September 28, 2017-- Teachers have traditionally used percent scores when assessing student work. And schools have traditionally used percent scores to determine letter grades that are reported out to students and parents. As more thought is given to percent scoring, however, many concerns arise that need to be addressed.
What is a good percent score, anyway? In softball, a batter is very successful if he can get a hit in 30% of his at bats. In basketball, a 3-point shooter is considered excellent if she makes 40% of her shots. In American football, a quarterback is elite if he can complete over 65% of his passes. So why does a student need a 90% score to be considered a top-level, high performing student?
Who determines the cut-offs that schools use for letter grades? Schools around the world use many different scoring scales. In French schools, 50% is used to determine passing or failing, while US schools use 60% or 65%. Many Canadian schools set 80% as the level to achieve a letter of A, whereas many US curriculum schools use 90% or even 93% as the score needed to earn a letter grade of A.
Why is the size of the percent category for failure so large? Typically, each letter grade reflects a percent score within a 10% band. At ISD, a grade of A is normally for a score that falls between 90-100%, a B is for a score from 80-89%, a C ranges from 70-79%, and a D indicates a score from 60-69%. That leaves a huge range of 0-59% for an F!
How much impact should a ‘zero’ have on an overall averaged grade? A zero can devastate a percent average when it is factored into an overall mean average. If a student has scores of 90%, 90%, 90%, and 0%, the mean average would be 67.5%. But if a failure is marked as a minimum score of 50%, the same student would have a mean average of 80%. Does this second score present a more representative picture of the student’s real overall performance?
Administrators and teachers at ISD are considering significant changes to their current grading practices. Middle school and high school students will experience this very soon, as the Language Arts department is already piloting a move away from percent scores and towards a model that incorporates rubrics, formative assessments, student reflection, and teacher professional judgement to determine the letter grade reported out to students and parents. This inquiry should prove to be a most enlightening and interesting process for all of us in our learning community - teachers, students, and parents.