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Encyclopedia > Grading in the United States

In the United States, grading is done with several different systems. A grade in education can mean either a teachers evaluation of a students work or a students level of educational progress, usually one grade per year (often denoted by an ordinal number, such as the 3rd Grade or the 12th Grade). This article is about evaluation of...


The A-F system

In many countries including the United States, grades are given on an A-F system where A is best and F is worst. Some schools have E as the lowest grade, rather than F. The letter E is typically omitted, since an F can be turned into an E by drawing a small line at the bottom of the letter, and because E traditionally stood for Excellent (see the section on the The E-S-N-U system) but would be very poor on an A-F system. A few US institutions do use the letter E for "conditional failure," which automatically becomes an F unless the instructor takes specific action in the next semester. In practice, even at institutions whose grading systems have this grade, it is very rarely used. An F grade is failing and results in denial of course credit, while a D is poor, but passing.

Most US colleges require grades of C or better in those courses directly related to one's major for undergraduate programs, as well as a 2.0 (C) overall grade-point average in such undergraduate programs. For graduate programs, it is typical to require an overall grade-point average of at least a 3.0 (B). Also, for such graduate programs, it is quite common to not accept any D grades for credit, and not uncommon to tolerate only a modest number of course credits in which C's (including any C+ or C- grades; see below regarding adding signs to grades) were earned. (In fact, some US graduate-level programs don't even award D-level grades, considering anything below C-level performance as failing work to be noted with an F.) This A-F grading system in brief is outlined below: An academic major is a mainly U.S. term for a university students main field of specialisation during his or her bachelors degree studies. ...

  • A (Outstanding)
  • B (Above Average)
  • C (Average)
  • D (Lowest Acceptable)
  • F (Failure)

Many US instutions where the A-F system is used for undergraduate courses use E-G-S-U for "Excellent", "Good", "Satisfactory", and "Unsatisfactory" in graduate-level courses. In most cases a grade of "S" in fact is not at all satisfactory, and is only given for work that is considered to fall well below the standards expected of graduate students at that institution.

By contrast, many institutions in Canada do include an E grade, which is a "near-fail" or "conditional pass" and may require mandated tutoring or partial repetition of the course.

In some cases, plus and minus modifiers (sometimes just plus modifiers) are applied to grades to provide intermediate recognition of performance. An A-, for example, would be lower than an A but higher than a B+. Some educational institutions do not include A+'s, while others do. Furthermore, pluses and minuses are not always applied to the F grade. Usually an F+ is similar to Canada's E (and is often expressed as a "marginal fail"). An F- — or sometimes FF, or particularly in England and Wales, G — is usually a grade given for exceptionally poor performance, academic dishonesty, or failure to produce any work ("Nothing of Merit" or "No Work Submitted"). Royal motto (French): Dieu et mon droit (Translated: God and my right) Englands location (dark green) within the United Kingdom (light green), with the Republic of Ireland (blue) to its west Languages English Capital London Largest city London Area – Total Ranked 1st UK 130,395 km² Population – Total (mid... For an explanation of often confusing terms such as Great Britain, Britain, United Kingdom, England and Wales and England, see British Isles (terminology). ... Academic dishonesty is a form of cheating that occurs within an educational setting. ...

In the Canadian province of Ontario, another system is placed that replaces the A-F system. This system was instituted by the provincial government in around 2001. It is very much the same as the A-F system but uses numbers instead of letters. It goes like this: Motto: Ut Incepit Fidelis Sic Permanet (Latin: Loyal she began, loyal she remains) Official languages English Flower White trillium Capital Toronto Largest city Toronto Lieutenant-Governor James K. Bartleman Premier Dalton McGuinty (Liberal) Parliamentary representation  - House seat  - Senate seats 106 24 Area Total  - Land  - Water    (% of total)  Ranked 4th 1... 2001: A Space Odyssey. ...

