February 22, 2017

How I Grade in Physical Education

There are many, many things that I absolutely love about my job. Greeting students in the hallways every morning. Watching them grow their competence and confidence in physical education. Hearing about all of the adventures they have lived, will live or dream of living. I honestly feel like I have the absolute best job in the world.

Except for the grades. I hate grades. Like, a lot.

It has nothing to do with the amount of work involved or the time it takes to complete it. I’m not one to shy away from a little extra work. My problem with grades is that I just don’t feel like assigning percentage grades (which we are required to use due to Ministry of Education expectations) to my students every term is the best way to inform them of their progress in physical education. I also don’t think that grades should be used as any kind of means to get students to work harder or participate more (e.g. “do this or you’ll get a bad grade”), yet grades still mean a lot to students and parents.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been lucky enough to be inspired by some of the best minds in our field. People like Amanda Stanec, Dean Dudley and Ash Casey have helped shaped my understanding of what grades should do: inform students (and other stakeholders) on their progress towards clear, objective learning outcomes. Grades should not be used as a tool to label a student’s success, but rather they should be used to help that student understand how they are doing in regards to their unique learning journey.

That being said, as a teacher, I need to produce grades every term (or I might not be a teacher for very long). Although I’m not a fan of it, I have put a lot of effort into doing my best to ensure that my grades represent what each student has achieved in terms of learning in physical education class.

In this blog post, I’ll go over how I produce grades at my school, my successes and my shortcomings. Please keep in mind that my grading process is obviously influenced by location (i.e. provincial mandates and school culture). Because of that, what might work in my situation may not work in yours. That said, I know that a lot of physical educators still have a hard time understanding what to grade and how to produce grades, so I figured I could share my experience with what might just be my least favourite part of teaching (it’s for sure top 3).

Alright, let’s get into it.

Why Grade In Physical Education?

Ok, so I already touched on this a little earlier. Basically, the (heavily-influenced) way I see it is that grades should inform students (and other stakeholders) on the students’ progress towards clear, objective learning outcomes. When grades do so, they help students understand how far they were able to go towards mastery and how much further they’ll need to go in order to do so.

That being said, the learning objectives students are being graded on absolutely have to be communicated to those students on an ongoing basis throughout the lessons/units/term. Unless students know what exactly they were working on in class and what the levels of mastery looked like, it will be very difficult for them to understand what their percentage or letter grade represents when they see it in their report card.

This is also true for parents and other stakeholders as well. All of the parties involved have to have an understanding of what was being assessed and what the expectations were. If not, the “82%” they see in the report card might not mean much.

If, like me, your school only allows you to provide a single, overall grade for physical education, you’ll need to figure out some way of communicating the different parts that make up that single, overall grade. At my school, we write pretty extensive comments for each student’s report card (which I should be doing right now but am enjoying writing this procrastination-powered blog post instead!) The comments accompany the grade in the report card and therefore provide an opportunity for me to explain what went into the grade (e.g. units taught, outcomes focused on, etc).

Ok, here’s some real talk: I’m much as I try to do a really good job with my comments, I’m still not satisfied with my efforts in communicating where grades come from to students and parents. Although I am doing a much better job at communicating learning outcomes/levels of mastery in class (thanks to the Learning Roadmaps I produce) and have been very focused on providing students with ongoing feedback/opportunity to dig deeper into their learning, I still feel like my students might not fully understand how their grade came to be when they see it in their report card.

Also, I want to focus on communicating to parents which outcomes are being assessed each term. Parents are often confused as to why their child’s grade in physical education might vary so much from term to term. The reason is that we focus on completely different outcomes each term! Because of the fact that one terms’ grade might represent outcomes that are wildly different than the next term’s outcomes, grades cannot and should not be compared term over term (at least not in the current way we do grades at my school). Although I feel that I do a good job communicating that reality to parents during parent/teacher interviews, I want to do a better job of communicating it early on in the term rather than right after reports have been sent home.

To fix these issues, I’m going to start creating visuals like the ones above and below that I can share with parents and students throughout the term to help make my program as open and transparent as possible.

Although it might prove to be challenging due to the fact that I often have to adapt/modify units because of a whole slew of reasons (e.g. reduced gym availability, school trips, tournaments, etc), I won’t be able to find a proper solution unless I start.

Who says blogging isn’t a great way to reflect!?

What Do I Grade In Physical Education?

This one is easy. As the start of each school year, I create a curriculum map in which I break down all of the National Standards and Grade-Level Outcomes and map them out throughout the school year. As I’ve mentioned in my original #PhysEd Curriculum Map blog post, my curriculum map is 100% the most important document I produce in my teaching.

Starting with the Grade-Level Outcomes, I’ll unpack each outcome to bring out all of the skills/tactics/concepts within it. If you’re not sure what I mean by “unpacking” check out the animation below, my “Great Unpacking” blog post series, or my original inspiration on how to unpack standards: Terri Drain’s “How To Design a Standards-Based Lesson” video.

