Letter Grades

Apologies for the flood of blog posts. During the week, I don’t have time, so I end up with a variety of things to post about!

One significant problem with educational systems is the emphasis on grades. Grades–with or without rubrics (which I basically detest beyond my general CASE-method general rubric)–are a subjective, arbitrary measurement based on the subjectivity difficulty of the assignment, subjective requirements of the assignment, subjective “grade level” (5th grade, college freshmen, etc), and subjective experiences and interests of the grader.

Now I do like letter grades far more than number grades. Number grades are “too exact” for such an arbitrary system.

And while letter grades are an important method of communication and feedback and something of a quasi simple, widespread system, they are most problematic. Given this, some colleges are exploring alternative methods of creating transcripts that have much more qualitative information.

But with letter grades there is one specific problem that has been on my mind for sometime: They mean vastly different things depending on the type of assignment. For example, a student takes a multiple choice political science test and gets 7 out of 10 answers correct. That’s a “C-” grade. In terms of qualitative rubrics, that is minimally acceptable work. This “C-” has a completely different meaning, different scale, different syntax than a “C-” on an essay assignment. Same with a History class. An “A+” on an objective exam has a completely different meaning than an “A+” on an essay exam, without even considering rigor. 

Quality of work on written assignments can be roughly aligned with letter grades but cannot be aligned with percentage of questions correct. An “A” on an essay assignment no more equals 90 or 95% than a 88% on a true/false quiz correlates with a B+. It’s two different systems.

Letter grades and numerical grades, like much us in our world, are funny concepts.