What Does An A Mean?

Recently, I sat in and listened to a conversation between a group of ninth grade students students and a representative from the Great Schools Partnership. He asked them What does an A mean? Here are some of the answers he received:

  • You are really good at copying things from the board.
  • You handed in your homework.
  • You did all your work.

While I listened, here are a few thoughts that came to my mind from the question:

  • With current grading practices, an A is subjective, and holds little relevance as to what a student has learned.
  • Grades are often inflated by habits of work (HOW) instead of demonstrating mastery of a standard.
  • Without a common philosophy and practice around grading, a learning institution will not be able to provide appropriate supports for students.

In the student’s responses, I heard more about compliance than I did about a student demonstrating what it is that they learned. We have created and fostered a grading system that trains students to learn how to game the system, and game it they do.

For educators to personalize learning for all students, and provided opportunities for durable learning, we must abandon our archaic grading system. A standards-based grading system (SBG), or as some call it, a mastery-based grading system, is a viable way to assess student’s on their knowledge in any given subject area, while providing teachers a more accurate system to validate student learning.

While there is much momentum towards standards-based grading, there is still one hurdle that threatens to derail any implementation. In a SBG system, students can move through content at a pace that is best suited to their needs. Therefore, some students will move through curriculum quickly, while others take longer. Maybe, the standard K-12 trajectory will look more like a K-11, or K-10. Or, for those students who need a bit more time, K-13 or K-14.

Breaking the conventional paradigm will take much effort, especially when rallying community and parent support. It’s easy tell parents that their student is going to graduate early, embark on their next stage ahead of their peers, and be privy to a host of opportunities. It is a whole other conversation explaining to students and parents the benefits of delaying graduation.

Our students deserve a better grading system, and SBG may hold the key. Let’s just make sure we take our time and do it right.

Are you or your district implementing an SBG system? Take a moment to share your roadblocks and success in the comments.