Purposes of Grades
Grades provide information. A grade assigned to a student serves multiple purposes depending on who views it.
As viewed by students
An obvious purpose of grades is to inform students about their achievement. With ongoing formative assessment, summative grades should not surprise students. What they do is lend seriousness to the whole assessment process. The surprise is often perceived by the adults who receive grade reports without adequate communication about sources of grades and student progress.
Low letter grades without accompanying details and descriptions of deficits have never been shown to be motivators. The threat of even lower grades if study habits aren’t changed will probably prove to have negative effects. However, descriptive narratives, even if they contain negative comments, can be motivational if approached as opportunities for improvement (Burden & Byrd, 1999). Receiving a high grade, especially if it shows progress, can be motivating with or without an explanation. As with so many aspects of middle grades education, perspective and teacher attitude determine in large measure the receptiveness and dispositions of students toward grades.
As viewed by parents
Grades are expected features of school. Attempts at the middle level to convey progress, or lack of it, with narratives alone (replacing letter grades) have generally been met with disapproval and been considered unacceptable by families. Grades are traditional, and even though parents may realize they are subjective measures, they usually still want to know if Johnny’s work is of A, B, C, D, or F quality. Praise and punishment are both doled out based on the grades received by students.
As viewed by teachers
If grades and the process of grading do not guide instructional planning, then we are missing a major function of assessment and evaluation. We have already discussed the value of diagnostic assessment in decision-making. The same premise applies to grades. We look at the academic achievement of our students, or lack of it. We determine content depth, remediation, instructional strategies, sequencing, pacing, and so on. At the same time, individual student grades give us guidance for grouping/regrouping and differentiating instruction.
When considering placement in what are considered advanced courses in middle schools, such as Algebra I and foreign language, grades provide a guidance function. They also provide information used in determining summer school or after-school options often used for remediation.
As viewed by administrators
Administrators at school and district levels use grades as indicators of academic success of groups of students—classes, grade levels, and whole schools. Individual student grades influence promotion and retention, and help determine placement of students in homogeneous or heterogeneous groups.
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