The Letter Grading Sytem in Schools

Most schools evaluate the performance of students using grades. Students are given grades based on the level of competence they demonstrate in carrying out given learning tasks. These tasks are usually designed to measure the acquisition of specific cognitive or physical skills that are the objectives of the learning curriculum. There has been, in recent times, the growing concern that the alphabetic grading system has outlived its usefulness. It has failed to be an accurate indicator of the effectiveness with which students are achieving educational goals.

Some individuals have objected to the evaluation of students using grades due to documented experiments that show major flaws and inaccuracies associated with the practice. These inaccuracies and flaws have much to do with the nature of the activities involved in grading, and the systems and personnel that are responsible for assigning marks.

One of the flaws in the current grading system is the inability of a single letter grade to compare the performance of students. Using letter grades, there are wide gaps between students getting the same performance scores. If a child got 71% on a test and another got 78% who was the better performer? Why then should they both be assigned the same letter grade? This sustains the position that it is impossible for current grading systems to provide accurate measurement of learning outcomes and should therefore be abolished.  

Another flaw is that the grades students receive shape and assign value of their worth in the eyes of teachers, parents, and the students themselves. Many people do not seem to care if a student puts great effort in achieving grades, no matter how low they are. They are indifferent to major impediments that might engage a student during testing moments – even if it is an idea that will save the world. Students achieving high grades are automatically elevated in the self-esteem rankings even if those grades came by illicit or effortless ways.

There is also the concern that significantly different grades can be assigned to the same work produced by a student when evaluated by different scorers. Teachers are just as vulnerable as students to bad days and their scores can fluctuate due to a variety of factors. Negative or positive feelings towards students can also influence the scores teachers give. The fact that scores can be used both as rewards and punishment is another negative endorsement of the system.

Some expert claims that a grading scheme is just one component of an ancient way of thinking that has survived to pressure students to digest irrelevant and uninteresting material. More reliable estimates of the academic worth of students, they argue, can be utilized. They cite examples of experimental schools that have successfully bypassed this system by substituting innovations like parent-teacher-student conferences instead of using grades. In these schools descriptive transcripts of positive social, personal and academic traits of students are used to evaluate students and appear to be much better indicators of academic success than flawed grading systems. Letter grades may indicate unsatisfactory or satisfactory performance, but they may not be as helpful to the student, parent, or administrator in choosing a future course of action.

More conservative educators hold the contrasting view that effective teachers are able to objectively evaluate the performance of students using a grading system. Teachers do not randomly assign marks to student. Usually there is a detailed rubric that is used to evaluate the different components of any given task, even those in abstract areas such as the visual and performing arts. Additionally, in case of critical examinations, grades are verified by a variety of assessors using the same rubric. Inconsistencies in grades based on these methods are usually minimal. With more stringent educational policies, there is almost total separation of academic and conduct grades making an incident of academic grades being deducted for misbehavior almost impossible.

They also point out that most teachers employed in the educational service take the welfare of students seriously. They are not there to hold restrictive requirements over the heads of students neither are they there to have an easy time. They are there to ensure that students acquire meaningful experiences and skills that will benefit them for a lifetime. While agreeing that the grading systems in schools do have instances of unfairness and injustice caused by grading system and practices, they do not see this as cause to abolish all grading systems but to fix it.             

The solution involves the establishment of new goals for students and new ways to evaluate their progress. Any system to evaluate educational performance should, ideally, be able to identify a student’s level of knowledge and skills and indicate continuous progress from one stage of learning to the next. Consequently, students should be able to chart their development as they advance through school. Grades should be an adequate measure of the surmountable challenges and diverse learning opportunities that students have taken advantage of while in school.