Grading Turnaround Time

With interim reports coming out this week, I couldn’t help but think of a chart I saw recently that detailed the time it takes a teacher to grade papers. I’ve reproduced it here for you:

Grading Timeline Chart

So often, we lament the fact that teachers haven’t graded the assignment yet. Students ask “when are we getting our papers back?” and parents check online to see if that latest project has been posted yet, but we don’t always consider the work that goes into getting a score on that paper and, better yet, providing meaningful feedback. Although we might be quick to judge a teacher, consider what it actually takes to grade a set of papers.

If we look at the low end of the scale, we see that, if a teacher spends 5 minutes on each paper or assignment and has 100 students, it will take 8 hours to grade all those papers. Okay, that’s a day’s work there. But when exactly can the teacher put in that day’s work? He or she already has a full load of five courses to teach, so unless the teacher gives the students a study hall, class time isn’t a viable option. How about during the teacher’s planning period? Well, that is a definite possibility, but then when is the teacher going to actually plan upcoming lessons? The reality is that teachers have to grade all those assignments outside the school day.

Geez, it’s tough to find time time then too! Many teachers coach a sport or sponsor a club after school, so grading time has to wait until after those activities are finished. And let’s not forget that teachers have families of their own. Who’s cooking dinner? Helping the kids with their homework? Driving little Johnny to soccer practice and little Suzy to karate lessons? Then, sometime after the kids go to bed, the teacher has time to sit down and do some grading. Do they have 8 hours to crank out those papers in one sitting? More like 1 or 2 hours with the rest spread out over similar nights as those described above.

But let’s be honest here–wouldn’t you be a little upset if you knew that your teacher only spent 5 minutes reading and grading that four-page paper on symbolism in The Scarlet Letter? Seems like he or she would only be able to do a quick once over and slap a number or letter grade on that masterpiece that you spent hours to write. If we look at the high end of the chart and see what 20 minutes per paper looks like and we consider the more accurate estimate of 150 students that high school teachers have in their classes, we’re talking about 50 hours of grading. That’s more than 2 whole days. Wow!

I bring this up not to make excuses, but to give you a realistic depiction of what’s happening behind the scenes. Yes, teachers should be grading what they assign and yes, we want meaningful feedback and not just a number or a letter on more significant assignments. But before we come down on a teacher for taking a few days to grade a stack of papers, let’s remember the time it actually takes to get it done.

Have a comment on this? I’d love to hear it.

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