Grades & Report Cards Research Paper Starter

Grades & Report Cards

(Research Starters)

This article focuses on grades and report cards in the K-12 public school system and the various types of grading systems available. Information on the validity and purposes of grading and reporting is offered. Considerations for implementing new grading systems are also included.

Keywords Class Rank; Grading Systems; Learning Styles; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Norm- Referenced Grading; Portfolio Grading; Report Cards; Rubric; Standardized Testing; Standards-Based Education



The purposes of grading are varied. Grading can be used to affirm and calculate mastery of subjects and specific abilities; to indicate the effort students put forth; to analyze students in terms of their adequacy, progress, and motivation; to recognize students' learning strengths and weaknesses and group them for instructional purposes; to determine a program's effectiveness; to motivate students to learn; to provide feedback to students, parents, districts, states, and policymakers; to determine grade level promotion, graduation eligibility, honors, awards, and student rank; and to determine accountability in student achievement (Salend & Garrick Duhaney, 2002).

Report cards can convey a multitude of varying information. Ideally, report cards would communicate student achievement; provide information about a student's progress toward exit-level standards; be easy to read and interpret by students, parents, and instructors; provide an accurate description of a student's learning; register student growth over a predetermined period of time; be formatted in such a way that a student's attendance, any special services received, promotion, and grade levels are all easily discernable; and include a key or accompanying sheet that clearly explains key skills and a description in detail of performance expectations for grade-level skills and concepts in all content areas (Aidman, Gates, & Sims, 2000). In short, the perfect report card would be all things to all people (students, parents, teachers, schools, districts, states) and provide a full report of all aspects of student learning in an easily understood and readable format.

There are many different grading systems in use in public school systems throughout the country. In selecting a grading system, it is important for schools and school districts to determine the purpose of grading their students. For example, if it is to differentiate between them by looking only at their academic performance, then a letter or numerical grading arrangement may be used. If the purpose is to document progress in a variety of areas, then a checklist system can be used. However, grading needs are not necessarily always so simple, so a multifaceted grading system may be in order to meet the needs of students, schools, and school districts.


According to Salend (2001), some of the more popular grading systems in use today include:

• Numeric / Letter System: In this system, teachers assign a numeric value (generally 0-100) or letter grades (usually A, B, C, D, F) based on students' performance on tests, quizzes, and other learning activities.

• Checklists / Rating Scales: In this system, teachers develop checklists and rating scales that spell out what is expected to be accomplished with their classes and then calculate each student in relation to their mastery of each competencies. There are many different scales that can be used, and some are more descriptive than others. Among the scales are:

• 'Independent' 'Developing,' 'Beginning,' 'Not Yet Evident'

• 'Independent' (without assistance), 'Guided' (some assistance), 'Dependent' (frequent assistance)

• 'Consistently Successful,' 'Making Progress,' 'Improvement Needed'

• 'Significant Progress' (independent work), 'Capable Progress' (successful work with minimal support), 'Shows Progress' (is developing with guidance and support), 'Minimal Progress' (needs significant guidance and support)

• 'Consistently Demonstrates,' Adequately Demonstrates,' Occasionally Demonstrates'

• Descriptive/portfolio grading: In this system, the teacher writes “descriptive comments regarding students' skills, learning styles, effort, and growth and provides strategies to improve student performance. The comments would be included with examples of students' work as part of portfolio grading” and to help justify and validate the teacher's conclusions (Salend & Duhaney, 2002, p. 9).

• Pass / fail grading: In this system, minimum course competencies are detailed. Students who display expertise of the majority of the competencies receive a P grade, and those who come short of meeting the minimum competencies receive an F grade. This system has been further defined in some instances to include passed with honors (HonorP), high pass (HP), and low pass (LP).

• Mastery level / Criterion Grading: In this system, students and teachers meet and divide the skills and activities according to the analysis of personal needs and skills. After finishing each educational activity, students then take a quiz or perform the task to display their mastery of it. If successfully completed, credit is received; and the process is repeated with the next skill to be addressed. If not successfully completed, the student continues to work on the skill.

• Progressive Improvement Grading: In this system, “students take exams and engage in activities and receive instruction based on their performance throughout the grading period. Only performances on cumulative tests and learning activities during the final weeks of the grading period are used to determine students' grades” (Salend & Duhaney, 2002, p. 11).

• Level Grading: In this system, instructors use numbered subscripts to signify how difficult students' grades are based. For example, C8 would be indicate a student is performing in the C grade range at an eighth-grade level. This system can also be used to show that students are performing at, above, or below grade level.

• Individual Education Program (IEP) Grading: In this system, teachers assign grades that show a student's progress in meeting their IEP goals and performance criteria (as cited in Salend & Garrick Duhaney, 2002, p. 11).

Grades and other reports are now readily available electronically for parents in some districts and schools. Computer software and interactive websites make it possible for parents to log on with a user name and password and have access to their children's school account where they can see grades, test scores, attendance, discipline reports, and other information (Sturgeon, 2006). This allows parents to be continually updated and involved in their child's learning and to provide assistance or contact the teacher if their child is not progressing in certain subjects or competencies before the grade report is due. This removes the uncertainty and tension that report card time can sometimes bring to households. Students can also log on, check their progress, and see if it matches their own perception of their learning experience.

In a recent survey by Guskey (2002) regarding grades and grade distribution, teachers at the elementary school level tended to believe that an ideal distribution of grades would have most students receiving the highest grades possible. Teachers at other levels and most students had similar ideal distribution patterns, but parents had more mixed ratings. Parents of elementary school students thought students would attain high grades, and parents of older students expected a more even distribution of grades. As the grade level progressed, “teachers, parents, and students all tended to rank communicating with parents as a less important purpose for grading and providing feedback to students as a more important purpose” (Boston, 2003, ¶ 3). As grade levels increase, teachers tended to rank the selection purposes of grades as less important, but parents and students both rank selection as increasingly important. Teachers at higher grade levels tend to rank the incentive...

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