In this opinion piece, I’m going to argue for two specific changes to the way KO does grading, and refer to them collectively as “grading reform.” The two changes are: getting rid of letter-based grades and replacing them with number grades, and having teacher gradebooks be accessible to students at all times on a KO website.
For my first suggestion: away with letter grades. There are many reasons why letter grades are not helpful. First off, they don’t show personal growth. If your average in a certain class increased from a 90.0% to a 92.0%, that should be recorded. However, under a letter grading system, your course average is still the exact same: an A-. Shouldn’t grades, at the very least, be able to measure our progress during a given time period in a class? Letter grades don’t allow this, so you, the student, can’t see what’s working and what isn’t working in your courses. Number grades show growth; letters don’t.
My second contention with letter grades is that they are too subjective. If I asked five people what an A-, A, and A+ should be, I’m sure I would get more than three different answers. If I were in favor of letter grades, I would say that the cutoffs for each grade should be equally spaced: so an A- is a 90–93.33, an A is a 93.34–96.66, and an A+ is a 96.67–100. (This would apply the same to the other letters too) But that isn’t what is generally a given. Some people told me that only 100s should be A+, or that a 90 isn’t actually an A, it should be a B+. Depending on the school, a certain number grade could result in two different letter grades on your report card due to subjectivity. Get rid of the subjectivity. Use number grades.
My third point here is that grades aren’t specific enough. Somebody who achieved a low A- and someone with a high A- are indistinguishable on a transcript. Students should receive the exact grade that they earned, and number grades allow this. They’re universal in the sense that there isn’t any grouping or clumping; your grade is your grade. Getting rid of letter grades also means that there won’t be any rounding issues. An 89.45 isn’t high enough to be rounded to an A- by most teachers; after all, there has to be a cutoff somewhere, and with letter grades, a B+ would show up on your transcript. With number grades, your exact grade would be displayed on the transcript, so you don’t have to worry about grade rounding.
My second recommendation for making teachers’ gradebooks accessible to students at all times, online. This one is a bit more of a change, and many people think that this would be bad for students. But it’s better for everyone. First, it lessens student stress. While it could reasonably be argued that this would be bad for stress, in my own experience, online gradebooks are less stress-inducing. First of all, you can know your grade at all times, obviously. If you have ever lied awake at night, wondering if your last math test negatively affected your grade, you could easily go online and check the cause of your insomnia. You also could find your worries realized if it did affect your grade, but I’d rather know than sit there wondering.
While it is true that you can already do this in some form, there is a major difference between having to ask your teachers and being able to check yourself. An online portal would allow you more control over your academic life. An online grade book would allow you to not only know your grade, but also to feel more organized and connected to what you’re studying. Currently, you only really get an official description of your performance four times a year, so one can easily feel as if their efforts aren’t having an effect on their grades, which is bad. Students should feel a connection to their grades, as a measure of hard work. An online grade book would make students feel a better connection between what they’re learning and their grades because they could instantly see the results of their hard work in the grade book.
In short, I think that KO needs some changes to the way that we do grading. Both of these improvements would improve transparency and help students in many ways.