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Friday, April 20, 2012

Does a Shift From Numbers as Grades to Letter Grades Really Matter?

A colleague of mine sent me this article today (Calificaciones con letras, de vuelta).  Starting in August of this year, 27.6 million children in primary and secondary schools in Mexico will begin receiving letter grades (i.e., A, B, C, & D) instead of number grades (e.g., 10, 9, 8, 7, etc.).

As an American university educator working in Mexico, I admit that giving a grade as a number took awhile to get used to.  But reflecting back, I suppose I just automatically assessed student work and related number grades back to the letter grade descriptors that I've grown accustomed to: A=excellent, B=above average, C=average, etc. But if my understanding of the new grading system is correct, there still is a slight difference between what Mexico plans to implement later this year and what I've been used to growing up in the United States school system.

Mexico plans to convert letter grades as follows: "Excellent" work would be equivalent to a 10, and would receive an A; "satisfactory" work would be the equivalent to a 9 and 8, and would receive a B; "sufficient" work would be equivalent to a 7 and 6, and would receive a C; and "failing" would be equivalent to anything less than a 6, and would receive a D.

If grades (percentages) are rounded off, one possible interpretation for Mexico's new grading system might look like this:

A = 95% (9.5) - 100%
B = 75% - 94%
C = 60% - 74%
D = less than 59%

If grades are not rounded off, which seems unlikely, then the scale might look like this:

A = 100%
B = 80% - 99%
C = 60% - 79%
D = less than 59%

Contrast either scenario above with the grading scale I used as a child (oh so many years ago):

A = 90% - 100%
B = 80% - 89%
C = 70% - 79%
D = 60% - 69%
F =  less than 60%

or (if memory serves)

A+ = 96% - 100%
A- = 90% - 95%
B+ = 86% - 89%
B- = 80% - 85%
C+ = 76% - 79%
C- = 70% - 75%
D+ = 66% - 69%
D- = 60% - 65%
F =  less than 60%

Certainly, grading systems vary with each country (see here), but it's interesting to compare such systems and reflect on the impact each has on the learning process.

Do you think that shifting from a grading system of numbers to a grading system of letters will impact how students learn?