Sunday, November 30, 2014

Have Letter Grades Become Obsolete?

   Over the last two of years, my colleague and have I started discussing the new CCSSs, the idea of rigor and how that translates into our school environment where we have noticed grade inflation and the expectation of receiving an A, even when the work is of average quality.  Many students have come to expect an A for work that is "complete" but inaccurate or incorrect. Another problem we often discuss is the lack of motivation for students to go "above and beyond" what is expected. How can we motivate students to challenge themselves to do exceed the minimum requirement? We decided to try a new grading system for writing assignments.
   We experimented with giving codes, rather than letter grades,  that would be entered into Powerschool as an indicator of student performance. This code would provide students with an honest assessment of the work without being attached to a letter grade.  The codes would appear as "ME" or meets expectations, "AE", approaching expectations, "DNM", or does not meet expectations, and "EE" or exceeds expectations. In addition to providing honest assessment that remains uncompromised by a letter grade, this code could be used as formative assessment used to encourage revision.
    What did we notice? While students did not always complete assignments if they knew it would be given a code (that would not enter into Powerschool), the code did provide more timely and honest feedback for the students. In addition, the code seemed a much better indication of performance because it was not a grade. Students who could exceed expectations, but were not simply doing what was required. They challenged themselves to exceed expectations.
        The letter grade has become a label. It no longer reflects what it was intended to, but has taken on a life of its own. Teachers, parents, and students all dread the grade. Maybe it is time to communicate more clearly and honestly about  student performance. Perhaps this experiment demonstrates that the letter grade is no longer effective and needs to be eliminated once and for all.

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