In a (very large) nutshell, unpacking an outcome means I’ve brought out the content within it, broken that content down into smaller learning pieces, determined what evidence of learning I’ll be looking, created assessment tools that are designed to collect that specific evidence and designed learning activities that will put students in situations where I will be more likely to observe the determined evidence of learning (if it’s occurring… if not I go back to the drawing board). I then teach, collect evidence of learning (or non-learning), customize instruction based on my findings and do my best to communicate those finding to my students in an ongoing fashion.

Yes, it’s a lot of work. However, it’s work worth doing. Going through the whole unpacking cycle means that I always know exactly what I am helping my students learn and how I will know if they have learned it. By having a clear idea myself, I can better communicate what students are learning and being graded on (I hate saying that second part) in physical education.

If you’re unfamiliar with backwards design/unpacking, I’d really recommend you start off with just one lesson. See how purposeful your teaching becomes and how accurate/specific your feedback is for your students. I guarantee that you’ll be hooked. There’s no better feeling than knowing you’re acting with purpose and giving real meaning to your work. It’s a helluva lot better than subjectively “assessing” the terrible three: effort, participation and whether or not students change out for P.E.!

How Do I Produce Grades In Physical Education?

The way I produce grades heavily relies on the Numbers for iOS Gradebook tool I’ve created for my teaching.

It’s important to note that, although I produce a grade at the end of a unit, I’m assessing throughout it. Formal assessment is key to making sure my students achieve as much as possible in class and that my teaching is constantly being tailored to meet their needs. I can’t just get to the end of a unit and be like “Well, will you look at that… Jimmy learned nothing this whole term!” I need to be collecting and analyzing evidence on my students learning throughout my units so that I can help them understand how they are doing and set goals for their own learning.

By assessing throughout each unit,  looking at all of the evidence I have collected throughout the unit (e.g. teacher observations, peer assessment, portfolio items, etc.), using that information to determine where my student is at in their learning (using the Learning Roadmap rubric I created for the unit), I can feel pretty confident that the final grade I wind up with is as accurate as it can be.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll keep track of my students’ progress using my Numbers for iOS Gradebooks. I touched on this process in my Student Portfolios in Physical Education blog post and have blogged about how I create Gradebooks in Numbers before. However, I have made changes to my Numbers formulas so that the Gradebook results make more sense to my students (and their parents) when I show them how they’re doing. Here’s the process:

Basically, the way I design my Gradebooks allows me to enter a result for each outcome focused on in class. Whereas I used to use a five star rating system for each outcome, I now use the language that comes directly from the Learning Roadmaps themselves: “Not Yet!”, “Getting There!”, “Got It!” and “Wow!” (credit goes out to Sarah Gietschier-Hartman and Heather Gardner for teaching me those level labels).

The Gradebook’s formula (which is ridiculously long and could 100% be simplified if I was better at spreadsheet formulas) automatically reads the text-based level as a number-based level. For example:

Ok, so why is this out of five and not four (since the Learning Roadmap rubrics have four levels). Well, that has to do with my school’s culture around grades: everything we mark is out of a five-point competency scale. Because of that, I had to match my grading system to that of my school’s.

My school’s competency scale.

That’s not where the fun ends though! The Ministry of Education here in Quebec requires school to provide students with a percentage grade on their reports. Because of that, my school uses a conversion chart to convert the five-point competency scale results into pre-determined percentages (think of these as letter grades, but instead of letters they are pre-determined percentages):

Although all of this seems wildly complicated (it is), having all of my students results in my Numbers Gradebook allows me to automatically calculate their grade into a competency scale result and convert it into a percentage grade using the conversion chart. Here’s how:

As I enter rubric-level results for each outcome within a unit, the Gradebook automatically converts the result into a five-point scale mark. It does this by grabbing the numerical value of each rubric-level result and averaging it out over all of the outcomes (unless I assign different weighting to certain outcomes, which is done within the “Grade” cell formula).

The five-point scale result for that unit automatically appears in a separate “Term X” table within the Gradebook that is used to calculate the final result for the term we are currently in. As students learn throughout the units within a term, their results for each unit are averaged out into a final, overall five-point competency scale result for the term (again, they are averaged out unless I assign different weightings to the different units within the term).

The “Term X” table also has a column which converts the final, overall five-point scale result into a final percentage by using a VLOOKUP formula and the conversion chart table included in the Gradebook.

Because all of this is done automatically, I know throughout the term what a student’s grade currently is and don’t have to waste time calculating grades come report time.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I do my best to produce grades in physical education.


My methods here are, by no means, perfect. I’m always looking to improve my grading system and make it as meaningful and transparent as possible. In the meanwhile, I’d love to hear about how you go about grading at your school. Feel free to leave a comment in the section below!

As always, thanks for reading and happy teaching!

Joey Feith
Joey Feith is a physical education teacher based out of Nova Scotia and the founder of
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