Grades and Grading

Teachers use a variety of methods to grade their pupils' progress and achievement. The following methods are some of the most common.

Letter grades are probably the most common form and probably the best known of all grading methods. Work graded by a letter grade scale is scored either A, B, C, D or F. The highest possible score is an A and a fail is traditionally signified by the F. Letter grades have been used in schools since the early 20th century and are used at all levels of education from elementary school through to university or college. It is a flexible form of grading and can be used on all types of work including quizzes, projects and experiments. It can also be used to grade a longer term of performance, for example a semester report. Most schools use a key to signify what the letter grades stand for when sending reports to parents. For example, a typical grading chart may describe the letter A as meaning outstanding results, B for above average, C for average, D for below average and F for failing. Letter grades are traditionally favored by the current generation of parents because it is the same scale used when they were in school themselves, so have something to relate to. However, the letter system does have some disadvantages. For example, a teacher may decide to give a grade B to students who achieve between 80-89%, meaning a child getting 89% in an exam will get the same grade as one who scored 80% even though he or she is closer to an A grade than a C grade.

An adjustment to the system is the addition of plusses (+) and minuses (-) to the letter grades to give a more refined way of grading a pupil's performance. Because the plus and minus system gives teachers more grades to play with, the system also gets much more complicated. Instead of five grades, there are now 12 different levels to decipher for parents: A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D+, D, D- and F. A further problem is that now there are more grades and therefore less distinction between them, so two teachers are liable to give the same piece of work a different grade. What is the difference between B- and C+, for instance? This problem makes perception of an increasingly accurate grading system, compared to a simple letter system, more imaginary than real.

Many schools are now moving away from letter grade systems altogether, as they find them damaging to the morale and self-esteem of less gifted students, and are moving to a categorical system such as "Beginning," "Progressing," "Proficient" and "Advanced" to gauge pupils' progress. A more neutral system can be used as well, such as "tick +," "tick" and "tick -" or alternatively, "1," "2," "3" and "4." Using words rather than symbols is generally better for communicating to parents how their child is achieving. Many parents, though, just mentally translate the alternative grades to the more familiar letter grades and therefore it could be argued that this just creates an added level of complexity to the reporting process.

Another method of grading pupils' work is to use percentage scores, which is the ultimate form of multi-category grading, with a possible 101 different grades for any piece of work. Percentage scores are used to denote a pupil's score, though they are also commonly paired with a letter grade. Percentages are more popular in high school or college compared to elementary school. Percentage grades are more problematic when grading pupils' schoolwork in a subjective project, for example an essay, than in a math test where answers are absolute. Again, the increased number of possible grades can complicate the way teachers grade work. A simpler form of grading with less possible scores may therefore be more desirable.

Grades and Grading: Selected full-text books and articles

Handbook of College Teaching: Theory and Applications By Keith W. Prichard; R. McLaran Sawyer Greenwood Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 34 "Grading Student Achievement"
Teaching Undergraduates By Roger L. Dominowski Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Grading Systems"
Choosing Students: Higher Education Admissions Tools for the 21st Century By Wayne J. Camara; Ernest W. Kimmel Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Prospects for Improving Grades for Use in Admissions"
Evaluating Children's Writing: A Handbook of Communication Choices for Classroom Teachers By Suzanne Bratcher Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "In the Background How We Feel about Grading"
The Student Assessment Handbook: New Directions in Traditional and Online Assessment By Chris Morgan; Lee Dunn; Sharon Parry; Meg O' Reilly RoutledgeFalmer, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "The Grading Game: Norm- and Criterion-Referenced Assessment"
Automated Essay Scoring: A Cross-Disciplinary Perspective By Mark D. Shermis; Jill Buretein Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003
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