Do Letter Grades "Make the Grade"?


Published on

A slideshow about letter grades vs. standards-based grading systems

Published in: Education, Technology
  • Be the first to comment

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide
  • Loved learning as a child High school was all about EARNING A’s, College was the same. Emotional perks but a loss of learning.I didn’t want my students to just seek grades. Liked the grade card relating to progress to the standard Old habits die hard but a professor changed my perspective and opened up new ideas about grading. Teacher as “editor,” high standards.
  • Take a look at the controversial questions surrounding letter grades and how they relate to the essential questions. After we look at what both sides have to say, I’ll come back to these issues and questions and share my opinion after researching.
  • Preparing students for the workplace is tricky since it is constantly evolving. How much consideration should today’s environment have when it will be so drastically different for our children?
  • *Standards are relatively new in education and it took teachers a while to get used to them. How much more of a challenge is it to get parents to understand and support them? * If letter grades provide the option of “failing” students, what do we do about them?
  • *The American dream is based around working hard and getting rewarded. We say that everyone can get there but do we really live out that philosophy? *How will our society adjust to new systems when so much depends on letter grades for the college bound student?
  • *One ROOM SCHOOLHOUSES. Teacher not accountable for reporting to parents. *Late 1880’s: Grading was still mostly just a graded level of skills for each child and once the child accomplished everything on the list, he/she would move to the next level.*Early 1900’s:Elementary schools continue to use written descriptions (narratives) to document and report student learning. The number of high schools increases dramatically and teachers begin to use percentages to assess and communicate student progress. The transition to percentages is natural for high school teachers in response to increased demands they face with growing class size etc.
  • *1918: 3 point scale of “Excellent, Average, Poor” or 5 scales “Excellent, Good, Average, Poor and Failing i.e. grades A-F*1930’s: Grading on the curve becomes popular practice. Student achievement is based on the average. Some even specify the percentage of the class to be given each letter grade (6-22-44-22-6) based on research about innate intelligences following a bell curve. Debates about grading start to get heated. Some schools abolish grades and switch back to narratives. Others go to pass-fail systems.
  • *It was challenging to find support for letter grades in the leading education journals or other peer-reviewed materials. Most of the support for traditional letter grades comes from parents and communities so they are covered in newspapers and blogs.*Guskey and Jung frame the problem that many educators encounter after developing standards-based report cards:
  • *DALLAS: Parents feel the standards-based system doesn’t hold learners accountable like traditional letter grades because usually allow students multiple attempts to demonstrate understanding (i.e. retaking test, rewriting papers etc.) which is not a part of traditional percentage based letter grades. *THEY WORRY THAT THIS IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH THE REAL WORLD WHERE WORKPLACE EVALUATIONS DO NOT ALLOW FOR DO-OVERS.*It’s not always parents that disagree In Charleston, WV it was board members: *switched to a 3 point system of “satisfactory” “unsatisfactory” or “needs improvement” in SCIENCE AND SOCIAL STUDIES ONLY *Board member quoted as saying "Basically we’ve watered down the curriculum for Social Studies and Science here in Harrison County. They’re certainly being deemphasized”. BUT THE CURRICULUM HAD NOT CHANGED! *In New York, Parents complained the new system was confusing and were frustrated that since 4’s were based on year-end expectations, students couldn’t receive 4’s until the end of the year. *Parents felt that high performing students no longer felt the need to work hard and so they stopped trying. *Parents felt the new cards were impersonal because they did not indicate where a student's achievement fell versus the “average” like letter grades do *Money rewards—children had to have teachers contact relatives!
