6-A-4: Blogical Discussion Forum ~ Are Traditional Grades a Thing of the Past?

I recently came across an article titled, “Are Traditional Grades a Thing of the Past?” which argued that traditional grading systems (e.g., report cards and other current common systems used by schools today) are an inaccurate means to measure what students know in terms of content knowledge and cannot be used as an accurate indicator for how students will perform on standardized tests. The author of this article states that traditional grades used to represent a student’s mastery of content knowledge are typically inflated by other non-academic factors, thereby making them an invalid source to predict test performance.

It was after reading the opening paragraph of this article that I thought to myself, “I don’t use a traditional grading system like this one that leads to a student’s content grade being higher than it should be; do I? No … of course not … I’m sure the grade on their report card is an accurate representation of how each student would perform on a standardized test.” And then, I read the rest of the article, and changed my mind. As it turns out, I think a lot of teachers (myself being one of them) use a grading system that leads to the inflation of a content-based grade for all students.

If you take a few minutes to read the article, you will see the problem with traditional grading systems lies with the fact that a single grade (e.g., like the grade on a report card, typically used to demonstrate a student’s level of mastery for content material) is based upon both academically based factors (content knowledge) and non-academically based factors. These non-academic factors are things like: behavior, attendance, class participation, extra credit, late work penalties, and non-academic assignments (e.g., earning points to return a signed field trip form, etc.).

While these non-academic factors have a place in education and may serve as beneficial life skills, the author of this article believes that they should not be factored into a student’s content-based grade, because this combination leads to an inaccurate portrayal of what a student truly understands in terms of content knowledge.  The article concludes with a possible solution to this problem using a philosophy called, “Grading for Learning”, in which a students grades are split into two separate categories.  One grade is based upon content knowledge, and a second, separate grade is based upon behavioral life skills.

Please take a few minutes to read the article (link at beginning of blog in red), and then briefly answer TWO of the questions below.

 Questions to Consider

1.) Would you currently consider yourself someone who uses the “traditional grading system”, like the one described in the article? Why or why not?

2.) Do you think students should receive a single grade that is based upon both “content knowledge” and “behavioral life skills”? Or do you think students should receive two separate grades for “content knowledge” and “behavioral life skills”. Why have you chosen your position (this answer could be dependent on the age-group you teach)?

3.) Do you agree with specific parts of Harder & Bartlett’s experimental design to increase the accuracy/validity of their grading system (e.g., allowing re-testing for certain conditions, percent distribution of content knowledge grades, viewpoint on extra credit or late work, viewpoint on participation, the factors of behavioral life skills, etc.)? If you were to use this model in your own classroom, is this one condition (or more) about their design that you would change?


Gordon, M. (2010, November 5). Education.com. Retrieved July 2, 2014, from http://www.education.com/magazine/article/traditional-grades/



20 thoughts on “6-A-4: Blogical Discussion Forum ~ Are Traditional Grades a Thing of the Past?

  1. I do not use traditional grading. My school writes a trimester description of what specific learning has taken place and writes a narrative which tells how individual students participated with and connected to the content and process as well as what products (if any) resulted. In addition there are checklists of categories that divide skills from personal growth and development that indicate consistently, usually, developing, and needs support along with comments indicating specific examples and explaining reasoning behind the grading decision. It means a lot of work record keeping and writing for each of the teachers of special discipline subjects as well. All of it is read by a few others including the Head of the School before parents see it. In addition, students are often queried in order to include student input and views about learning. (This is also used as part of student led conferences at least once a year.)

    Because I have graded this way for over twenty years I certainly cannot begin to fathom condensing all of it into a few grades. Students do enrichment at my school usually based on interest and teacher and parent encouragement to have students delve deeper into topics.

    • Wow, it sounds like you are extremely thorough in your work. Do you think that your method of grading would be a good indicator of how a student would perform on a standardized test (whatever that test may be for your state and appropriate age group of kids)?

      • Students do not take standardized tests at my grade level, 4th. In higher grades teachers use item analysis of the ERB tests to examine items correct and incorrect per student, grade, subject area. They try to determine things like have students been formally taught concepts, the wording on test items. I have proctored the tests and part of the task is to keep records of student behavior during the test such as if students ask for clarifications, fidget, and time test is completed.

  2. I have not graded students in many years and basically when I was in the classroom we measured progress on IEP goals to show student knowledge. It’s not to say I’m not familiar with the issues surrounding student grading. It has been and will continue to be a bone of contention among many teachers in the districts I serve. I will take the position that there should be 2 grades a student receives. You cannot argue the fact that there are some students who would have a higher grade due to the strength of their life skills but that same student may perform poorly on a standardized test. I was never someone who thought a students measure of knowledge should be a grade. We place so much emphasis on getting a good grade but what does that really tell us? Many teachers still rely on just test scores to grade students. And then on top of it they adjust grades based on whether or not students completed ‘homework’. I would rather see a system based on this 2 fold measure. If you think about the rubrics we use in class or the self-assessment/reflections that are assigned to us in this course, aren’t they inclusive of the “life skills” referenced in this article?

