November 2011 | Volume 69 | Number 3 Effective Grading Practices Pages 8-9

Double Take

Research Alert
Grade Inflation Is on the Rise A recent report from the College Board investigates two key issues: grade inflation, in which teachers over time assign increasingly higher grades for a given level of achievement; and grade nonequivalence across schools, in which teachers in different schools apply different grading standards for the same curricular material. Two studies were involved. To explore grade inflation, the first study looked at SAT scores and cumulative high school grade point averages (GPAs) across 11 years of diploma-receiving cohorts, involving about 1.2 million students. To explore differential grading standards, a second study compared advanced placement (AP) course grades in biology, calculus AB, English literature, English language, and U.S. history with student AP exam scores in the corresponding content area. The Findings Regarding grade inflation, the study found that the average GPA for the class of 1996 was 2.64; in 2006, the average GPA was 2.90. However, during that period, standardized scores on the SAT remained relatively unchanged. Regarding grade nonequivalence, analysis of the data showed different grading practices among schools in all five subject areas, with some schools offering higher grades for lower levels of proficiency than other schools did. For instance, in the AP biology course, students at one school, on average, received a B+ or better as a course grade, but they tended to earn the equivalent of a D on the AP test. The author concludes that such practices as grade inflation and grade nonequivalence make it difficult for college admissions officers to make a valid assessment of a student's achievement in comparison with other applicants. These practices suggest other issues as well. The author notes, "Teachers are forced to choose between adhering to grading guidelines they may deem inappropriate and using grades as motivators to reward good efforts rather than achievement. Evidence suggests that many teachers choose the latter" (p. 15). Investigating Grade Inflation and Non-Equivalence, by Kelly E. Godfrey, is available at

World Spin
Food for Thought In London, England, 11-year-olds in 80 Greenwich schools involved in a healthy lunch campaign are doing better on tests and are less frequently absent from school because of sickness. A study conducted by Michele Belot of Oxford University and Jonathan James of Essex University examined students' test results and compared them with those of students in neighboring areas who were not served the nutritious food. The results were clear: Healthy school lunches boost student learning.

Numbers of Note

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3.08 Average grade point average for students graduating from Illinois public high schools between 2006 and 2008. 2.52 Average grade point average for these same students as college freshmen in Illinois public colleges. Source: Data from Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois Board of Higher Education, and Illinois Community College Board (analyzed by the Chicago Tribune and reported in "Public High School Grads Struggle at College," by D. Rado, J. S. Cohen, & J. Germuska. Chicago Tribune, August 31, 2011).

Relevant Reads Teachers may forget the anxiety with which many students face report cards. The following children's books remind us how getting grades felt, and their humor may help students put their fears into perspective and spark class discussions about what grades really mean. For Grades 1–3 The Bad-News Report Card, by Nancy Poydar (Holiday House, 2006). Isabelle is so worried about the bad news her report card might contain that she "loses" the sealed envelope on the bus. The Berenstain Bears' Report Card Trouble, by Stan and Jan Berenstain (Random House, 2002). Brother Bear brings home a poor report card and wishes his grades could reflect more important things, like how many strikeouts he's pitched. For Grades 3 and Up The Report Card, by Andrew Clements (Atheneum, 2005). Bright 5th grader Nora Rowley purposely gets bad grades, in part because she doesn't like the fact that tests make her friends feel dumb. I Got a D in Salami, by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver (Grosset and Dunlap, 2003). With help from his friends, learning-challenged 4th grader Hank Zipzer tries to hide his D-laden report card from his mom.

Only Online
Help for Standards-Based Graders As more schools and districts plunge into standards-based grading, teachers who are established bloggers are offering help to colleagues who are exploring or switching to this approach. Their blogs offer links to video presentations; reports on useful workshops; links to like-minded blogs; discussions among practitioners that are rich in advice; and downloadable templates, grade books, and other helpful materials. For instance, a recent post on Science for All—the blog of Kirk Robbins, a science curriculum coordinator for a school district in Washington state—links to rubrics the state uses to evaluate student performance in science and math, detailed "essential learnings" that the school district has identified for its courses, an online grade book program called Green Slate, and more. One link takes readers to the website of the Anchorage School District, which has a track record with standards-based grading and offers a plethora of relevant materials. Tara Richerson posts her version of a standards-based grade book as well as video tutorials on grading practices on her blog What It's Like on the Inside. She has also created a helpful standards-based grading

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wiki at

"I realized that bringing a pencil to class was not one of the algebra standards." —Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Ian Pumpian, p. 46

Copyright © 2011 by ASCD

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