Traditional grading fails students

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Shafin Al Asad Protic/Pixabay/Pixabay License

The majority of teachers in the U.S. grade their students’ using a traditional grading system of letters and percentages. However, some are not quite fond of this method. “I don’t think that the traditional letter grading system is fully representative of a student’s learning because it’s very limited,” Sanvi Adusumilli, a freshman at Carlmont, said. “A student is often unable to understand why they ended up with the grade that they did and what they can do to improve and better understand the concepts they missed.”

The traditional grading system of the United States has been set in stone for decades. 

However, people are starting to question the efficacy of the typical A through F grading scale.

“Grading is a big ‘time sink’ for teachers,” Carlmont physics teacher Ian Hagmann said. “Anything that increases that load can be met with resistance.”

Since the 1800s, traditional grading systems measured a student’s performance in a particular class by a letter grade and percentage, determined by smaller scores on how well the student completed their work. This system of grading is used most commonly by teachers in the U.S. However, a newer concept is causing some to rethink their grading methods. 

Standards-based grading (SBG) is a system developed in the 1900s that focuses on a student’s achievements through different levels of mastery, typically ranked from 1 to 4. This measurement can target specific knowledge and skills taught in class.

One of the main reasons the traditional grading system has stuck for so long is the efficiency it provides teachers while grading.

Standards-based grade systems are relatively new and some don’t understand it and therefore don’t believe in it. Change can be difficult for many people and some will be stuck in their ways if they don’t see the benefit of changing.”

— Ian Hagmann

According to a report by Scholastic and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, teachers take an average of 36 minutes per day grading their students’ work, sometimes longer, as it can range from simple worksheets to essays. Although giving personalized feedback to each student can greatly improve student performance in class, taking this extra step may not sit well with some teachers. 

However, when it comes to helping students improve in their academics, some believe that letter grades don’t suffice. Often, teachers don’t provide feedback to graded assignments, leaving students feeling confused about what they lost points for.

“I felt [that standards-based grading] was much better than the letter grading system,” Carlmont sophomore Pranav Kamat said. “When I did not perform well, I knew what to work on, and that it was not just some small error that didn’t reflect my knowledge.”

When students know what they need to improve, they can concentrate their study time on working on it. This allows students to gain higher scores in the class.

“Even if I do poorly on an assignment, I am given a lot of very useful feedback from my teacher that will help me understand why I did how I did and how I can change it,” Carlmont freshman Sanvi Adusumilli said. “And then I am given the opportunity to improve and do better and that grade will completely replace the previous one because I now understand the concept.”

While most students and teachers do not mind the traditional grading system, others have begun to prefer and adopt practices from the standards-based grading system.

“It yields much better student outcomes, improves student learning, reduces stress, gives me more confidence in my [students’] grades, and ultimately makes the class better,” Hagmann said. “The transparency of why you have the scores you have is very important and gives students a chance to improve throughout the year.”

However, transitioning from the traditional to the standards-based grading system comes with a problem. Because of how standards-based grading works, the methods of grading may not be as fitting for conceptual curriculums rather than procedural.

“Standards-based grading, in the language classroom, means that I grade students on the language they can produce, both writing and speaking, not on their effort, participation, or amount of work produced,” said French teacher Katya Burton.

All in all, while the use of the traditional grading system is, by far, more widespread, some believe that the standards-based grading system holds a spot in the future of education in the U.S.

“I have seen more and more of my colleagues transition to SBG. Even entire states have transitioned to forms of standards-based grading. Vermont, for example, has a “proficiency-based grading” system statewide,” Hagmann said.” It is very likely that more districts will adopt similar practices as the benefits of SBG can be quite large.”