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Changing Grades


In several schools around the country, letter grades are being replaced by standards-based report cards, according to The New York Times. The new report cards which use numbers 1 through 4 offer a window into how students are fairing in very specific terms. A “1” indicates that a student is "not meeting academic standards," whereas a “4” reflects “meeting standards with distinction.” Students receiving these report cards see their skills assessed in dozens of categories from “decoding strategies” to “number sense and operations.”

While some educators find the system helpful for its drill-down approach to grading, parents are having a harder time with it. The executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Gerald Tirozzi, who supports the standards-based approach, explained “I think the present grading system—A, B, C, D, F—is ingrained in us. It’s the language which college admissions officers understand; it’s the language which parents understand.”

In the San Mateo-Foster city district, outside San Francisco, parents successfully delayed the expansion of the numbering system from elementary to middle schools. One parent expressed concern that high-performing students were not working as hard for number grades as they would for letter grades. "They all stopped trying," said Ellen Ulrich, a mother of two.

Janice Ingram Bell, a parent in Pelham, New York, finds the new grading system a “bargain basement version of a report card” for its inability to distinguish sufficiently between student ability levels. Thomas R. Guskey, a professor and author of the forthcoming book, Developing Standards-Based Report Cards, disagrees, “The dilemma with [the letter grading] system is that you really don’t know whether anybody has learned anything.”


If the only defense for the use of letter grades is "we're used to it", then we better start looking at the other side of the argument.

Experienced teachers can list dozens of reasons why letter grading should be abolished.

But even if letter grades are done away with, there's the question of what to replace them with, and the wisdom of the four-point rubric is extremely debatable.

A better solution is found at www.educateforachange.com

How about simple numbers ... there's less ambiguity about what they stand for (although there is a great deal about how they are arrived at), and there is room for differentiation.

The POINT of going to SBRC (standards-based report cards) has nothing to do with a debate between numbers and letters. The symbol that represents student learning isn't what is important.

What IS important is doing a better job of reporting what students actually 'know and can do.' An 'A' in math or a 'B' in science doesn't tell us a thing about that student's learning. Historically, the letter has simply represented some sort of computation of points. A SBRC allows everyone--the students, the teachers, and the parents--to have a much more accurate reporting of student learning.

The transition to standards-based reporting is too important to let the 'symbol debate' get in the way. If that's truly the issue--use both numbers and letters.

What can we do to help parents understand it's not about the symbol? It's about student learning.

What I don't understand in this discussion is why "reporting" what students "know and can do" (great outcome language!) is worth the time and effort it would take to communicate. I would rather see that time spent on learning and just report the overall success to the parents.

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Recent Comments

  • tim: What I don't understand in this discussion is why "reporting" read more
  • Peggy: The POINT of going to SBRC (standards-based report cards) has read more
  • tim: How about simple numbers ... there's less ambiguity about what read more
  • Mark Alberstein: If the only defense for the use of letter grades read more




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