    • I am actually in agreement with you. I think that separating grades into two separate categories (and grading academic work alone) would help teachers, parents, and even students understand an individuals strengths and weaknesses with regards to content knowledge and this method would serve as a better predictor to prepare students for standardized tests.
      Thanks for the comment!

  3. I would consider myself a teacher who uses the “traditional grading system.” The choice for me is made by my district which gives out standard report cards with letter grades (A-F). The only personal component of our report card is the “comments” section where teachers can choose from a list of pre-populated comments. While adding a few comments, give a little more insight into the grade, it comes nowhere close to explaining all the factors that contributed to that particular letter grade. The good news is that parents do have access to their students’ grades online so they can see the breakdown of the grade in each specific class.

    I definitely understand the point the author makes in the article you linked. In my opinion, the letter grade that I give my students on their report card should reflect their academic ability in my class, not their behavioral choices. For this reason, homework assignments in my class account for only 5% of the overall grade so homework will not “make you, or break you.” (I don’t advertise this to students, of course!). When it comes to work turned in late, I do not take points off because that would cause the grade to reflect a behavioral choice, rather than the content of the assignment. Instead, I deal with late work by taking away special activities – in fifth grade, that means losing some recess time.

    I believe that “content knowledge” and “behavioral life skills” warrant two separate grades. That is the only way for the letter grade to give an accurate reflection of the student’s ability in a particular subject. I think that schools like mine, who are sticking with letter grades, should consider having a section of the report card with certain behaviors listed and then teachers could rate the behaviors to give parents a sense of their student’s study habits but this would show them separately from the letter grade which should reflect the student’s knowledge of the content in that particular class.

  4. I agree with a lot of your points! Like you, I think it makes sense to split grades up into different categories, but my district is in control of that aspect. In addition, I agree with you that homework shouldn’t make are break a grade. In terms of late credit, I give students 50% credit for work that is 1 day late. After that, it is a zero. But – this is something that is age dependent. I teach 17 year olds. You teach 5th graders and It’s understandable that this policy should be different for different aged children (or young adults).
    Thanks for the comment!

  5. I really liked the article and how it presented traditional grading. There has long been a debate in education about outcomes and the best way to “grade” student performance. Outcome based education was a hot topic when I was a young teacher and I remember when my district jumped on board of the portfolio craze. For some reason in education we keep thinking we have to reinvent the wheel. There was a huge public outcry over outcome based education, which may happen with the article linked to above. Most people don’t like change,and feel if a single grade was good enough for them, it’s good enough for their children. Plus, people understand what an “A” is, but have a hard time with other types of grading. Despite years of high stakes testing, most parents still don’t grasp the importance of the standardized tests or what the categories even represent.

    I use traditional grading in my classroom for many reasons, but would consider a better grading system such as the one outlined in the article. There is no support in my district for another type of grading. Special education is also used oftentimes, in my opinion, as a dumping ground for students who show little interest in education for a variety of reasons and it it a double edged sword. Fail these students and they might eventually drop out and not graduate, or pass them and have them have skill deficits. Also, much less accountability is expected of students today and as we all know, education is nothing but politics. I could change my grading system and without school board support, my new grading scale would last as long as the first parent complaint.

    Having the two categories above would be something I would use and has benefits. First, students are still rewarded for doing non-academic tasks. Everyone works for some reward and this rewards conscientious students. Secondly, it would be easier for parents to see students real academic abilities instead of everything lumped into one grade. This would require that parents and students were taught the new system so they understand how it works and its benefits.

    • Daren,
      I very much agree with all of your points. Like you, I think there are benefits to separating grades into academic and non-academic categories. I also agree that without the support of the district behind you, this system would not last long because as you said, it is difficult for the masses to accept any kind of change.

      Thanks for the you informative comment!

  6. Tiffany,
    What a great article and topic. This is something that I have never really thought about nor discussed with others. Like you, I have always thought that the grade on my students’ report card was an accurate representation of content mastery. After reading the article, I see that nonacademic factors do influence my students’ overall grade. In my school, we use letter grades instead of percentages, too. Students and parents have access to the course gradebook 24/7 where they can see the breakdown of points and specific comments, but a letter grade is the only thing given on the actual report card.

    I go back and forth between whether or not there should be 2 separate grades: one for content knowledge and one for behavioral life skills. On one side, I think they should be separate to get the most accurate picture of student understanding and mastery. On the other side, how accurate is it truly since environmental issues could also impact a student’s performance? For example, what if a student had a family loss and does not do well on a quiz, yet, typically the student performs advanced? This would not be an accurate picture of the student’s performance either. In my opinion, there are many factors to consider when grading.

    I would be interested in trying out 2 separate grades within my course for a few years and comparing it to the traditional grading system I am currently using. I would be interested to not only see how I like or dislike this new way of grading, but also the opinions of the students, parents, and colleges (as it would appear on transcripts). Like anything new, it would take some time to get use to and inform everyone about the new grading. Thanks for giving me something to examine some more.

