Deciphering report card grades

UPDATE: Cobb County school board voted Thursday night to expand the 3-2-1 grading system to third grade.

Some Cobb County parents want the district to hold off on further implementing a new grading system, which replaces traditional letter grades with the numbers 3, 2 and 1.

These parents say there’s little data showing this latest education fad works. If anything, they argue it promotes mediocrity.

Traditional A, B, C, D and F grades are still found in grades 4-12, but Cobb’s younger students receive grades on specific skills and given the top rating of a “3″ if they meet standards “consistently and independently.”

It seems as though schools develop new ways to grade students every couple of years. While these new grades may be better aligned with state standards, the new system can be so confusing that too much time is spent deciphering the grades.

What type of grading system should schools use to measure what students have learned?

How much time do you spend trying to determine what test scores and report card grades mean?

21 comments Add your comment

HS Teacher, Too

May 28th, 2009
9:38 am

This type of standards-based grading can be effective in the sense that it can be informative, but typically you see it with more than just 3 point allocations. And in my experienes, most people take, say, a 4 out of a possible 5, convert it to an 80%, and say “Well, that’s a low B.” To make a cultural, system-level change like this will take a long time for it to be a successful, meaningful grading system. That being said, I don’t know ANYTHING about how Cobb’s system works, and I’ll just stop here!


May 28th, 2009
9:46 am

It doesn’t really matter what you call it — an “A”, a “3″ or an “E” — in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade, it doesn’t represent mastery as much as it does behavior. Motor skills development is so important to things such as reading (consider the amount of fine motor skills needed in the eye to track words across a page), and for kids, motor skills are a physical issue, not an academic issue.

[...] Get Schooled | – [...]


May 28th, 2009
10:14 am

I guess I’m old fashioned, but I’d rather stick with the plain old 100 point system, with A=90-100 B=80-90 C=70-80 etc. In grades 1-3 using this system gets the kids used to the grading system and sets expectations.


May 28th, 2009
10:30 am

Laura- you promt your readers of this blog with such a slanted and uniformed view. It would benefit us all if you had some idea of the context or the actual reasoning behind a standards based report card.
Let me ask you- what tells a parent more? The kids got a “C- average” or the kids is a 2 out of 3 on matering the concept? What is average? Is a “C” the same in Ms. Jone’s class as in Ms. Smith?


May 28th, 2009
10:37 am

Sounds like more governmental idiots attempting to jusify their jobs. FIRE THEM ALL…*POOT*


May 28th, 2009
10:41 am

I agree with Stan, the earlier students gain an understanding to the measures used, the better it will be in the long run.


May 28th, 2009
10:46 am

I don’t care how they score those grades, if my child doesn’t have the top score, regardless of what he does in class, I gonna go right up there to the school and intimidate the the h_ll out of the principal until she gives him the right grade. There! Now that’s a fact, Jack!


May 28th, 2009
11:22 am

Grades based on a percentage scale mean absolutely nothing in terms of student learning. They are a reflection of compliance more than anything else. Parents like this system because it is what was used when they were in school. Most others like it for the same reason. You can not look at an “A” on a report card and tell me what the kid is capable of doing.

The performance reports proposed by Cobb are much more informative. They are backed up by research that shows effectiveness rather than faddishness. To be able to show that children exhibit mastery of standards is much more meaningful to teachers and parents. Being able to clearly show the skills students can demonstrate consistently allows teachers to better move children forward. This is not hard to understand. It is not a fad and it will be in the best interest of children.

There are many reasons the percentage scale is bad for kids. These kinds of grades are too easily manipulated in either direction. Remember all the “grade inflation” concerns we’ve talked about? Standards based grading reduces this effect. One other side effect of percentage based grades is that teachers often use zeroes as arbitrary punishment. This is unethical, does not foster student learning, and will be reduced by the use of standards-based grades.

The bottom line is that some groups try to use emotions as an alarming mechanism. That is exactly what this group is doing. Groups like this have been successful at maintaining the mediocre performance of schools by claiming that educators want the mediocrity. They are usually successful because their emotional appeals attract parents’ attention. They use lies and outlandish claims to try to back up their cause and no one ever really scrutinizes their information.

Cobb County needs to stick with their plan and be a leader in the improvement of schools in our state.

Turd Fergusen

May 28th, 2009
12:30 pm

Ok…thanks Tony…your years of service to the Cobb County school system are greatly appreciated now GET BACK TO WORK ya LOSER!



May 28th, 2009
12:45 pm

Tony, Cobb Co. is not exactly a leader in this. My little ‘ole south GA school system started phasing in a standards based report card three years ago. At this time, we are still running a duel system for most grades in order to collect our own statistical data and to help parents adjust to the new system.

Principal Teacher

May 28th, 2009
12:57 pm

“One other side effect of percentage based grades is that teachers often use zeroes as arbitrary punishment. This is unethical, does not foster student learning,”

Hear! Hear!

Classroom Teacher

May 28th, 2009
1:12 pm

“One other side effect of percentage based grades is that teachers often use zeroes as arbitrary punishment. This is unethical, does not foster student learning,”

Is this anecdotal evedince or do you have “research” showing that this is a problem? And if you have data I assume you are reporting it to PSC?


May 28th, 2009
3:26 pm

Well, the linked articles say the old grading system is the classic E,G,S,N,U system that shows levels of mastery of different skill sets.

