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Adapting Grading Strategies for Remote Learning

Updated: Aug 5, 2023

The sudden shift to online and remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic compelled educators worldwide to quickly reassess many traditional teaching practices.

Classroom grading methods designed for in-person instruction were particularly challenged, as teachers scrambled to find ways to evaluate students fairly and meaningfully in virtual settings.

As schools weigh options for reopening, many will likely continue using remote, hybrid and blended models. With this context in mind, developing adaptable grading frameworks optimized for remote environments is key.

A girl adopting Grading Strategies for Remote Learning.

This comprehensive guide explores the obstacles teachers face in virtual grading, strategies to ensure assessments remain equitable and motivating, and methods to verify learning from afar. With adjustments to mindsets, workflows and tools, educators can not only survive, but thrive with remote grading.

Unique Obstacles of Grading Remote Student Work

Even in physical classrooms, grading student work has never been a simple task. It requires time, training, discernment and often a touch of artful nuance to do well. However, remotely assessing student assignments layered on entirely new dimensions of complexity and challenges for teachers worldwide during the pandemic. Some of the thorniest issues include.

Rampant Cheating and Academic Integrity Issues

With teachers physically distanced and lacking direct oversight, cheating, inappropriate collaboration, and plagiarism ran wild in many virtual settings once schools went remote. A survey by EAB found over 90% of college students admitted to some form of cheating under remote learning. From googling answers and misusing internet resources to cut-and-paste plagiarism, many students took advantage of the anonymity and lack of monitoring unique to online environments.

Spotting misconduct remotely is exponentially more difficult compared to in-person proctoring. Even with tools like plagiarism detectors, identifying inappropriate collaboration and verifying originality of work submitted digitally remains a major challenge. This erodes academic integrity and presents teachers with a painful tradeoff between vigilantly policing cheating or compassionately assuming good intent.

Vast Technology Access Inequities

The pandemic cast a harsh spotlight on the deep digital divide across economic and geographic lines. Students lacking reliable broadband internet, up-to-date devices, tech support, or adequate study spaces were severely disadvantaged. A student attempting to complete an assignment on a decade-old smartphone with spotty cell service faces vastly different circumstances than a peer with a fully equipped home office.

During remote learning, many teachers discovered that simply grading on assignment outputs and “results” alone resulted in drastically unequal experiences. More affluent students with strong tech access could submit polished work, while those lacking resources understandably struggled. But purely competency-based grading detached from circumstances can cement inequities.

Difficulty Assessing Soft Skills and Participation

For teachers accustomed to reading visual cues and signals in physical classrooms, gauging student participation, focus, effort, and engagement was tremendously difficult in remote contexts. Between choppy video, muted microphones, and students hidden behind screens, important behavioral and soft skills around work habits, collaboration, and perseverance were nearly impossible to monitor.

Certain intangible qualities easily observed face-to-face—like participation, focus, leadership, teamwork—can deeply impact learning but proved frustratingly opaque with distance learning. New strategies were required to remotely evaluate these crucial student skills in online environments.

Problems Managing Group Work and Collaboration

Teachers often utilize group projects, collaborative assignments, and team presentations to build interpersonal abilities and collective intelligence. However, managing collaboration grew exponentially more difficult without the ability to visually monitor student interactions and dynamics.

Free-riding students could more easily hide within group work without adequate face time and contributions. Assessing individuals’ efforts on collective assignments also became precarious without observing who took initiative in groups. Lastly, more conflicts erupted with group work in remote contexts, requiring deft mediation.

Difficulty Providing Special Education Accommodations

Many students normally receive tailored grading accommodations, additional time, modified assignments, and other individualized services through formal 504 or IEP plans. Yet replicating these special education plans at home, without access to paraprofessionals and trained staff, proved challenging.

Things like testing accommodations, assistive technologies, and specialized equipment accessible on campus were not easily transferred to home environments. This presented another grading equity dilemma: uphold pre-existing accommodations knowing support services were disrupted or assign traditional grades knowing they disadvantage certain students?

