Grading Scale

Recently a large school district in my area made a major change in their grading system.  Its not the kind of major shift I would like to see, but its a step in the right direction.  I read an article about their change, and in the article they had a picture of the school's old grading scale (below).  I began to look at the "rigorous" grading scale.  A 69.4 is a failing percentage.  What?  How can we call it failure if a kids completes nearly 70% of the material?

A 69.4% is labeled as failure!  This really got me thinking about how and what we grade.  There seems to be this unwritten rule that teachers should grade everything students do.  Why?  Why does every action students take in class need to be documented with a quantifiable score?  I talked to a teacher recently that had 50+ grades in a 9 week period.  There are only 45 school days in 9 weeks!

This whole system, the traditional system of grades, seems to be so punitive.  We seem to use the threat of a low grade to force students to do our work.  Isn't that all grades really tell you... completion percentage?  Wouldn't you like to know more as parents and teachers?  Even if a student does the work, tries hard, but doesn't get it, we still penalize them with a bad grade.  Why?  Don't we learn more from failure than success?  Punishing failure causes a fear of failure, which erodes critical thinking, creativity, and divergent thinking.

I'm curious about other evaluation systems schools are using.  I've heard about standards-based grading, but I don't know much about it.  I'm less concerned about standard mastery than skill mastery.  I've heard of narrative feedback, which I really like.  What is the best system that evaluates in fair way, is manageable by busy teachers, usable to parents, and applicable to higher institutions?  I would love to hear some feedback.


  1. Atlanta has had this grading scale for at least a decade. I agree that grading practices need serious examination. Have you heard of ROLE by Mark Barnes. He lets students grade themselves:

    1. I quote Justin in my upcoming book about the ROLE, due in early 2013 by ASCD. Thanks for reading the blog and for your interest in narrative feedback. Hopefully, when the book arrives, word will spread.

      Meanwhile, I appreciate people like you and Justin for helping the cause.

    2. I look forward to the book--hope I can get a signed copy!!! I think the word is spreading. Narrative feedback will be a hard sell to some people the other basics of ROLE are really catching on. Popular pedagogy such as project-based learning and flipped class are endorsing a more ROLE-centered approach, at least compared to more traditional methods. Thank you both!!

  2. Thank you for your comment, and sorry for the barbaric grading system you and your students have to endure. I communicate with Mark on a fairly regular basis. He is a fantastic and visionary educator, especially in the area of assessment. I have my students self-assess, but we still use letter grades. I would love to fully embrace narrative feedback like Mark does, but unfortunately I don't see that as a system that can work for everyone. Good luck in trying to change your system!


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