Examining the Validity of Current Grading Practices:
A Comparison of Two Models
Penn State University
Grading is a topic in education which has caused much discussion and disagreement among educators; most agree that it has much potential to be used in ways which enhance student performance and achievement, but agreeing on specifics of how to design grading in a way most beneficial to students has been another matter. This paper compares two grading systems: the commonly used one hundred point system, and a fifty point system. It will examine the validity of both systems as in terms of measuring student achievement. Additionally, it will provide some points for educators to ponder as they seek to use the powerful tool of grading in ways most helpful toward our shared goal of providing the fairest and most meaningful motivation for our students.
For as long as there have been schools, certainly teachers and students have struggled with the issue of gradingthe former often using long held but often misguided beliefs about the purpose and method of grading and the latter often disgruntled with the perception that the process used was not fair. I have chosen this topic because grading is a very powerful tool for teachers, students, and entire school systems. Teachers use grades for many reasons: assessing students' comprehension of skills and information, holding students accountable, and reporting student achievement to parents and the school district. School districts use grades to determine the success rate of individuals, classes, and entire schools, as well as for identifying students to receive services. However, for the individual student, grading can have the most significant and longest-lasting impacts. Students learn at a very early age that their grade is a measure of their ability, and can sense whether or not they will be successful students. Even in this age of state standards and No Child Left Behind, which emphasizes growth on state assessments, students see their grades as the true indicators of success. They identify with the letter grades which are given for class work, tests, quizzes, and projects. Guskey (2004) reports that research shows that only a few grades of zero in a student's average can lower that average to failing even when many or even most of the other grades are passing. He also suggests that this can result in a student's giving up because the presence of the zeros can make the average unable to be salvaged. He also points out that some high school students have dropped out because they came to see the whole situation of their late and missing grades to be numerically hopelesswhich indeed in many cases they are. As educators, we must consider whether the grades we are giving our students are valid indicators of student achievement, and more importantly, are ask if we are giving our students a fair chance with the grading policies we have in place. In this paper, I will examine my current grading system, which uses a one hundred point scale, and compare the effects on student achievement if it is replaced with a fifty point scale. I will attempt to determine whether or not giving a grade of no less than fifty percent, and essentially only ten points to fail, will provide a more valid measure of student achievement. Literature Review
Grading is a widespread practice in education, and therefore there is much literature on grading systems and policies. In 1995 E. Ray Dockey explored some key ideas related to grading in his article, Better Grading Practices. This discussion of current practices provides a good framework from which to consider the whole topic of grading, particularly grading fairly. One of Dockey's points is that it is prudent to keep in mind that it is essential for all of the stakeholders in a school to understand and accept the basic principles of any grading...