The Atlantic

Letter Grades Deserve an 'F'

The adoption of the Common Core could usher in a new era of standards-based grading.
Source: Nir Elias / Reuters

Letter grades are a tradition in our educational system, and we accept them as fair and objective measures of academic success. However, if the purpose of academic grading is to communicate accurate and specific information about learning, letter, or points-based grades, are a woefully blunt and inadequate instrument. Worse, points-based grading undermines learning and creativity, rewards cheating, damages students' peer relationships and trust in their teachers, encourages students to avoid challenging work, and teaches students to value grades over knowledge.

Letter grades communicate precious little about the process of learning a given subject. When a child earns a ‘B’ in Algebra I, what does that ‘B’ represent? That ‘B’ may represent hundreds of points-based assignments, arranged and calculated in categories of varying weights and relative significance depending on the a teacher’s training or habit. But that ‘B’ says nothing about the specific skills John such as, “John is a pleasure to have in class,” parents, students, and even colleges are left to guess at precisely which Algebra I skills John has learned and will be able to apply to Algebra II.

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