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Canvas Gradebook: Total Points & Weighted Grades

Canvas Gradebook: Grading Systems

Regardless of whether it is for a face-to-face, online, or hybrid course, or whether you are using Canvas, spreadsheet or pencil and paper, selecting the grading system you will use is the first step in building your course grade book. Grading systems dictate how the graded items in your course will calculate students’ final grades.

Graded items may include (but are not limited to):

  • Participation scores
  • Assignments (e.g. homework, readings, papers, labs, projects, presentations, etc)
  • Discussions
  • Quizzes/Exams

The two most frequently used systems are:

  • Total Points: graded items are each worth a specific number of points that are combined to calculate the final grade
  • Weighted Grades: graded items are assigned to categories; each category is assigned a percentage of the overall final grade totaling 100%
Canvas Grading Systems: Total Points & Weighted Grades
Total Points Weighted Grades
Gradebook Construction Each graded item is assigned a point value. Labeling an assignment to an assignment category is not necessary. Each graded item is assigned a point value AND assigned to an assignment category that is weighted.
Give More "Weight" to an Assignment Some graded items may be given more ‘weight’ toward the final score by significantly increasing their point value in comparison to the maximum point values assigned to the other graded items. Graded items may be given more ‘weight’ toward the final score by assigning them to more heavily weighted assignment categories.
Adding Assignments During the Term It’s as easy as simply adding the assignments as you go. As you do so, remember that items you want to impact the final grade more, will need to be worth larger point values. Adding assignments on the fly using a Weighted System is arguably easier than adding on the fly in a Total Points System because the system automatically adjusts to calculate final grades using the weighted assignment categories. No need to adjust points on assignments manually
Final Grade Individual grades are calculated based on the percentage of the total points available. (Sum of student points earned divided by total points available for the course.) Final score adjusted based on ‘weights’ given to each of the assignment categories.

Total Points

In a Total Points system, each graded item is assigned a point value, any value. It is not necessary to use round or even numbers. Any figure will work.

To calculate individual student final grades, add up the total points earned on each graded item and divide that sum by the sum of the total maximum points assigned to each graded item. Multiply by 100 to get the percentage.

Student total points earned on graded items: 879
Maximum total points assigned to all graded items: 1019

879 points ÷ 1019 points = 0.8626
0.8626 x 100 = 86.26% Final Grade

Benefits of Total Points:

There are several benefits to using a Total Points system for both student and instructor, including:

  • Easy for students when they are looking at their overall course grade
  • Easy for instructors to build their Gradebook
Drawbacks of Total Points:

The most noteworthy drawback of a Total Points system is that it may impede flexibility if you are an instructor who likes to add graded items as you progress through a course. For example, let’s say that your class this term needs additional homework exercises in order to get more practice with the content. So, you add 5 more homework assignments. Depending on the value of points assigned, adding the extra homework assignments may significantly increase the influence of homework scores, and decrease the influence of exam scores, on the final grade. In other words, the proportions of graded assignments in calculating the final grade may no longer reflect the most important aspects of the course. You may also direct them to the What If? grade function in Canvas, which allows students to calculate their overall grade by entering hypothetical (aka What if...?) grades for assignments.

Additional Notes

  • The sum of the maximum point values for all assignments combined does not need to equal 100 (in fact, it probably shouldn't to make it easier on you!), nor does it even have to be a nice, round number. Any maximum total point value for your class will work.
  • Although it is not necessary to assign your graded items to 'categories' in a Total Points system, you may find it helpful to have the assignments categorized. Canvas shows grades based on individual assignments as well as categories. Looking at graded items and grades categorically may make it easier to identify areas of concern more quickly, as well as a quick way to examine distribution of points.
  • One thing you need to ensure is that the maximum points assigned to each graded item reflects how much you want each item to be ‘worth’ in the big picture (aka. Final Grade). For example, if you were to assign a maximum points value of 50 points to each of your 20 homework assignments (for a total of 1000 points for homework), and a maximum points value of 100 points each to your mid-term and final exams (for a total of 200 points for exam grades), final grade scores in your course would be heavily skewed toward performances on homework as opposed to exams. In other words, the weight of a graded item in the calculation of the final grade is directly tied to the number of points assigned to that item in comparison to values assigned to the other items. It is important to be aware of how you’ve balanced the assignments across the gradebook.

Weighted Grades

In a weighted grading system, individual assignments are grouped into Assignment Categories. Each Category is worth a percentage of the Final Grade, combining to equal 100% of the final grade. e.g. Discussions 25%, Labs 15%, Papers 35%, and Exams 25% = 100% Final Grade Individual graded assignments in any category may be assigned any value of points, but their contribution towards the category they belong to, and the final grade, is the percentage value (weight) assigned to them.

You can weight final grades based on assignment groups. Selecting this option assigns a weight to each assignment group, not the assignments themselves. Within each assignment group, a percentage is calculated by dividing the total points a student has earned by the total points possible for all assignments in that group.

For example, if an assignment group included three assignments totaling 25 points, and a student's scores totaled 15 points, the student would earn 60% for the assignment group (15/25). This percentage is then multiplied by the selected group weight. Each assignment group calculation is added together to create the final grade.

Benefits of Weighted Grades

There are several benefits to using a Weighted Grades system for both student and instructor, including:

  • Helpful to students as they monitor performance through scores calculated within each assignment category.
  • Greater flexibility to add or remove graded items as needed without affecting the overall point structure for the course.
Drawbacks of Weighted Grades

Some may argue that one of the disadvantages of using Weighted Grades is that students may have trouble identifying which graded items are more ‘important’ if they are accustomed to a Total Points system in which more points equals more important. With a little bit of coaching, students may begin to understand how the system works. You may also direct them to the What If? grade function in Canvas, which allows students to calculate their overall grade by entering hypothetical (aka ‘What if...?) grades for assignments. Weighted Grades is also perceived as ‘complicated’ for the instructor. With some planning and thoughtful construction, grading in a Weighted Grading system is no different than in a Total Points system.

Additional Notes

  • Instructors may predetermine how much of the student’s final grade will come from each category - although this may also be structured using a Total Points system, Weighted Grades affords greater flexibility to add or remove graded items as needed without affecting the overall point structure for the course.
  • Since it’s the category’s weight (combined %) and not that of an individual graded item’s value that informs the final grade, it is important to note that final grades are inaccurate until all the items in the category are graded. Therefore, it is difficult to share final grades with students before the end of a course.
  • It is also possible to have a category weighted at 0% of the overall grade, which maybe useful for “no-stakes” engagements such as Module 0 or practice assignments.
  • Extra Credit in a weighted system (managed in Canvas) is a bit persnickity. It is not as easy as simply adding an extra credit assignment worth 0 points as you can in a Total Points system. Rather, extra credit assignments may be housed within an existing assignment group that has at least one assignment worth more than zero points. Then, when the student completes the extra credit assignment, you may manually enter the points to the Gradebook.