Newsletter 30 – Weighted Total Points in Blackboard

Carolyn Moore, PT, DPT, MHS – Associate Professor of Physical Therapy

Why do some professors prefer weighted grades and others prefer the point system??

Disclaimer: I have been using the weighted grading system in all of the online platforms that I have taught in. To me it is the way the world looks at most systems of measurement including time, money and yes grading.

I have a hard time with the points system in an online or Blackboard course due to the fact that I am always adding or taking away tests or assignments depending on how I feel the class is grasping the concepts in my course. I went to look up the explanation of a points system. Basically it does save time at the front end of your course because you don’t have to set up categories. The course grade is calculated on the number of points each assignment is worth. The end grade is merely an addition of the points. You then must decide what the final grade is and the cutoff between an A or B. However Blackboard will do the math for you. (A few professors that I know don’t trust the Blackboard math and keep an excel spread sheet to double check but that is also in a weighted format).

In a weighted grading system the categories are set up to match how you want the assignments or test to reflect their importance in the course.  (An added advantage of setting up categories is that you can choose to drop the lowest grade or grades.)

So if I grade with a point system, why not just assign more points to the assignments that are harder? That may work in a perfect course but as I stated earlier my courses always seem to need revision to keep pace with the learning style of the current group of physical therapy students enrolled. In the chart below you can see how if quizzes make up 25% of the students grade, it does not matter if there is one quiz or 12 quizzes. The total number of points earned for the quizzes is still 25%. If I decide to change the quizzes or essays (or lab assignments or written papers) I do not have to go back and change my syllabus. If I used the point system, and added an assignment, I would have to go back and change the syllabus. See the below chart for a look at the difference is set up.

Typical Methods: Total Point Method vs. Fixed Percent Scale

How are the grades calculated in Blackboard??  Multiply each score over the total points possible by the weight. Ex: The midterm is worth 100 points and the student earned 90/100, the calculation would be 25(90/100) =.225. Expressed as percent it is 22.5% however just looking at the grade, the student already knows that a 90 is considered an A as stated in my syllabus. And if my test only has 93 points available, Blackboard will still calculate the percentage!!!

Blackboard will calculate weighted grade points within categories either proportionally or equally. If, for example, you want one quiz in the category to have more questions and points than the next quiz, Blackboard will calculate that as long as you have taken the time up front to set it up that way. For example, if you have a 20 point quiz and three 40 point quizzes, you can tell Blackboard to weight all the quizzes the same (equally) or for the score of the 20 point quiz to only weigh half as much as the 40 point quizzes (proportionally).
Example of how this would work:

So to wrap up, some main points to take away in support of the weighted grading systems are as follows:

  • Courses and exams can be more fluid. Professors can change tests ‘on the fly’ without messing up grading. For example, removing a problem question from a quiz (now 98 possible points instead of 100)
  • Dropping lowest grade for a category is ok as well and is a nice incentive for the students not to get too worked up about the grade but to see it as a learning exercise.
  • It is easy to add or remove a quiz or assignment during the semester depending on what the class needs to increase their learning in the course
  • Adding assessments with different grading points together is easy after the initial set up, for example this grade that is calculated with the components weighted equally:
    • These three things each count as 1/3 of your participation grade (Attendance (51 out of 51 possible points), Contribution to class (10 out of 10 possible points), Contribution to class project (100 out of 100 points)
  • Grading in percentages is natural method for both the instructor and the student.  (Example: grading out of 100 for a project that is only worth 4% of the total course points.)
  • Once set up your grading, the parameters will be copied and transferred into next year’s course (although I always go back and make sure that it is correct)

A final reminder- No matter how you set up your grading for your course, it is important that the way you set up your grade calculation matches exactly how you say grades will be calculated on your course syllabus. This is your contract with your students.

Previous Instructional Technology Newsletters are located here:

About the Committee:
The Instructional Technology Committee at Mary Baldwin College is a faculty committee made up of representatives from the faculty and Instructional Technology staff at MBC. Members of the Current Committee are:

Sharon Barnes
Doreen Bechtol
Paul Callo
Calvin Chung
Carol Creager
Emily Ely
George Guba
Joe Johnson

Carolyn Moore 
Beverly Riddell
Carey Usher

The charter of the committee is to:

  • Provide a forum for input to the Instructional Technology staff on the relative value of technological improvements from a pedagogical perspective.
  • Be a champion and example for technology enhanced teaching within their schools
  • Try out new technologies that seem promising
  • Develop and share best practices & rubrics for technology enhanced teaching
  • Recommend equipment and management for mixed use (instructional and non-instructional) space
  • This committee meets as necessary.