Expert Objects to Rampant Subjectivity in Grading

Monday, September 21, 2009

Here are excerpts from The Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss, The Post's new education blog.

If you have ever rolled your eyes in disbelief when your child tells you a teacher gave him or her an unfair grade, you might want to think again.

Your child might be right.

Douglas B. Reeves, an expert on grading systems, conducted an experiment with more than 10,000 educators that he says proves just how subjective grades can be.

Reeves asked teachers and administrators in the United States, Australia, Canada and South America to determine a final semester grade for a student who received the following grades for assignments -- in this order:

C,C, MA (Missing Assignment), D, C, B, MA, MA, B, A.

He was given final semester grades from A to F, Reeves said.

Why? Because, he said, teachers use different criteria for grading. Some average only letter grades. Others take into consideration effort (which in this case seemed to be picking up toward the end) and attendance.

"If you went to a Redskins game -- the thing society takes really, really seriously -- and one official says a goal was scored and another official says no goal and a third official scratches his head, there would be hell to pay," said Reeves, founder of the Leadership and Learning Center, a Colorado company that provides professional development services, research and solutions to educators and others.

"But for some reason, we let grades be all over the map," he said.

The consequences, say Reeves and other experts on grading systems, are more than just a few unhappy students. Reeves said that ineffective grading can lead to widespread student failure and that good systems can help kids achieve.


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