  • 4 = A or excellent (exceeds provincial standard)
  • 3 = B or good (meets provincial standard)
  • 2 = C or average (approaches provincial standard)
  • 1 = D or poor (falls much below the provincial standard)
  • R = F or Remedial (20-49%)
  • I = Incomplete (0%)

The system also adopts the +s and -s of the A-F system. So a 4- is about equal to a A-. Some teachers may also attribute the +s and -s to the R, meaning that an R+ is an almost fail, and an R- meaning no work or work of inferior quality. Some teachers have been known to become overzealous and give students 5s for spectacular achievement and -1s for below what is possible. These are usually converted to 4+s and R-s on the report card. The students' marks in Canada are also weighed differently, the marks are divided in four categories, Knowledge, Thinking and Inquiry, Communication and Application. The categories are worth different amounts depending on the course. For example, a knowledge-heavy course such as math would have Knowledge worth more than Communication while an English class would be the opposite. Lastly, in secondary school, the categories are equal to around 70% with the exam and culminating performance task worth the other 30% of the mark. Also a student may not get lower than a 20% in a class as long as the student hands in work. Secondary can mean: An ordinal adjective indicating Second or second hand, see Primary The secondary in American football refers to the group of (usually four) defensive backs. ...

The English system is very similar to the A-F system, but with the inclusion of the grades G, U and at GCSE level A*. A* (at GCSE) or A (at A level) is the highest, C is average, E is the minimum pass mark and U being unacceptable. Modifiers such as B- or B+ are not used as extensively as in the US and final qualification grades are never expressed as such. FF is never used. GCSE is an acronym that can refer to: General Certificate of Secondary Education global common subexpression elimination - an optimisation technique used by some compilers This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title. ... The A-level, short for Advanced Level, is a General Certificate of Education qualification, usually taken by students in the final two years of secondary education (after GCSEs). ...

The system in Hong Kong is similar to the A-F system at the university level. At the secondary and matriculation levels, i.e. the HKCEE and HKALE, the grades E and U are included. A is the highest, C is average, E is the minimum pass mark, and U being unacceptable. Prior to 2002 each grades are further subdivided into two subgrades. The Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE, 香港中學會考) is a standardized, area-wide benchmarking examination conducted by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA), is normally taken by a student at Form 5, the end of his/her five-year secondary education in Hong Kong. ... The Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination (HKALE, 香港高級程度會考), or more commonly known as A-level, conducted by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA), is normally taken by a senior student at the end of his/her less-than-two-year matriculationary courses in Hong Kong SAR, China. ...

Percentage-based grading

In objective subjects such as mathematics, grades are normally computed according to percentages such as class attendance, homework completion, and test averages. A weighted average of these variables is used to compute one percentage, which is the index from which grades are determined. In statistics, given a set of data, X = { x1, x2, ..., xn} and corresponding weights, W = { w1, w2, ..., wn} the weighted mean is calculated as Note that if all the weights are equal, the weighted mean is the same as the arithmetic mean. ...

In subjective disciplines where essay exams and papers are more common, grades are sometimes represented numerically, other times with letter grades.

The specific conversion of percentages to letter grades varies according to the class. In classes with very difficult problem sets, it's not unheard of for the cutoff for passing to be 20%, and that for an A grade to be given at 50%.

Usually, though, primary and secondary schools use fixed systems. The traditional system is the "Tens System", written as (90/80/70/60). In other words, the lowest A (or A/B line) is at 90%, while the lowest D (or D/F line) is at 60%. In order either to set a higher standard or correct for grade inflation, however, some schools use the "Nines System" (92/83/74/65) or "Eights System" (either 93/85/77/70 or 94/86/78/70). Usually, the system employed does not make grading easier, since difficulty of exam questions will be calibrated to the grading system; indeed, exams in a school using the Tens System will often be more difficult than those in schools using the other systems. Primary is an adjective meaning first or first hand. It may refer to: Primary education or Primary school Primary care. ... Secondary can mean: An ordinal adjective indicating Second or second hand, see Primary The secondary in American football refers to the group of (usually four) defensive backs. ... The Tens System is the informal name for the most common grading scale used at educational institutions in the United States. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... The Nines System is the informal name for a grading scale often used at educational institutions in English-speaking countries, particularly the United States. ... The Eights System is the informal name for one of the three most common grading scales used at educational institutions in the United States. ...

