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Can We Get Beyond Letter Grades?


The presence of A's and B's on a report card is cause for celebration for students and parents alike. But do letter grades accurately represent a student's understanding of the subjects taught in schools? In this May 2006 article from Educational Leadership, elementary school principal M. Jon Dean discusses why he believes that it is time for schools to look past the traditional letter-grade marking system and come up with new ways to assess student achievement.


Sure, it's possible to steer far away from letter grades, and far away would be a good thing. Narratves written by the teacher or by an advisor of the individual student is the best way to evaluate progress. However, most class rosters are much too large for teachers to spend that amount of time evaluating individual students. Additionally, by using letter grades, teachers have a tendency to inflate the grades. I have worked in schools where one would be hard pressed to find many letter grades below a "B".

It is, I suppose possible, and perhaps a positive step to get beyond letter grades. The solutions offered though are really just alternatives. It may be clearer to tell parents that their child is progressing towards mastery, not progressing towards mastery, or that they ahve mastered aconcept or a class, but most parents read a "D" as not progressing, a "C" as progressing, a "B" as making very good progress, and an "A" as having mastered a subject. Of course an "F" pretty much says that the student barely showed up. Until colleges and Universities begin using alternatives to the all important G.P.A. it will be hard to implement any alternative to the well-known, well understood and fairly accurate system of letter grading.
In the long run, what students and parents really want is a simple to understand and read system. Explanations should be saved for parent-teacher conferences, not written oyt on progress reports.

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Recent Comments

  • B. Frangione: It is, I suppose possible, and perhaps a positive step read more
  • dmarvin: Sure, it's possible to steer far away from letter grades, read more




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