Day 13 (of 186) on %s and averaging with thanks to @OtusK12 & @MrOzarka


Day 13 (of 186) on %s and averaging

This morning I read two tweets that got me thinking.  The first was about using letter grades (A-F) rather than numeric representations (1-4) to help with the communicating to parents. I appreciate the shares from @MrOzarka and @OtusK12 because it is clear that they are focused on finding ways to provide feedback both to students and parents, and that is kinda ‘the’ goal!


Then another tweet came in looking to discuss further:


And it got me thinking (because I do enjoy thinking and rethinking about report cards, letter grades, percentages etc), so as part of Throwback Thursday, I went to my dad’s journal:


The opening line could’ve been written this morning: Few issues have occasioned more discussion among parents, teacher, and administrators than that of report cards.

And in a quick review – the first reports sent home were baed on colours: white meant “entire approbation”

blue for “approbation”

yellow for “indifferent”

and red for “Censure”



First movements in report cards then focused on reading; Reports may open with “For Superior Reading…..” but as an attempt to tell more (but failing) the reading level (and page completed of a common text) would be included in the report.



Percentages began to become “en vogue” during the US Civil War where they were used to indicate how much achievement was accomplished 100% being ‘perfect’ and descending numbers indicating less-than-perfect achievement.
When %s began to become difficult to calculate to the nearest % (perfect understanding of number sense but not understanding geometry blended with etc etc in numeracy), the method became more about using ABCD and F designations to encompass ‘ranges’. By 1900 letter grades had been adopted from their use in other industries (meat packaging) and by 1940 4/5 of schools shifted away from strictly %s to using letter grades.  And here is where much of the mis-history occurs (aka the good old days that weren’t actually so good) with people reflecting on report cards with letter grades and how they hoped to earn (or be given…) a higher letter grade. Which in turn led to students trying to overwhelm their “grade category” with more and more work (aka bonus marks) to hope that quantity (not quality) of work could lead them to a ‘better’ achievement level.  And where “annoying kids” could be punished (I won’t give that child an A in term one so that they have something to aim for in term 3……Your mark is staying at 85.4999999999% because you were rude) – and by annoying I really mean those that were bored, unchallenged/wanting a challenge, anxious, dealing with *#&# behind the scenes, etc.



And in different areas, letter grades continued to change with a variety of combinations hoping to become “better” – the introduction of H (for honour grade) or O (outstanding work) S – satisfactory (pass/fail) and a range of %s (when being used) to be lumped into letter grades.




While we continue to challenge how we teach and provide different opportunities for students to show what they have learned, the report card remains similar – how different is it really from this article from 45 years ago….and the comment made within the article: the most popular kind of report 40 years ago (85 for us!) is the most popular report today”.



And why?



Honestly, having done both report cards and eportfolios….letter grades are easy. They cover a range of %s based on achievement on common tasks and assignments, so if you want to avoid an angry parent, give a B (or a 3)



It is easy to use letter grades (and %s) as a threat and punishment: don’t do this task (even/especially practice) and it will impact your overall grade – even if you show mastery of learning later on….



What was/is needed then? In the article – some key questions that were identified as remaining unanswered for parents:

  1. Where does the child stand in relation to national norms (Performance Standards included in efolios can remedy this)
  2. Where does he (sic) stand in relation to his own ability? (again, goal setting within descriptive feedback linked between student, teacher and parent can be well identified)
  3. What required skills did the child master during the school year (marks on tasks in a ‘weighted bin’ can’t answer this, but documented ‘artifacts of learning’ can!)
  4. What important concepts did the child acquire (many try to squeeze this in by including learning outcomes – sometimes linked with a performance scale 1-4 A-F etc)
  5. What sills and concepts should be programmed for each child in the following year (this is the shift being pushed by some around ‘personalized learning’ – the 25 IEPs in every classroom ideation – scary, but clearly articulated What is being done well, Area needing attention, Area of Focus to support this)
  6. What kind of ongoing evolution can be used that will clearly indicate the dynamics of change, mastery or achievement <— #sblchat wednesdays at 6pm pst because this depends….on the learner.


And these are NOT what report cards (or letter grades or percentages) were meant to do. Report Cards were meant to provide measurement and assessment on learners going through a common set of tasks.  As soon as radicals (like Maria Montessori, John Dewey) started focusing on Authentic Learning by Learners, report cards become…..irrelevant – instead the “communication of student learning” needs to change away form “an average percentage based on combining a number of unrelated tasks to provide a number to equate to an approximate number/letter grade to say how ‘well’ a Learner has Learned” (though in many cases the Learner may have used “optional methods” including:

  • copying others work
  • using previous work
  • refusing to complete work
  • unable to complete work (due to other jobs/duties as assigned by home)
  • seeking ‘bonus points’ to alter their placement (often the I letter – incomplete; finish a set of tasks in order to ‘pass’)
  • etc



Living The Dream:

By avoiding the token economy that Report Cards create, we should be seeking for an atmosphere where we “learn for the sake of learning”. We don’t “cram” for short term memorization of facts to regurgitate. We can’t worry about working for the almighty grade. We should want learners to seek the right answer, not worrying about a ‘good mark’ on a test.


Because shockingly, students do work in ungraded classrooms. It has been 10 years since I have actively provided percentages, letter grades, check marks etc on student practice work – I (and others, better than me) have focused on descriptive feedback that focuses on intrinsic motivations and rewards….and it does work. The down side has been that when they face a standardized test (In BC the FSAs in grade 4 & 7) they are at times unfamiliar with them (but I do work with them ahead of time to show them how to complete these types of tests) and I have seen the tests move further away from the way they were initially set up (one answer) to being open to multiple responses (this has been my son’s opposition to much of school – seeking ‘the’ answer when he can identify and defend multiple responses but can’t differentiate which ‘one’ the teacher wants).



In another article in my fathers journal, an example of this can be shared: During the socials part of an exam, one child got up from his seat. I quickly wen t up to him and asked what he wants. “I want to pull down the world map to find the answer to this question” he whispered innocently. I was explaining to him why he couldn’t use the map during the test when another child across the room got up. This child was going to the encyclopedia to check his answer. <– students focused on the quality of their responses, not just ‘how good their memory may be’.



When students enter a mindset where they are learning for the sake of learning, shouldn’t we be able to focus on ways to communicate this other than assigning a number or letter to represent “how well we feel they have done”?  This is why I have shifted much more to sharing artifacts of learning with descriptive feedback to communicate with parents what is happening in the classroom – because the school of today should be different from the school of 40 years ago….and 80 years ago….


Image result for photo of old school classroom

1921….or 2017 with a filter?


1943? or trickery because there is evidence of tracking achievement in an ongoing bases



and how old is this one: report card was found inside a wall by Sanj Maisuria.


And as for averaging….I always like to ‘poke the bear’ by asing: Mean Median Mode or Range? You gotta know your averages before you can play with them and then use them!


What will we be saying about ‘now’ 50 years from now?


About technolandy

Principaling on the Pacific in Powell River BC Pushing 'technologization' in education: blending technology and curriculum seamlessly. Advocate for better understanding of Anxiety in Education (and use of self-regulation) Utilizing ePortfolios & Descriptive Feedback to personalize learning!
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