The Tens System is used in Canada but the A-F system (or in the case of Ontario, the 0-4 system) values are different from those of the United States. It goes as follows:

  • A = 80 or higher
  • B = 70-79
  • C = 60-69
  • D = 50-59
  • F = 49 or lower

The pluses and minuses are taken into account also, so a plus is closer to the higher end of the score or the minus is at the lower end of the score. The percentage system is not used in primary schools, as all marks shown on tests, assignments and on the report card are shown with the A-F or 0-4 system depending on province. Percentage may also be provided along with tests. In senior elementary or secondary schools, tests and assignments are provided with both the mark on the present system in the province and also with the percentage. On the report card, only the percentage is shown on the final mark. Primary is an adjective meaning first or first hand. It may refer to: Primary education or Primary school Primary care. ...

Various rubrics exist for assigning pluses and minuses, usually assigning them to roughly the top and bottom third of a grade level, with the "base" grade (that is to say, the one that does not carry either a plus or minus sign) being widest if the number of points in the entire letter grade are not evenly divisible by three. For example, under the Tens System, the plus grades will most commonly end in 7, 8 or 9 while the minus grades will end in 0, 1 or 2, with the base grades ending in 3, 4, 5 or 6. In the Nines System the plus, base and minus bands are typically equal (spanning three points each) while plus and minus formats under the Eights System vary widely; often the base grade will consist of four points and the plus and minus grades will consist of two points each, but this is far from universal. If "A+" is omitted (and it often will be if the institution does operate under the grade-point system), the "A" and "A−" grades may cover the same number of points (or the "A" will contain one more point if their sum is an odd number), or the "A−" range may not be larger than those of the plus and minus grades found elsewhere along the grading scale, and the "A" range will be twice a large as that of the other base grades.

Rank-based grading

Informally, grading "on the curve" refers to any system wherein the group performance is used to moderate evaluation — grading need not be strictly or purely rank-based. In the most severe form, students are ranked and grades are assigned according to a student's rank, placing students in direct competition with one another.

The following is an example of a grade distribution commonly used when this sort of grading is employed.

Grade percentage
A 7%
B 24%
C 38%
D 24%
F 7%

These percentages derive from a normal distribution model of educational performance. An "A" is given here for performance that exceeds the mean by +1.5 standard deviations, a "B" for performance between +0.5 and +1.5 standard deviations above the mean, and so on. The normal distribution, also called Gaussian distribution, is an extremely important probability distribution in many fields. ... In statistics, mean has two related meanings: the average in ordinary English, which is more correctly called the arithmetic mean, to distinguish it from geometric mean or harmonic mean. ... In probability and statistics, the standard deviation is the most common measure of statistical dispersion. ...

"Grade-rationing": the case for rank-based grading

Rank-based grading is popular among some American educators, usually under the euphemism of "grade-rationing". The arguments for grade-rationing are that A euphemism is an expression intended by the speaker to be less offensive, disturbing, or troubling to the listener than the word or phrase it replaces, or in the case of doublespeak to make it less troublesome for the speaker. ...

  • grade inflation represents a serious problem in education, that can only be counteracted by the enforcement of rank-based standards, and
  • since many corporations used rank-based evaluation measures, sometimes even related to termination (see: rank and yank) such grading prepares students for the "real world".

To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... A corporation (usually known in the United Kingdom and Ireland as a company) is a legal entity (distinct from a natural person) that often has similar rights in law to those of a Civil law systems may refer to corporations as moral persons; they may also go by the name... An individual can face termination of employment, or job loss, for one of many reasons. ... A vitality curve is a leadership construct whereby certain proportions of a producing population are credited with certain proportions of the production. ... The term Real World or real world may mean: the stage of life that one enters after completing ones schooling, as in the sentence, After students enter the real world, they may not be able to sleep late as often as they did while in school. ...

