High School Report Cards
One of the things that hasn't changed much about schooling over the years is the ritual of assigning grades to student report cards. Grades serve many functions: they are a way to communicate with students and their parents about achievement and effort; they are sometimes used to select and sort students for various programs; and they can serve as an incentive for students to learn and behave in certain ways. High school grades are of particular interest to many parents and students because they are an important factor in college admission decisions. This Digest summarizes trends in grading practices and introduces issues related to standards-based reporting.
How are Grades Assigned?
According to a 1997 College Board survey of 3,000 high schools, a large majority of schools use a traditional grading system involving A-F or numeric grades (91 percent), report grade point averages (90.1 percent), and calculate high school class rank (81.3 percent). Further, many teachers have a great deal of autonomy in making decisions about grades. Nearly 85 percent of high schools surveyed reported that teachers "may award any distribution of grades they desire depending on student performance (e.g., mostly A or mostly C)." A much smaller percentage required teachers to follow general guidelines (6.6 percent) or strict guidelines (3.5 percent) regarding grade distribution.
While measurement experts urge that grades be focused on current levels of achievement, teachers typically consider a variety of other factors when assigning grades, including effort, progress, participation, behavior, and attitude. Teachers and students alike tend to find these grading practices reasonable (Brookhart, 1994; Cross and Frary, 1999). By the high school years, teachers, parents, and students tend to agree that communicating with parents is a less important purpose of grading, and providing students with feedback is a more important purpose. Parents appear less clear than their high school children about what grading elements are important. In one survey, they rated major exams and compositions, class attendance, punctuality of assignments, class behavior, and progress as more important in determining grades than the teachers and students did (Guskey, 2002).
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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