focused on the most important aspects of an assignment as we evaluate each student’s work. This helps us to avoid deducting points for minutia irrelevant to the learning goals we’re trying to assess.

Two additional strategies related to fairness are grade norming and “blind grading,” or grading anonymous student work. Grade norming entails working with colleagues in an effort to evaluate student work more consistently. It’s particularly important for instructors working together to grade student work within the same course. To grade anonymously, we can easily use the anonymous grading feature in Blackboard. We can review student work, provide feedback, and assign a grade without seeing students’ names.  

Are they manageable?

Rubrics can also help with the management of grading. Starting with clearly defined criteria for success can improve the quality of the assignments you receive. This clear picture aids students in getting closer to accomplishing the goals on each attempt, allowing for more targeted feedback. Many colleagues have shared with us that dividing up the work of grading (e.g. grading only five projects in one sitting) also helps make the task more manageable and less overwhelming.

Barre experimented with using specifications grading in her course and reported that “the grading was most certainly faster and less anxiety inducing, as I expected it would be.” Her post describes her approach to using “specs” grading in her course, and it also links to several sample syllabi from other courses in which faculty adopted this method.

Rubrics in Blackboard

In addition to anonymous grading, Blackboard also contains a robust rubric tool to simplify grading.

Rubrics can be created for any type of assignment. It is easy to edit rubrics to meet specific needs; they can be copied and modified within a course and exported to share across courses.

Rubrics can be viewed by the students and used by the faculty for point-and-click grading with built-in feedback plus additional space for unique comments.

Blackboard has rubric information on their website for you to learn more. Please note – Blackboard sets rubrics up with criteria in ascending order, from the lowest criteria to the highest or best. If you choose to use Blackboard Rubrics your first step should be to edit those columns so that the students see the highest, or best, criteria first. Your highest expectations should be the guiding force for students to create their best work, which you can then grade fairly and efficiently with less anxiety.

For help developing rubrics at GCC please email or


Barre, E. (2016) Meaningful, moral, and manageable.  The grading holy grail.  Rice University. Retrieved from:

Levine, M. (2014) Specifications Grading. University Times: Pittsburgh, PA.

Submitted by:

Ileana Hernandez, Ph.D., LMHC, Assistant Director for Assessment, Evaluation, and Teaching Assistant Development, Center for the Advancement of Teaching, Instructor, Department of Psychology, Florida International University

Edited by:

Judith Littlejohn: corrected spelling, grammar, and hyperlinks; added rubric information and conclusion.

Image by Pixabay.