Why are we still using an outdated system?

There’s been a lot of advancements made in education over the past 100 years, but grading students from A to F on a 100-point scale is not one of them. The grading system most schools use today was first used at Mount Holyoke College in 1897. Middle school principal Eric Saibel recently wrote an article in Education Week challenging educators to reevaluate what he describes as “a profoundly arbitrary and subjective ranking system.”

“If what we want in schools is to create a culture centered on learning and growth then a feedback model based on points and percentages isn’t the most effective route,” says Saibel

“It does provide feedback, but the problem with letter grades is that it combines every aspect of what a student does both academically and behaviorally, mixes it all in a cauldron and then spits out a percentage. So what we get is information that is not very nuanced.

Saibel says that the current grading scale has led to grade inflation.

“In 1940 15% of grades at private colleges and universities fell within the A range. In 2008, that number was almost 45%.” that’s from the book “Excellent Sheep” says Saibel.

Saibel argues that the problem with A-F grading is that there’s a wide range of practices between schools and even classrooms.

He also points to a misconception that students will be motivated when they score poorly on an assignment or test, but argues it actually may prompt students to withdrawl from learning.

What does grading reform look like?

Saibel suggests a few possible to changes to grading.

Saibel says sometimes he feels a little bit isolated when he’s making the case for grading reform, but he knows several colleagues that agree a major shift is needed. Susan Brookhart from the School of Education at Duquesne University penned a similar article in the ASCD Summer Edition.

Saibel says the awareness from the research goes back to the 1980s and 90s, but the implementation of some type of new system could take much longer.

To learn more about Saibel’s ideas on grading reform, listen to Episode 112 of the Class Dismissed Podcast on your favorite podcast app or on iTunes.

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