Prioritizing Content and Related Assignments

What is prioritizing content and related assignments?

Prioritizing content involves (a) reviewing the content (e.g., essential questions, units, topics) to be covered in class during the marking period, (b) applying explicit criteria (e.g., alignment with learning standards, prerequisite for advanced class)) to rate or rank the content on importance, (c) identifying assignments related to the now prioritized content, and (d) determining the grading criteria for the prioritized assignments (Munk, 2003)

What are the advantages of prioritizing content and related assignments?

Prioritizing can be considered a strategy for designing a grading system in that it involves clarification of what is to be graded. But in most cases prioritizing is considered a grading adaptation because the prioritizing process is used for an individual student. Teachers may find the process of prioritizing content useful in many ways in that it requires inspection of the scope and sequence for a class curriculum and evaluation of the purpose and significance of topics or units to be covered in the class. Prioritizing content for the purpose of designing a grading adaptation may involve procedures similar to those used in curriculum mapping or aligning curriculum with state learning standards.

The most obvious benefit of prioritization is that it produces a grade that reflects performance on the most important assignments for the class, and hence promotes accountability. In addition, adverse effects of low grades on less important assignments on the report card grade are avoided. When the number of assignments is reduced, the student may have more time on each assignment and the student's teachers may increase expectation for independent work and effective use of supports or strategies.

The perceived attractiveness and fairness of prioritization as a grading adaptation may be influenced by the procedures used to prioritize the content and related assignments. Ideally, the general and special educators will collaborate to design the grading adaptation, with the student and parents also having input. In cases where the team is discussing a possible grading adaptation because of the student's low grades, establishing agreement on the assignments that will be graded may prevent conflict if the student's performance does not improve and the grade remains low.

Table of benefits of using prioritizing of content and related assignments.

The following table summarizes the potential benefits and cautions for a grading adaptation involving prioritizing of content and related assignments:

How adaptation works.

Potential benefits


General and special educators review scope and sequence of curriculum and identify most important content and assignments related to that content. The student is graded on the "prioritized" assignments. Expectations for quality and independence of work are explicitly stated to the student and parent.

Content can be prioritized to match learning standards or prerequisites for advanced classes.

Informs student of how best to spend time and effort.

Level of modification and support can be balanced with level of independence.

Omitting assignments considered to be lower priority must be done carefully to ensure maximum access to the general curriculum. 

Prioritized assignments should include those that require complex skills, and not just practice of basic skills or memorization of facts.