Thursday, April 9, 2015

What does a letter grade mean?

By: Rachel Barry

Why do we give students grades?  What makes a "B" different from a "C"?  Who decided our grading scale and why?  Why do we have a deadline of a semester -- are students supposed to stop learning or not go back to learn the material prior to semester grades?  I love having discussions regarding these and so many more questions related to grading and assessment.  Sometimes I feel like a kid again always asking "Why?", and I embrace the idea of challenging the system to determine if our motives are for the correct reasons for our current population and demography as education evolves.

Data can be a great resource to drive instruction, if provided and used correctly.  As a math teacher interested in analyzing data, I do this daily, and some of the ways can be seen in this prior blog post.  Another great resource not mentioned in that post is looking at a student's prior grades in math courses.  The key to making this data component useful is to ensure the letter grade reflects student mastery of skills learned in the courses.  This means that behavior and participation cannot be included in the letter grade.  A student receiving an A or a B should tell me that they have demonstrated mastery of most or all standards covered in the curricula.  When participation or behavior is factored into the grade, this skews my understanding of what the students know or don't know.  When grades reflect knowledge of skills, communication of student learning is streamlined to the students, teachers, parents, and counselors.

Our curricula in the Math Department at EGHS is aligned to the ACT College Readiness Standards and split into four levels, based on Marzano's research.  Our district letter grades are awarded as such:
Because we are required to report grades in this way, we have created a grading rubric that aligns our leveled curricula to our districts' letter grades.


Because of these structures, we teachers can use letter grades to accurately determine our students' level of understanding of course standards.

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