Changing Grades

By Elizabeth Rich — March 26, 2009 1 min read
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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.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.