The Power Struggle Between Traditional Grades and 1-4 Evaluation

          My daughter’s first report card with the traditional grading system, A – F, is coming out this week.  Because most of the teachers have grades accessible to parents and students along the way online these days, we already know her grades.  She is doing fabulously in all of her classes except for two, and it has been really interesting to think about her, my husband’s, and my reactions to these grades.  Throughout elementary school, she was graded on the 1 – 4 system with each subject area broken down into many criteria of learning goals.  It was emphasized to her and us that 4’s are extremely rare and a student has to consistently go above and beyond in order to obtain a 4.  3’s were considered to be pretty great, although I must admit, those 3’s always seemed like B’s to me and to my husband.  It is amazing how difficult it is for us to really shift our thinking or even remember that “B” means good.

          As a teacher, will it be difficult not to give my students whom I think are doing really well a 4, when 4 is supposed to be consistently above and beyond?  Fortunately or unfortunately, school districts have a whole list of criteria for each subject area at the elementary level, so hopefully this will make it easier for me to look at each learning area and / or skill of a subject area and evaluate it as objectively as I possibly can using evidence (so as not to over give 4’s).  My daughter’s middle school with the A – F grading system does not have multiple criteria on the report card for each subject area, so it is a little bit harder for a parent (as in my husband and I) to see that overall grade and not freak out over C’s and below or celebrate A’s!  For instance, the blow of a less desirable grade would really be softened if we knew our daughter was outstanding at contributing in class but making a lot of mistakes on her computation.  It would also be more useful to know exactly what area or areas need more attention.

          The really interesting thing is my daughter is not freaking out as much as I think I would be, (except for some tears shed over our discussion about the grades in one of the classes).  The two classes in which she did not do well had tests that were still graded on the 1 – 4 scale and then translated to letter grades at the end of the trimester.  My daughter sees a 2.6 as almost a 3 which has always been a good grade so far in her educational life.  My husband and I see it as a C which we do not consider to be good.  So, what I am thinking about as a teacher is, does the 1 – 4 system in elementary school make a student not go for the 4 since they are almost impossible to earn, and then therefore translate into not going for the A later?  Or, should we keep the 1 – 4 number system going through 12th grade, especially with lots of criteria within each subject area to assess?  It is more work for the teacher but actually more accurate and useful information for students, parents, and teachers.  After all, I for the most part made A’s and B’s in math, but then realized later in life when sections of a standardized test were divided into and graded by categories within each subject area that I am terrible at measurement and estimation.  Because my overall math scores were always good, this was a surprise to me to see this one area that needed a lot of work.

          I am beginning to warm up to this 1 – 4 system with lots of criteria within each subject area.  Pros and cons, anybody?


One thought on “The Power Struggle Between Traditional Grades and 1-4 Evaluation

  1. Ironically, I think we’ve blogged about the same thing this week! As this system was explained to me recently by my dyad CT, I like it. It treats questions differently based on complexity and skill tested. I like that. It’s a little horrifying trying to figure out what to do with grades like 15 out of 30, but when you know they got all the level 4 questions and just did sloppy math on level 2’s they missed, then you can feel more assured of the value of the assessment in terms of demonstrating the complexity of what the students are learning and how well they can actually apply it.

    That’s my take.

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