    • Hi Brittany,
      1.) It sounds like our grading systems are similar (one grade accounts for a combination of skills).
      2.) I also see your point in stating that in some cases, it would be a good thing to have two separate grade, but in other cases, this are disadvantages. You are absolutely correct when you say that environmental factors influence a student’s performance, even on academic tasks. Things such as being hungry, parents going through a divorce, moving, etc. would affect a student’s performance on both behavioral tasks and academic tasks.
      3.) I also think that you could say that in some grades (particularly lower ones), the knowledge that students are learning is more behavioral rather than academic (e.g., in kindergarten students learn to: be quiet, raise their hand, share, etc.).
      So this situation is not “clear cut” and there is no simple solution that will answer all the world’s problems.

      Thanks for you comment – I can tell from your post that you have thought deeply about this situation.

  7. Our district just spent a day of staff development reviewing our current grading system. This was the exact topic we discussed. I do believe there is merit in separating the grades. Currently, we do not, but I do see it headed that way. I would be on board with this decision. When the score is lumped into one grade, it’s difficult to tell how much of a student’s behavior influences that grade and how much content he/she actually knows. I’m all for it!

    • Hey Sharon,
      Like you, I am at least in favor of trying a grading system where grades are separated. I think that by doing this, everyone (teachers, parents, and even students) will at least see a more accurate representation of which skills and content knowledge students have truly mastered.
      Thanks for the comment!

  8. I teach first grade and completing report cards is a challenging task. I feel that it is very difficult to “master” the content because they are simply learning the basics. The most challenging part of completing report cards for me is the personal development section. It is very hard for me to complete about 15 answers about each child’s personal development. I find it to be very subjective. I do think two separate grades is better, because parents can better understand the performance of their child. In my district, we do not mark modified grades on the report cards. So if a student gets a 98% in reading, but has had modified tests with extended time, limited multiple choice answers, and a graphic organizer for opened ended questions, this all does not appear on the report card. So a parent could think their child is doing great, but does not realize all the support in place to receive a high school. I do believe report cards can be deceiving, but I am not sure of how to fix this.

    • Hi Jessica,
      Thanks for the example! This is a perfect situation of how a single report card grade would be an inaccurate predictor of how a student might perform on a real standardized test (possibly when they are not provided with open note resources or extended time). Like you, I have no easy answer to this “problem”, but I do think it might be worth a shot to try using a system that separates grades into academic and non-academic categories.
      Thanks for the comment! Tiffany

  9. Mary Lutz says:

    I would love to NOT give grades. It is really hard for me to see a student who improves 500% but still gets a D in the class. Unfortunately, if I say that one of my students has an “A” in my Excel spreadsheet class, I am guaranteeing to the employers in the area that this student is good in Excel.

    Behavioral skills are somewhat a part of my grading system. If your work is late, you are penalized 15%, if it is more than 48 hours late, the link will disappear and you cannot turn it in at all. This teaches deadlines and time management to my students. I do not give attendance grades or class participation grades. My students know that if they miss class, they will work twice as hard that week catching up. I hate extra credit. It seems to me like it is saying that some of the content of my class is not important and that if you miss it, I will give you an opportunity to do something different.

    • I definitely agree with your point of view regarding missing class, making up work, and extra credit. Call me a tough cookie, but like you said, if you miss the class are allowed to make up other work to meet the criteria, what is that teaching your students?
      So, I guess I agree that behavior (coming to class, acting on task, etc.) does play a role in a student’s performance of their grade.

      Thanks for the comment! Tiffany

  10. I don’t have to actually grade in my classroom. I just have to ensure that the students master the skills. If they don’t master the skill, they have to sit through the class again or I have to personally sit with them at their desk and instruct them until they master the skill. However, I know that I would not want to use a traditional grading system. I like the idea of the two separate grades. Now that my kids are older, I have no idea if they truly get the concepts or not. I have an extremely smart child that is extremely forgetful and very disorganized when it comes into turning in assignments. She does the work but she just doesn’t remember to turn things in or can’t find them. At one point, she had a D in a class because she had so many missing assignments. (Yes, this is something that I constantly harp on her about!) Two days before the end of the term, I stopped at the school to pick up her assignments as she was sick and I looked in her locker. I spent the next 20 minutes clearing out her locker and found all of these ungraded assignments. They were completed but never turned in. Her homeroom teacher happened to walk by and we talked. He ended up taking the assignments and even at only half credit, her grade would have been raised up to a B+ had she ever turned them in. We then started working on an intensive organizational program with her and it is now doing better. Had I just looked at a report card and saw the D, I would have assumed she had no idea or wasn’t trying. Now she fixed the issues and has a better organizational program in place and she now gets A’s. I think had she had two grades, the issues might have been caught sooner.

    • I appreciate you giving us the perspective from a parent’s point of view. I also appreciate you admitting (as a parent) that is it sometimes difficult to determine how much academic content your child truly understands when it is based upon a single grade, that is influences by multiple factors. It sounds like your daughter would be an example of the student mentioned in the article, whose true potential was hidden by her lack of organization. In essence, because she is bright, she would probably do just fine on standardized tests, however her report card grade may not predict this outcome.
      Thanks for the comment! ~ Tiffany

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