A Simple Guide to Grading Elementary Students

Tips for Recording and Reporting Student Progress

Teacher Series: Grading Papers
sdominick / Getty Images

Grading elementary students is no simple task. Teachers must be objective, fair, and consistent but the volume of grading to be done and lack of time to do it can make this process excruciating. Many teachers also find grading exhausting because they don't have a dependable grading system.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about strategic and productive grading to give you one less thing to worry about.

Make Good Use of Assessment

Before you can implement grading strategies, you first have to make sure that your assessments are effective. The purpose of assessment is to inform future teaching and accommodate student needs but too often, teachers check for correctness, give a grade, and move on to the next concept. This leaves behind anyone still struggling and doesn't give students any information about what to keep practicing.

Assessment results are only helpful when you use them to determine what a student knows or doesn't know (not just whether they are right or wrong), find where discrepancies lie between your instruction and student comprehension, and decide how to get everyone on the same page.

Teach smarter by designing meaningful forms of assessment that allow students to demonstrate exactly what they know at the conclusion of a lesson. These must be closely aligned to a lesson and its standards (assessing skills that haven't been explicitly taught is not equitable teaching) and able to be completed by all of your learners. After a lesson concludes and independent work is finished, use the following criteria for grading, neatly document your findings, and articulate student progress to families.

Grade to Help Your Students, Not Hurt Them

Grading is complicated and full of grey areas. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to grade your students as long as you hold them all to the same standards and use grades for good (not evil).

While grades do not define your students or their abilities, they do have a direct impact on their lives. They can discourage them and lead to unwanted competitiveness in the classroom. Some teachers even use grades to shame or guilt their students into trying harder but this only results in low motivation and poor self-esteem.

Use these tips for conscientious grading to prevent your students from feeling like their self-worth is tied to their scores and make the most of the process.

What to Do

  • Recognize student achievement and progress always.
  • Differentiate between incomplete and incorrect work.
  • Provide students with opportunities for revision.
  • Make students aware of what you will be looking for when grading before they start an assignment.
  • Give students meaningful and actionable feedback on their work.

What Not to Do

  • Use scores as the only form of feedback to students.
  • Display or announce grades for the whole class.
  • Make a student feel as if you are disappointed in them when they perform poorly.
  • Reduce marks based on tardiness or attendance.
  • Grade every single assignment students complete.

Use Rubrics

Rubrics are an efficient and reliable way for teachers to check in with student progress based on pre-determined learning objectives. They can determine whether each student grasped the main takeaways of a lesson and to what extent. Rubrics remove some subjectivity from grading by setting clear guidelines for what constitutes success.

Keep these best teaching practices for rubrics in mind the next time you go to score student work.

  • Create a rubric prior to giving students an assignment so that they know exactly what is expected of them.
  • Go over rubrics with your students to clear up any confusion ahead of time.
  • Keep rubrics as specific as possible but do not make them too long.
  • Provide feedback on student scores by referring to individual portions of the rubric.

Codes for Marking Grades K-2

The two common ways that student work is graded in kindergarten through second-grade are letters or numbers. They both assess a student's progress toward particular learning goals. Whichever system you or your school district prefers, be sure to use grades to show how students are advancing and not only for final products. Marking period report cards should not be the only time that students and families see grades.

Letter Grades

Letter Grades
Student...      Exceeds expectations Meets expectations Approaches expectations Does not meet expectations Work is missing or not turned in Work turned in unfinished
Letter Grade O (Outstanding) S (Satisfactory) N (Needs Improvement) U (Unsatisfactory) NE (Not Evaluated) I (Incomplete)

Number Grades

Number Grades
Student... Meets expectations Approaches expectations Does not meet expectations Cannot be assessed at this time (work incomplete, learning goal not yet evaluated, etc.)
Score 3 2 1 X

As you can see, the only difference between the two methods is that letter grades offer one more measure of success than number grades. Use your best judgment to choose which system will most benefit your class and stick with it.

Codes for Marking Grades 3-5

Student work for grades three through five is assessed using more sophisticated scoring charts. These almost always involve a system of letter and number combinations. The following two charts are examples of this with one representing a more precise score gradient than the other. Either chart is sufficient.

Simple Scoring Chart

Simple Scoring Chart for Grades 3-5
Score 90-100 80-89 70-79 60-69 59-0 Not evaluated Incomplete
Letter Grade A (Excellent) B (Good) C (Average) D (Below Average) E/F (Not Passing) NE I

Advanced Scoring Chart

Advanced Scoring Chart for Grades 3-5
Score >100 93-100   90-92 87-89 83-86 80-82 77-79 73-76 70-72 67-69 64-66 63-61 60-0 Not Evaluated Incomplete
Letter Grade A+ (optional) A A- B+ B B- C+ C C- D+ D D- E/F NE I

Communicate with Families

A critical contributing factor to student success is family communication. Keep families informed about their child's progress as it is happening so that they can help their child achieve learning targets. Use parent-teacher conferences and progress reports as opportunities to directly touch base and supplement these by sending home graded work often.


  • “Grading Student Work.” Office of Graduate Studies | Teaching at UNL, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
  • O'Connor, Ken. How to Grade for Learning: Linking Grades to Standards. Fourth ed., Corwin, 2017.
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Cox, Janelle. "A Simple Guide to Grading Elementary Students." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/how-to-grade-elementary-students-2081481. Cox, Janelle. (2023, April 5). A Simple Guide to Grading Elementary Students. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-grade-elementary-students-2081481 Cox, Janelle. "A Simple Guide to Grading Elementary Students." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-grade-elementary-students-2081481 (accessed June 6, 2023).