  • Standards-Based: Numbers that indicate process toward a content standard (or benchmark). 1 to 4 Beginning, Progressing, Proficient, Excellent Beginning, Progressing, Achieving 2. Pass/Fail: teachers set a standards for student learning as a minimum that students must meet for entire course as a whole (usually at a fairly low level) or may use pass/fail determinant for each assignment and students must pass all assignments to pass courseMastery Based: Similar to pass/fail but students must demonstrate mastery of the content that would have typically been reflected by an A or B. Students are given multiple opportunities to demonstrate understanding.Narratives: “Open-ended, written descriptions of student achievement and performance prepared by the teacher. They represent the oldest of all grading methods” (p. 103). *Each have their own advantages and disadvantages and it could be a separate debate which is most effective. I will focus on why experts support the use of these alternatives over the use of letter grades.
  • Perhaps the biggest problem that many experts have with letter grades is that they are “interpreted by parents in strictly norm-referenced terms. Probably because the letter grades most parents received while they were in school reflected their standing in comparison to classmates, they assume the same is true for their children. To them, a C doesn’t represent achievement at the third grade level of a 5-level performance scale, similar to the middle-level belt in a karate class. Instead, a C means “average” or “in the middle of the class” (p. 69). However, according to the standards, what matters is how the student is doing in relation to the standard not how he/she is doing compared to peers. Society values competition but Eillis and Fouts found that cooperation had a clear link to improved student achievement while competition did not and could even be detrimental. Educators must consider the experiences of parents who have been conditioned to think of letter grades as a system of sorting people(DO NOT CHANGE SLIDESHOW YET BUT NOTES ARE ON THE NEXT PAGE)
  • Today’s adults grew up in schools designed to sort us into the various segments of our social and economic systems…As we advanced through the grades those who had learned a great deal in previous grades continued to build on those foundations. Those who had failed to master the early prerequisites within the allotted time failed to learn that which followed. After 12 or 13 years of cumulative treatment of this kind, we were in effect, spread along the achievement continuum that was ultimately reflected in each student’s rank in class upon graduation. (Stiggins, 2005).*Stiggins goes on to discuss how this rank essentially followed students throughout life as those who were high achievers had the confidence to continue to achieve and those who had not done well usually saw themselves as incompetent and stopped trying. Many students dropped out and in the past, schools did not consider that their problem. Today, we teachers know this IS our problem and we need to do all that we can to get every student to meet the standards. *Today, “Assessment and grading procedures designed to permit only a few students to succeed (those at the top rank-order of distribution) must now be revised to permit the possibility that all students could succeed at some appropriate level. “ (Stiggins, 326, p. 326). -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------NOW ADDRESS THIS SLIDE
  • *Reeves argues that another problem is that letter grades also mask failures of teachers to ensure students have learned. That is, a “D” or with grade inflation a C basically tells parents, “This student really can’t do the work, but I’m not going to go through the political hassles associated with holding the child back a year or getting sued. Hey, he’s really unsatisfactory, but let’s call it passing”. The problem lies in the arbitrary “cutoffs” between grade categories. Reeves uses this following scenario to illustrate the arbitrary nature. A teacher sets a score range for an B as 80-89 percent. A student who scores 80 percent gets the same grade as the student with an 89 even though there was a 9 point difference. BUT, the student with a 79 percent gets a C even though he/she was only 1 point away from the B student with an 80. Is this an adequate reflection of learning? NO!
  • Share a bitI agree with Reeves that professional are always revising and improving their work. Additionally, since standards emphasize critical thinking and problem solving, they can prepare students for the careers of tomorrow. These careers don’t even exist yet according to what we’ve been learning so just looking at today’s workplace is insufficient.
  • 1.2. Americans think of competition as the way to sort out the best and the brightest but if we are to compete in the global economy we need all children to be their best and brightest. Standards-based learning promotes this.
  • I see a lot of potential problems with removing letter grades from the high school setting for exampleCollege admissions—if no letter grades, would ACT/SAT become more important? That’s a scary thought.In curriculum class, we’ve discussed that standards aren’t really meant to be taught in our courses but rather grade levels. That would be a huge adjustment and would probably need to happen first.If schools focus on transitioning to standards-based grading systems at K-8 then by the time we get the high schools ready to change, parents would be used to them.Show the chart from QuakertownOne idea is to use a combination report card—but I worry about the extra work this entails for teachers and wonder if there is any value in placing them side by side when parents will most likely default to looking at the letter grades if they are offered
  • Do Letter Grades "Make the Grade"?