Why is the change to 1, 2, 3 better at showing more information? By limiting the number of grade options it looks like E and G are 3s, S is a 2, and N and U are a 1. So now you can’t tell the really amazing students from the good students? At least do it with 1-5… but then, why not just keep using the old system of letters? Heck, instead of 1, 2, and 3, why not just use :) :| and :( ? Wouldn’t the emoticons mean more to our new computer generation?

I can see a reason for providing more categories of grading so that specific standards can provided with a measurement. The huge breakdown of the ITBS makes it useful for showing the variety in a student’s abilities. Why not provide a similar breakdown on the standard report card?

If the only big changes are to provide more grades on lots of specific topics and changing the grading to 1, 2, 3. This is probably a half win. The more topics receiving specific grades is a good thing. Reducing the number of available grades is a bad thing. Why not just keep using the old 5 letter system and just provide grades for each standard?

Evil Old English Teacher

May 28th, 2009
4:34 pm

Nonsense. How on earth is standards mastery NOT reflected in the current system? Besides, grade inflation can occur if 1, 2, 3 system is used as well.

As for this whole: ‘don’t give them 0’s” crud I hear…well… let me ask you, gentle readers–if you decided not to do your job, would you get paid? of course not. So if a student does not do his/her homework, should (s)he get paid? I’m sorry, Tony. I know your heart is in the right place. I know we shouldn’t use behavior (not turning in work) to reflect grades, BUT if NCLB and educrats have made that the only currency that matters to anyone anymore, you leave us little choice.

This witchy, ol’ teacher says if you don’t do the work, you haven’t “mastered the skill.”


May 28th, 2009
7:32 pm

Let’s see, if the best reason anyone can come up with to use this system is that “…[ABC] grades are too easily manipulated in either direction” and that “…teachers often use zeroes as arbitrary punishment in a percentage grade system.”

Houston, I think we’ve found the problem. It’s not that the time tested A-B-C grading system is faulty, it’s that we can’t TRUST our school systems to do the job we taxpayers hired them to do.

Might want to work on that little issue before you go monkeying around with the grading system.

decatur parent

May 28th, 2009
9:13 pm

As a parent, I have no problem with this system for K through 3. Many private schools do not use letter grades in the early elementary grades. They may write a letter describing the student’s strengths and weaknesses.

But parents need some sort of objective measurement of their child’s progress at higher grades. And the CRCT is WORTHLESS. It is manipulated by the state and provides little objective information. why, why, will the state DOE not use a national norm based test as the primary standardized test? I learned more about my two children’s learning from scrutinizing the subtest scores on the ITBS than any test they ever took.


May 29th, 2009
12:06 am

Standards Based Learning, Learning Focus, Block Scheduling… you name it – they are all educational fads based on administrators looking for silver bullets in education. Teachers don’t inflate grades – adminstrators do in search of meeting unrealistic NCLB standards or wanting their schools to look good. It’s a simple matter of dictating grading formulas.

Switching to a “1-2-3″ moves away from what is traditionally understood by the majority of the population. The fad is only a way to obfuscate the problem. The A-B-C scale is well understood by all as noted by Stan. And zeros do reflect effort or lack there of.

I haven’t figured out what other grade to give a student who refuses to complete work or turns in a blank test – and at some point fairness to students who DO the work on time has to come into play. The real world doesn’t allow employees to do their work multiple times or when they get around to it.

Student effort reflects their capability or maybe give-a-crap factor and if they haven’t mastered 70% of the content, then they need to keep working at it. We give students ample opportunities to learn the material and sometimes that means having to repeat the course.


May 29th, 2009
7:50 am

The problem with this system as pointed out by parents whose kids are on it now, is that an achieving child gets the same “3″ as her child who struggles and doesn’t do as well in school. Is that acceptable? I have 3 kids in the school system and all are in different levels. If my oldest was on this system, he would have done the minimum to get the maximum grade, because he knew he could! Think of the screaming and yelling and agonizing at home that would have caused! Thank goodness my kids are past 3rd grade and the Cobb County School board has only had a day to not back out of their promise to not go beyond 3rd grade!

The other issue is when does it stop? Ok so it was used in through 2nd grade currently correct? Why did they feel the need to go to 3rd? Was it because when kids in 2nd were getting 3’s, and then went to 3rd grade they were all of a sudden getting 60’s, 70’s and nott 90’s or 100’s? Something makes me think that these kids and teachers had a rude awakening so the school board is covering the failure of this system but putting it to 3rd grade. So what happens when they go to 4th grade where things really start getting serious and they have been on this sytem through the 3rd grade and all of a sudden are coming home with grades that don’t reflect what they “thought they knew”.

The bottom line is it is an unproven system and I don’t know what “standard” this is based on, but I hope it is the standard of the system not the state!

high school teacher

May 29th, 2009
8:37 am

Do y’all remember a blog a couple weeks back about late work and whether it should be accepted? This system of 1-2-3 grading takes late work penalties away – either a child can master an essy or not; turning it in late is besides the point.

To better discuss this issue, we must first answer the question: What does a grade mean? Does a grade reflect what a student knows, or does it reflect what a student does? Are we about teaching mastery of skills and content or about compliance and jumping through hoops? The traditional grading system addresses both, though unfortunately has lent itself more to measuring compliance than mastery.

Personally, I am in favor of a standards based system. But society isn’t ready for that yet, and teachers aren’t either. How do we measue mastery? Let’s take a serious look at teacher assessments, especially in high school.

Maybe we should see how they do grades in California or New York or some state system in the Top 25.

david a boody teacher

June 26th, 2009
12:39 pm

have you noticed some errod in your students report card