Stability and Change in High School Grades by Thomas R. Guskey (2011)

I was interested in looking at current grading practices and came across the article “Stability and Change in High School Grades” by Thomas R. Guskey (2011). The study looks at the inconsistency and subjectivity associated with grades. Guskey notes that “what one teacher considers in determining students’ grades may differ greatly from the criteria used by other teachers… even in schools where established grading policies offer guidelines for assigning grades” (2011, p. 85). This can be detrimental to Grade 11 and 12 students who are competing for scholarships and admission into post-secondary institutions. Initial marks also impact what classes Grades 9 and 10 students choose to enroll in. Guskey (2011) notes that initial grades have an impact “on students’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivation” and can also lead to student drop-outs (p. 85-6). The study looked at over 1000 high school students and considered gender, socio-economic background, native language, and ability. Across the board, “these first grades set the stage for all that is to come,” and placed students in categories that are almost impossible to alter because of student and teacher perceptions (Guskey, 2011, p. 86). Females also received higher marks than boys and similarly, students in higher socio-economic classes received higher marks than those students from less privileged backgrounds (Guskey, 2011, p. 91). In the end, the study showed that we can “predict high school students’ final course grades based on evidence gather during the second week of the academic term” and based on their gender, ability, financial circumstance, etc. (Guskey, 2011, p. 95). Therefore, grades are a hindrance to the learning process, rather than a benefit since they can inaccurately be allotted and define students in rigid categories.

This study makes me wonder why girls often receive higher marks than boys? Furthermore, why do students get stuck in a grade category? Is it because of teacher practices or student motivation or both? What can we do to close the achievement gap? Why do students in different economic and cultural groups get placed in different grade categories? When should we mark students first? What method can be used to replace grading students? How can we create a consistent grading system that provides all students an equal opportunity, regardless of where they live?

I do not think there are any easy answers. But on the bright side, Guskey notes that when feedback is given with grades, students’ “grades on subsequent assessments significantly improved” (2011, p. 86). Some other interesting ideas to get students beyond their initial grade category was to ignore “low quiz scores,” allow for re-dos, consider marks “from a previous marking period,” or weight course material differently (2011, p. 87-8). These are just some of the ways that initial grades can be overcome. In the end, I think we need to stop pretending that a single grade can tell us what students are capable of and we need to practice other ways to monitor and report progress.

For further information: Guskey, T. R. (2011). Stability and change in high school grades. NASSP Bulletin, 95(2), 85-98. doi:10.1177/0192636511409924

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