A critique of grading: Policies, practices, and technical matters

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In recent years there was been a raft of criticisms of the way that grades (or marks) are assigned to students. The purpose of this paper is to examine the strengths and weaknesses of grading systems and grading practices, drawing upon both historical and contemporary research and writing. Five questions are used to frame the review and organize the paper. They are: (1) Why do we grade students? (2) What do grades mean? (3) How reliable are students’ grades? (4) How valid are students’ grades? and (5) What are the consequences of grading students?  The results suggest that (1) The are several purposes for grading students; the way that grades are assigned and reported should be consistent with the specified purpose. (2) Grades mean different things to different people (including the teachers who assign them). (3) Grades on a single task (e.g., a test or project, a homework assignment) are quite unreliable, whereas cumulative grades (that is, those based on several data sources) are reasonably reliable. (4) The validity of grades on a single task is virtually impossible to determine; however, the evidence suggests that cumulative grades are reasonably valid. (5) Grades influence a variety of student affective characteristics (e.g., self-esteem). However, their influence is no greater, nor less than, a host of other school-related factors.


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How to Cite
Anderson, L. W. (2018). A critique of grading: Policies, practices, and technical matters. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 26, 49. https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.26.3814
Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Educational Evaluation
Author Biography

Lorin W. Anderson, University of South Carolina (Emeritus)

Lorin W. Anderson is a Carolina Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of South Carolina, where he served on the faculty from August, 1973, until his retirement in August, 2006. During his tenure at the University he taught graduate courses in research design, classroom assessment, curriculum studies, and teacher effectiveness. He received his Ph.D. in Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistical Analysis from the University of Chicago, where he was a student of Benjamin S. Bloom. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor’s degree from Macalester College. Professor Anderson has authored and/or edited 18 books and has had 40 journal articles published. His most recognized and impactful works are Increasing Teacher Effectiveness, Second Edition, published by UNESCO in 2004, and A Taxonomy of Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, published by Pearson in 2001. He is a co-founder of the Center of Excellence for Preparing Teachers of Children of Poverty, which is celebrating its 14th anniversary this year. In addition, he has established a scholarship program for first-generation college students who plan to become teachers.