Grades are standardized measurements indicating the quality of a student’s work based on varying levels of comprehension within a subject area. Grades can be assigned in letters (A, B, C, D, F), in percentages (0%-100%), as a numerical range (1.0-4.0), or as descriptors (excellent, great, satisfactory, needs improvement).
To arrive at a final grade, teachers often use a points-based system for evaluating student work, in which each question in every assignment is assigned a certain number of points. A simple homework question is usually worth one point while a lengthy project, such as an essay, is worth many more points. The final grade for the course is calculated as a percentage of points earned out of points possible.
The points for a large project, in turn, may be further divided into smaller areas of evaluation; for example: 10 points for writing the correct length of an essay, 5 points for a well-written introduction, 5 points for spelling and grammar, 10 points for reasoning, etc. An assessment tool of this type listing each of the specific criteria for grading or scoring academic papers, projects, or tests is called a “rubric.”
Many nations have individual grading systems unique to their own schools. Although there is no standardized system of grading in the United States, most schools, colleges and universities follow a five-point system using the letters A, B, C, D and F, in which an A equates to a numerical value of 4.0. But what exactly do these grades mean? Here is a detailed breakdown of the various grades:
A = 4.0 = 90-100% = Excellent
Superior understanding of course material evidenced by almost no errors in fact and the ability to analyze that material critically, synthesize creatively, and evaluate carefully. Creativity, imagination, and intellectual curiosity in relating the course material to other courses and concepts. Clear, effective ability to communicate ideas from the course to other students and teachers. Complete, sound techniques of scholarship in all projects.
B = 3.0 = 80-89% = Great
Good understanding of course material evidenced by very few errors in fact, and the ability to state generalizations and implications from the material learned. The ability to communicate concepts and implications from the course to other students and teachers. Understanding of and consistent application of techniques of scholarship in all projects.
C = 2.0 = 70-79% = Satisfactory
Adequate understanding of course material evidenced by some errors in fact or internal connections when discussing or testing on course material. Satisfaction of the minimum standards for the course in terms of reading, preparation, and class participation. The student can articulate several main themes from the course material. Adequate competence in techniques of scholarship: reasonable logic, consistent effort to document sources, reasonably clear writing, etc.
D = 1.0 = 60-69% = Needs Improvement
Minimal understanding of course material demonstrated by many errors in fact or internal connections when discussing or testing on course material. Less than adequate reading, preparation, and participation in and for the course. The student has difficulty articulating major themes or concepts from the course material. Minimal competence in techniques of scholarship.
F = 0 = 0-59% = Failing
Inadequate understanding of course material demonstrated by frequent errors in fact or internal connections when discussing or testing on course material. Failure to meet the course standards. The student cannot articulate major themes and concepts. There is minimal or no evidence of increased knowledge or skills. Inability to use sound techniques of scholarship: plagiarism (accidental or intentional), irrational or fatally flawed logic, inability to communicate in writing, etc.
In homeschooling, especially in the early years, children can be free to learn without the pressure of being graded. At home, the emphasis tends to shift from striving to get the best grades – and either feeling like winners or losers as a result – to becoming self motivated individuals who are truly excited about learning and mastering the material. Grades do become more important in high school, and they are absolutely necessary if there is a desire to obtain scholarships. However, even some schools, colleges, and universities are rethinking the value of a graded system in an effort to avoid having students place more importance on the grades rather than on the education those grades are supposed to represent.
Authentic Assessment is one alternative to the traditional grading system. One of the main goals of authentic assessment proponents is to emphasize curriculum substance rather than test-prep in the classroom, ridding schools of the misuse and abuse of standardized tests by supporting meaningful, reliable and descriptive alternatives. Assessments consisting of work samples, portfolios, and presentations have been used by some alternative and private schools for decades. For example, to graduate from Sedona Red Rock High School in Arizona, each senior must successfully complete one exhibition. “We are judged in the real world by how we present ourselves, and so it should be in school,” asserts Massachusetts educator Deborah Meier.
Narrative Evaluation is a form of performance measurement and feedback which can be used as an alternative or supplement to traditional letter and number grades. Narrative evaluations generally consist of several paragraphs of written text about a student’s individual performance and course work. The style and form of narrative evaluations vary significantly among the educational institutions using them, but a narrative evaluation typically describes the course objectives, requirements, and related learning outcomes; includes an assessment of how well the student has achieved or failed these objectives; evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the student’s performance in the various areas of class activity including discussion, laboratory work, presentations, term papers, examinations, and general understanding of the course content; and allows recognition of supplementary work or particularly noteworthy performance.
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