Monday, April 5, 2010

Remove the Ambiguity in Grades

Some discussions in a meeting today got me to thinking again about grades that students get in school. Grades, particularly at the middle and high school level can be very misleading. I have often been frustrated that the valedictorian shares the same diploma as the student with the D- average. While this represents the extremes of those crossing the stage in June there are several "A" students out there that don't leave with an 'A' level of knowledge and some 'D-' students that do.

Make the Grade Mean Something

I remember my days of assigning grades and I will be the first to admit that I did things pretty much status quo as far as the points-based grading scale went. At the same time, I remember wishing that it could be different. I want to look at a high school transcript, see an A and feel confident that the student who earned the A really knows their stuff in that subject area. Likewise I want the D- to reflect the fact that they don't really know the material well. Instead, I see lots of very smart kids that get a D- because they often turned in work late or not at all. Now - in a points based system it is hard to grant points, and thus, a grade if they haven't turned in something to slap points on. But does that truly reflect what they have learned about the subject? If I turn in exceptional work 2 days late all the time and get a C on all of the work (because it is late) it is not a true reflection of my knowledge of the material. It is a reflection of my time management skills. As a teacher, shouldn't I be grading your level of ability in the content? Isn't that how the transcript is interpreted?

Opening the Can of Worms - A Proposal


Ok - so here goes... Why can't we have a separate line item for each category like what I used to get in elementary school? Something that holds a great deal more meaning for those interested in looking at it.

  • Chemistry  A

  • Time Management  C+ (for getting work in on time and use of class time to work)

  • Punctuality  B (for tardies to class)

  • Respectfulness  A (for interaction with others)

  • Neatness  D+ (quality of handwriting/work)

  • Collaboration  C- (for work in groups)

  • Participation  F (for class discussion and interaction)


OK - so I know that the list could be bigger, add whatever categories that you think might be appropriate. the point is that this might very well reflect the quiet kid that sits in the back and does his/her own thing and just wants to be left alone to serve their time in school. Since many teachers consider other factors into their grades, the scenario above could easily reflect a C+ on a transcript (2.333) but it would not accurately tell you how good they were at chemistry.

So this is an example of a kid that gets a lower grade than they deserve - the flip side of this is the kid that gets a higher grade than they deserve. (In terms of content)

  • Chemistry  C-

  • Time Management  A (for getting work in on time and use of class time to work)

  • Punctuality  B (for tardies to class)

  • Respectfulness  A (for interaction with others)

  • Neatness  C+ (quality of handwriting/work)

  • Collaboration  B (for work in groups)

  • Participation  B+ (for class discussion and interaction)


So here is the kid that is so nice, does all the right things, is polite, turns in everything on time, but face it, chemistry just isn't their thing. That being said, they always try their best, follow rules, do their part in labs, and they have done some extra credit work for extra points. A teacher might take all this into account and award a B to that student. The above grades would average a B but it would give a better representation of how the student performed in the content area.

The problem is that just seeing the B or the C+ does not tell the whole story. I vote for a revision of the grading system.

Yes, easier said than done but I know, that I would love to see this data on my children and on potential new hires were I in a position to hire someone. Certainly this type of grading could be accomplished at the post-secondary level as well.

So what if this was the type of report card students got? Valedictorian could be based strictly on the content knowledge or perhaps a combination of things on the transcript in the event of a tie. Certainly, this sort of change would involve a lot of discussions and logistical work.

Alright - let's start discussing then - maybe share some of your own proposals.