Time to Pull the Plug on Traditional Grading?

Grading illustration of machine calculating test grades

Education Next | Fall 2022

Letter-based grading became universal in U.S. public schools by the 1940s. Today, protocols for handing out grades of A–F on a 100-point scale vary from district to district and classroom to classroom. Generally, grading attempts to distill students’ performance on what education researcher Thomas R. Guskey calls a “hodgepodge” of measures—quizzes, tests, homework, conduct, participation, extra credit, and more—rather than gauging actual student learning.

The process is inconsistent at best, inequitable at worst, critics argue. Reform efforts made over the past two generations—such as the push for portfolio grading that gained traction in the 1980s—largely foundered, as they were viewed as too cumbersome to scale up to large districts and schools.

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