    1. 1. Do Letter Grades“Make the Grade”? Rachel Mackie EDFN 500 Ashland University October 2010 1
    2. 2. Personal SignificanceLearning or earning?Using a standards-based grade card for mystudentsExperiencing a “mastery system” as a studentWhat do the “experts” recommend? 2
    3. 3. Letter Grades & Essential Question 1 What is the relationship between schools and society?Who should decide what grading system is used?The district? Parents? Do schools have an obligation to consider parent preferences when selecting a grading system? What if parent desires are in direct opposition to current research? 3
    4. 4. Letter Grades & Essential Question 1 What is the relationship between schools and society?Do grading systems that allow for second chances preparestudents for the real world? Will the careers of the future support multiple attempts at success or do students need to learn to get it right the first time? What impact should current workplace practices have on grading systems? 4
    5. 5. Letter Grades & Essential Question 2 How do societal, cultural and/or philosophical factors influence educational practices, policies, and processes?Are letter grades compatible with the philosophy behindcontent standards? According to the standards, failure is not an option. Yet, letter grade systems all have a “failing” category. Who is responsible for student failure? 5
    6. 6. Letter Grades & Essential Question 2 How do societal, cultural and/or philosophical factors influence educational practices, policies, and processes?Is the philosophy behind content standards compatible withthe American way of life? Do Americans really believe that everyone can achieve? Do high achieving students deserve special recognition? What about the link between Grade Point Average, honor designations, and college admissions? 6
    7. 7. Grading Systems in American SchoolsPrior to 1850: Most teachers do not report grades toparents.1880’s: Each child is provided a graded list of skills. Whenthe list is complete, he or she moves on to the next level.Early 1900’s: Elementary schools use written narratives.The increased number of high school students leads to theuse of percentages. (Guskey & Bailey, 2001) 7
    8. 8. Grading Systems in American Schools1918: High school grading mostly uses a 3-point or 5-pointscale. The 5-point scale eventually translates into lettergrades.1930’s: Grading on the curve becomes common practice.Debates about grades heat up and many different systemsare used.Today: “Lack of consensus about what works best has led toimplementation of widely varied grading and reportingpractices, especially at the elementary level” (p. 27). (Guskey & Bailey, 2001) 8
    9. 9. Yes, Letter Grades Are Effective!School districts face problems when they abandon lettergrades. “Most find themselves embroiled in controversy, particularly when parents see a standards-based report card for the first time. Discussions about the report card turn into heated debates and unexpected problems thwart their progress. Developing a report card that satisfies the diverse needs of parents and the school often seems impossible” (Guskey & Jung, 2006, p. 1). 9
    10. 10. Yes, Letter Grades Are Effective! In Baltimore, parents said they felt that ending letter grades would penalize high achieving students (Maushard, 1993). In Dallas, parents argued that a new standards-based grading policy did not hold students accountable (Jinx, 2008). In Charleston, West Virginia, board members voiced concern that an alternative grading system resulted in a weakened curriculum (Charleston Daily Mail, 2010). The New York Times reported a high level of parent opposition to a new standards-based report card in the upper middle class schools of Pelham, New York (Hu, 2009). 10
    11. 11. Yes, Letter Grades Are Effective!Why do parents prefer letter grades? Parents are familiar with letter grades. Letter grades offer a brief, easy to understand snapshot of student achievement. Parents believe that high letter grades provide positive recognition for student success and the fear of low letter grades motivates students to work hard. Parents worry about how alternative grading systems will impact class rank, college admissions and honor roll. (Guskey & Bailey, 2001; Hu, 2009; Jinx, 2008; Maushard, 1993; Stiggins, 2005) 11