These obstacles illuminated key weaknesses in established grading frameworks revealed by the remote context. Teachers needed to redesign assessments to remain fair, meaningful, and manageable from a distance.

Reimagining Equitable Grading for Remote Learning

The unique hurdles presented by grading student work remotely demand new philosophies, strategies and tools tailored for virtual environments. However, thoughtfully adapting grading methodologies can result in not only equitable assessment, but richer insights into students. Here are practices to promote meaningful and motivational remote grading

Adjust Expectations to Fit Circumstances

With diverse home environments and tech resources, upholding uniform grading standards across all students risks unfairness. Instead, teachers should reasonably adjust expectations and standards based on individual students’ situations. For example:

  • Accepting deadline extensions for students with connectivity issues or difficult home environments.

  • Prioritizing demonstrating comprehension of concepts vs. perfection and polish for resource-constrained students.

  • Focusing more on completion, participation, and progress metrics for students who are disengaged and struggling with routine.

  • Offering alternate exam formats like oral tests for students without quiet workspaces or tech access.

The key is maintaining high but flexible standards that honor the dramatically diverse circumstances students find themselves in.

Prioritize Growth, Effort and Progress Over Perfection

Rather than purely judging discrete assignment outputs, remote grading frameworks should emphasize effort, improvement and progress. Especially in turbulent times, focusing narrowly on achievement percentages or letter grades misses bigger picture learning arcs. Tactics like:

  • Providing opportunities to resubmit or redo work after receiving feedback to demonstrate growth.

  • Recognizing positive trends in capacity building and work quality over time vs isolated grades.

  • Incorporating student reflections on wins, challenges and lessons learned into qualitative evaluation metrics.

  • Using effort-based systems like offering “experience points” for practices that build skills incrementally.

This instills a growth mindset and recognizes the unprecedented context.

Add More Process-Focused Rubric Categories

For larger projects, augmenting product-oriented rubrics with process-based grading can reveal more insights. Evaluating things like:

  • Submitting plans, outlines and resource lists to track progress.

  • Random check-in meetings and progress reports.

  • Milestone deadlines for draft sections to submit.

This provides a more longitudinal window into student effort and work habits. Tools like Google Classroom streamline capturing process-based grades.

Be Transparent in Communicating Grading Policies

With remote learning introducing more complexity in student assessment, clearly communicating evolving grading practices and policies is essential to reducing confusion. Tactics include:

  • Sharing detailed rubrics and project expectations at assignment launch.

  • Proactively informing students of any temporary grading adjustments, accommodations or modified policies.

  • Maintaining open channels for students to ask questions and provide input on grading experiences.

Transparency helps align expectations, minimize uncertainty, and give students agency in an ambiguous grading environment.

Explore New Ways to Verify Learning Remotely

Even while applying equitable grading frameworks, evaluating student learning itself remains challenging remotely. However, creative new assessment formats can provide additional verification channels. For example:

  • 1-on-1 video calls for students to present concepts, discuss projects, demonstrate abilities etc.

  • Recorded video presentations and simulations.

  • Oral exams conducted over video chat.

  • Collaborative documents and projects using tools like Google Docs or Padlet.

  • Multimedia assignments submitted through blogs, videos, graphics, and podcasts.

  • Frequent low-stakes knowledge checks using tools like Google Forms surveys.

These more personal, interactive assessments provide evidence of authentic learning while deterring misconduct.


The remote context undoubtedly complicated traditional student grading approaches, but educators can adapt with flexibility and creativity. Centering grading around growth, expanding rubrics, and integrating multimedia verification tactics helps ensure assessments remain meaningful and fair even from a distance. Prioritizing progress over perfection, adding process metrics, and transparent policies also allows more motivational remote grading.

Although physical classrooms provided more oversight, remote learning opens doors to capture different dimensions of students through new assessment formats. With the right blend of empathy, structure and tools, teachers can reimagine equitable grading tailored for virtual environments. Even in remote settings, assessments can illuminate learning, growth, and student needs when thoughtfully designed.

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