What would happen if there were no grades? Stupid question, the whole education system would fall apart. It is built on grades. But really, what would happen? Grades are so immanent to the system one can hardly imagine how it would function without it. There were times without it when pupils did their exercises and had to come forward to be rehearsed at the front desk of the teacher. Not good enough? Go back and Try again! But that was hundred or more years ago. There are also education systems that weaken the role of grades, like the Montessori or Dalton systems (1). But they function mainly for young children. Grades establish the critical role of education in determining achievement. Without grades no certainty about what is attained or mastered. So, there is good reason to ask about whether or not grades are up to the task of establishing achievement. To be explicit, grades are marks given by a teacher to work delivered by a student. An alternative would be to administer achievement tests. Main difference between them is that grades are teacher, teaching, and classroom context dependent; achievement tests are supposed to be neutral to that effect. Grades may vary: what one teacher in one classroom might rate as sufficient, another probably would consider still below standard. Giving grades, like teachers do, is sensitive and adaptive to the learning process and its learner. It is therefore an indicator of attainment “at the local level”. And it is a cause of variation “at the central level”.
In an excellent article a review was undertaken on the role of grades over the past fifty year or so, scrutinizing the position grades have in our education system with some important outcomes: The variation in results between graded and tested achievement is moderate in size. Yes, grading incorporates student, teacher, and classroom characteristics, but these effects are small. Early in the education system (elementary school) differences between marks and tests are larger; but later on they become more similar. It is concluded that graded achievement is a valid measure of classroom learning.
One up for graded achievement!
It is no secret, the trend is towards testing achievement. High stake testing against standardized goals that are unequivocally applied is what dominates the assessment debate. Not that grading is being abandoned but as a source of variation it has become mistrusted or at least questioned (3). However, to give a meaningful account of a pupil’s attainment relative to personality, effort, behavior, classroom context classroom learning skills, gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity grading still is an honest, reliable, sensitive, and caring way of establishing levels of achievement. Good that we have this in our educational system.
Susan M. Brookhart (2015) Graded Achievement, Tested Achievement, and Validity, In: Educational Assessment, 20:4, 268-296, To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10627197.2015.1093928