Step 5 A: Digging Deeper

Part 1: What does the data say about grades?

Sample Grade vs. SBAC Data

Consider the scatter plot above, which represents data from an LAUSD high school. On the scatter plot,  each point represents a student. Student grades in 11th grade ELA (x-axis) are compared to their scores on the 11th grade ELA SBAC (y-axis). SBAC scores: 4=Standard Exceeded, 3=Standard Met, 2=Standard Nearly Met, and 1=Standard Not Met.

Given this information, what story does the scatter plot tell?  What might be some areas of concern?  Support your analysis with evidence.

Part 2: What do students say about grades?

Students Answer Questions About Grading – Consider asking your students what they think about grades.  You could have them respond orally, on paper, or create a Padlet (a free electronic Post it notes forum).  Here’s an example of the responses one teacher got when she did exactly that.

Part 3: Would you like to read more on this topic?

“Grading Policies That Work Against Standards . . . And How To Fix Them” – In “Grading Policies That Work Against Standards. . . . And How To Fix Them” Thomas R. Guskey, author of numerous books on Standards-Based Grading, suggests remedies to four traditional grading practices:  grading on a curve, valedictorian selection, punishment grading, and using zeros in grading.

A History of Grading -This academic article provides a brief timeline and description of the evolution of grades.

Making the Grade: A History of the A-F Marking Scheme – This lengthy academic article on the history of grades outlines the origins and permutations of grades over time since 1785.

Read one or more of the resources above. In the comments section below, cite textual evidence and explain “what might be some problems with traditional K-12 grading practices?”


1,030 thoughts on “Step 5 A: Digging Deeper

  1. Shane Riddle says:

    The scatter plot shows a couple areas of concern. A cluster of students scored a D or an F in class, however they scored a 4 or a 3 on the SBAC. They likely have attendance issues or low homework scores. Even more concerning are students who received an A or a B in class but scored a 1 on the SBAC. It’s possible they didn’t put forth good effort on the SBAC, but it’s more likely they were easily graded.

    In the Guskey article (Grading Policies…How to Fix Them), the using grades as a form of punishment resonated with me. I’ve found myself doing this less and less. Instead, I leave the score blank in my grade book, which has no effect on a student’s grade. I like the idea of giving students who receive a grade lower than a C an I for incomplete and requiring them to make it up.


  2. John says:

    It is interesting to see how we have come full circle in education. Based on the article “Making the Grade: A History of the A-F Marking Scheme,” it is apparent that early on in education teachers were able to give much more meaningful feedback to parents and students through subjective observations. However, has education became a national system, grades became tools used for the larger organizational structure and meaningful feedback to students and parents seems to have become lost in the mix. It seem that with mastery learning and grading we are attempting to shift back to how education was in its early days. I’m hopeful that technology will help us with this challenge.

    It is also interesting how the authors point out that some negative outcomes have resulted from this traditional form of grading that has taken shape. They point out that students learn to game the system, brown nose, and grub for grades. The concluding paragraph seems to hit the nail on the head, “…They must find a way to work within a system that is universally accepted–one essential for national movement, seamless coordination, and seemingly standard communication to parents and outsiders. And, at the same time, they must find a way to keep students focused on learning and not merely on a set of measurable outcomes loosely connected to the process of education.”


  3. N Strickland says:

    Grades are not consistent to how the students are able to perform on a standardized test. This is often the case where classroom expectations are low, or students are graded on a point system where the earn grades based on work habits and not academic merit. I’ve had students say that they’re actually learning in my class and that they’re motivated to learn – mainly because my co-teacher makes learning fun and engaging. They’re not shying away from the rigor. But I’m always questioning my grading practices when I have students getting D’s only in my class and moving to the next grade where they’re miraculously getting A’s.


  4. Nicole Niederdeppe says:

    I always believed grading on a curve was detrimental for students, based primarily on the concept brought up in the article “Grading Policies that Work against Standards” that it is not a criterion-referenced approach and that there’s no guarantee that students have learned all the necessary material/standards when being given grades solely against the performance of their classmates. However, the most salient point in the article is below:
    “Grading on the curve makes learning a highly competitive activity in which students compete against one another for the few scarce rewards (high grades) distributed by the teacher. Under these conditions, students readily see that helping others become successful threatens their won chances for success.” In an education system that should be focused on 21st-century skills, including collaboration, this approach does exactly the opposite by pitting students against each other with defined winners and losers. In a mastery grading approach, all students could theoretically earn the top mark (“A”) and no students would fail, if all students learned the material required.


  5. K. Navarrete says:

    Part 1: The correlation between the grades student receive in the course and how well they do on the test is poor. A variety of factors can influence the outcome such as consistency in grading between different teachers and factoring assignments with zeros.

    Part 2: “Tests and quizzes have a number of problems including memorization instead of learning.” When students were asked regarding their thoughts on grading, they provided information regarding how most of their courses were focused on memorizing facts for the test. In my opinion, it depends on the dynamics of the class. For example in most of the CTE courses, we all have academic language and facts students must learn, but at the same time, they must demonstrate what they are learning through real world applications. Students shared that in most classes, there was more on a concern regarding the test, than what they retain.

    Part 3: “As the record reveals, the history of grading in schools in the United States is replete with trial and error.” The grading system in K-12 has evolved through time and different institutions. It is demonstrated that grading hasn’t been consistent and continues to fluctuate between educational institutions, regions, and amongst teachers.


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