    12. 12. No, Letter Grades Are Not Effective!Guskey & Bailey, (2001) identify the 4 most commonalternative grading systems:1. Standards-based2. Pass/Fail3. Mastery4. Narratives 12
    13. 13. No, Letter Grades Are Not Effective!Problems with letter grades  Letter grades are norm-referenced not standards-based (Reeves, 2002).  Letter grades lead to competition, standards lead to cooperation (Reeves, 2002).  Cooperative learning has been proven more effective than competition (Ellis & Fouts, 1997).  However, parents have been conditioned to believe that letter grades can and should sort people into winners and losers (Stiggins, 2005). 13
    14. 14. No, Letter Grades Are Not Effective!Letter grades focus on product over process. With letter grades, students “have one shot at performance…but in real life, we are constantly working on problems, making modifications, improving our work, and then examining it to see if it meets the needs of our colleagues or if it needs yet more improvement” (Reeves, 2002, p. 20). 14
    15. 15. No, Letter Grades Are Not Effective!Letter grades mask the failure of teachers to ensure thatstudents learn (Guskey, 1994; Guskey & Marzano, 2001;Reeves, 2002).Letter grades create inequalities due to their arbitrary nature(Guskey, 1994; Reeves, 2002; Stiggins, 2005). 15
    16. 16. ConclusionsWho should have a say in what grading system is used? Keep parents informed but base educational policies and practices on research.Do grading systems that allow second chances really preparestudents for the real world? Grading systems that align with the standards emphasize critical thinking and creative problem solving. These are the skills students will need for future careers. 16
    17. 17. ConclusionsAre letter grades compatible with the philosophy behindcontent standards? No, arbitrary “points earned” and “percentages” have no place in standards-based learning.Is philosophy behind content standards compatible with theAmerican way of life? The philosophy behind standards is a definite shift from the American tradition of competition. 17
    18. 18. RecommendationsElementary and middle schools should transition to alternativegrading systems.Change at the high school level should be more cautious andgradual. College admissions issues School districts should learn from each other. Responses to common concerns are addressed at the Quakertown Community School Districts website. Restructure courses and curriculum first Parents time to adjust in K-8 years 18
    19. 19. ReferencesEditorial: Back to the basics is best for pupils. [Editorial]. (2010, September 14). The Charleston Daily Mail. Retrieved online /201009130734Ellis, A.K. & Fouts, J.T. (1997). Research on educational innovations (2nd ed.). Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.Guskey, T. R. (1994). Making the grade: What benefits students? Educational Leadership, 52, 14-20.Guskey, Tr. R., & Jung, L. A. (2006). The challenges of standards-based grading: A well planned report card can help parents relate standards to their children. Leadership Compass, 4(2), 1-4. Retrieved from /2006/LC2006v4n2a3.pdfGuskey, T. R., & Marzano, R. J. (2001). Developing grading and reporting systems for student Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.Hu, W. (2009, March 25). Report cards give up A’s and B’s for 4s and 3s. The New York Times, p. A1. 19
    20. 20. ReferencesJinx (2008, August 29). Controversy erupts after Dallas Schools announcement of new grading Policy. [web log post]. Retrieved from 20/news/1993020118_1_alternative-grading-grading-methods-traditional-gradesMaushard, M. (1993, January 20). Parents call for keeping letter grades. The Baltimore Sun, Retrieved from alternative-grad ing-grading-methods-traditional-gradesQuakertown Community School District. (2008). Feedback on standards-based grading. Retrieved from =2000&BCOB=0&C=54622Reeves, D. B., (2002). Making standards work: How to implement standards-based assessments in the classroom, school, and district (3rd ed.). Denver, CO: Advanced Learning Press.Stiggins, R. (2005). From formative assessment to assessment for learning: A path to success in standards-based schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(4), 324-328. 20