Student grades are as much a part of our educational system as books and teachers. Their intended purpose is to measure and report student learning to the student, the parents, the teacher and administrators. Ken O’Connor, of the ETS Assessment Institute, says that grades are useful only when they are accurate, meaningful, consistent, and support student learning.
The fatal flaw with grades as the sole measurement of student learning is that grades are terminal. Grades are reported at the end of a quarter or semester. The learning period is over. The student and parents know only where the student ranks among their peers in that class. What parent’s don’t know is whether their child learned anything new, acquired or improved on skills, or is falling behind in one or more skill or critical thinking areas. Neither the student nor the child know where to place their emphasis for the next grading period.
O’Connor says grades are most useful when they come out of a learning community that sends positive messages, offers choices, and encourages reflection. Grades should measure specific learning objectives. Too often , O’Connor says, grades are based on components that are not part of the learning objectives. Such components include behavior, class participation, late homework, and absences. While these components each need addressing by the teacher, student and parent, including them in the measurement of a specific learning object distorts the truth.
The true key to using grades to measure achievement is to make them individual. In other words, grades should never be a comparision of an individual student against a group. Grades should always reflect that individual student’s learning for the period and not their behavior.