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Progressive Rating Scales

Progressive Rating Scales

This series has been introducing you to a variety of assessment strategies that allow learners to make informed judgements about how they need to perform to achieve a specific grade. In this short post, I’d like to introduce you to a checklist format that describes the progressive actions that learners should take in order to achieve, for example, a passing grade, a “B” grade, or a perfect mark. It’s sometimes referred to as a good / better / best checklist, but really it’s just a progressive rating scale.

I really like this approach because it acknowledges that students don’t always have the time it takes to achieve a perfect mark on every single evaluation. Like us, they are in a constant state of balancing all of the things. Grading in a manner that acknowledges this tension is more inclusive, I would argue, than grading in a manner that assumes that every student is equipped to strive for perfection every single time. Life just doesn’t work that way.


On the right, find an example of a progressive rating scale that I used in in my online delivery of SOC 1012: Truth and Reconciliation this semester. It was their first assignment in the course and connected to the following learning objectives:

  • Outline the major factors that contributed to the establishment of Residential Schools
  • List the main characteristics of the Indian Residential School that made it a “total institution”
  • Investigate the creation, management, and closure of Residential Schools

As you can see in my little preamble at the top, I invite learners to decide for themselves how much time and effort they will dedicate to this particular assignment. All of the criteria required to pass are linked directly to the intended learning objectives for this particular unit, so in order to pass, students must achieve the essential learning. The criteria indicated in the “solid” and “exceptional” categories embed further learning, such as critical thinking, metacognition, creativity, and digital literacies.


I’ve been using this approach more often in my teaching, with positive results so far. I find it works particularly well for project-based outputs. Some of the benefits I’ve observed include:

  • Learners who wish to go above and beyond are empowered and invited to do so, and feel rewarded for that extra effort.
  • Learners who need to just get it done know exactly what they need to do to achieve a certain grade.
  • Learners can use this type of checklist to honestly self-assess their performance. It is rare that my judgment differs from theirs, which I take as evidence of a strong evaluation strategy.
  • Implied within the approach, I hope, is an understanding that one single grade or performance does not define their future success or commitment to the course.


I do worry that this approach may limit learners’ engagement, encouraging them to do just enough to pass, but nothing more. However, in practice this has not been my observation. Students who submit assignments that meet the threshold for a passing grade tend to express regret at not having the resources (time, typically) to take the learning further, and are quite accepting of the marks they receive.

I also worry about learners who take their outputs to the extreme end of exceptional. Some report spending several additional hours refining their approach, which is excellent in terms of the intrinsic motivation, but may also suggest some difficulties with prioritization and time-management. I never want to discourage students from expressing themselves creatively, but I am concerned about potential burnout.

Over to You

I’d be very interested in hearing your reactions to this approach. What potential benefits and drawbacks do you envision? Would you use this approach in your own teaching practice? If you’d like to brainstorm how you might create a progressive rating scale for your particular context, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

Jessica O'Reilly
Instructional Developer

(705) 566-8101 x 6395

  • Laura November 12, 2019 10:00 am

    I like it! I want to see if this would work but cannot try to draft one for my course until December.

  • Laura Killam December 17, 2019 8:28 am

    Hello Jess,
    Thanks for sharing. I like this idea, but wonder sometimes about suggesting that a student needs to do one thing before they can achieve a higher level. Students always surprise me. I would assume that a student could not get everything under the passing section, but still achieve some of the solid or exceptional items. I like this better than a rubric for some projects because putting students in a box never works. I keep debating what approach is best for student success. I like marking guides sometimes. This is like a marking guide but with levels. Neat idea.


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