Case against rank-based grading

Despite near-universal concerns about grade inflation, rank-based grading systems are mostly out-of-favor in the contemporary United States. When rank-based systems are used, in education or employment situations, cutthroat behavior and cheating become rampant. In some situations, high-scoring students are disliked by their classmates for "raising the curve". Cited as a case against rank-based evaluation specific to employment, Enron used a rank-based evaluation scale; the cutthroat environment created there resulted in the disgrace and downfall of the corporation. Some predict that analogous problems, on a more minor scale (cheating, theft of reserved materials) will occur in schools that use rank-based grading. Enron Corporation is an energy company based in Houston, Texas. ...

Critiques of this justification of rank-based grading assert that it is simply a way for universities and colleges to maximize their revenues. Implementation of stringent rank-based evaluations, where only 30% of the entering class are permitted to graduate, are a very clever way to collect tuition from a vastly larger student population than they ever intend to graduate. Applicants are often baited into a program that promises job security and then switched into one of the institution's less desirable majors due to "poor academic performance". However, if all of one's classmates are in the top 30%, then only the top 10% would be allowed to graduate.

More selective schools like Harvard Medical School perform their "cuts" before admission. Harvard is more concerned that they get the best and then give them the best education. A purely rank-based system would mean that half of those that Harvard considers the smartest people in the world would receive a grade of C or lower. This could result in "real life" undermining of performance by other students. According to critics, the real world is rich with opportunities to learn about the rank order grading system.

Another criticism of rank-based grading is that it only measures performance in a given group, but not the real potential or abilities of a given student. There is no actual evidence that a given group really performs "along the curve", the overall level of the group might be better or worse, or the distribution does not match the pattern at all. For example in a generally good class the pressure to assign grades along the curve would produce an artificial 7% of F-students, although all students actually performed quite well. This also works the other way round: in a class with generally bad performance the students whose performances are not totally bad would be singled out to form an artificial group of A-students, although in another context they would never get these grades. Essentially, this criticism means that rank-based grades become meaningless when taken out of the context of a given class or school. This would mean that these grades are useless to compare students of different institutions, as it is done with of college applicants, job applications etc. The most important reason for issuing grades at all would therefore become meaningless.

Grade point average

Grade point average (GPA) is a number that represents the average of a student's grades during his or her time at an institution. Usually it is weighted by number of credits given for the course.

Most high schools and nearly all colleges in the United States use a "four-point" system. Universities in Hong Kong and some schools in Singapore also use this system. Numerical values are applied to grades as follows: High school - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia /**/ @import /skins-1. ... The term college (Latin collegium) is most often used today to denote an educational institution. ...

  • A = 4
  • B = 3
  • C = 2
  • D = 1
  • F = 0
  • FF/G (if given) = -1

This allows grades to be easily averaged. Additionally, many schools add .3 for a "+" grade and subtract .3 for a "−" grade. Thus, a B+ yields a 3.3 whereas an A− yields a 3.7. A+'s, if given, are usually assigned a value of 4.0 (equivalent to an A) due to the common assumption that a 4.00 is the best possible grade-point average, although 4.3 is awarded at some institutions. In some places, .25 or .33 instead of .3 is added for a "+" grade and subtracted for a "−" grade.

Some high schools, to reflect the varying skill required for different level courses and to discourage students from selecting "easy A's", will give higher numerical grades for difficult courses, often referred to as a weighted GPA. For example, two common conversion systems used in honors and advanced placement courses are: Advanced Placement (AP) is the term used to describe high school classes that are taught at a college level. ...

  • A = 5 or 4.6
  • B = 4 or 3.5
  • C = 3 or 2.1
  • D = 1
  • F = 0

Another policy commonly used by 4.0-scale schools is to mimic the eleven-point weighted scale (see below) by adding a .33 (one third of a letter grade) to an honors or advanced placement class. (For example, a B in a regular class would be a 3.0, but in an honors or AP class it would become a B+, or 3.33).

Sometimes the 5-based weighting scale is used for AP courses and the 4.6-based scale for honors courses, but often a school will choose one system and apply it universally to all advanced courses. A small number of high schools use a 5 point scale for Honors courses, a 6 point scale for AP courses, and/or a 3 point scale for courses of below average difficulty.

A few high schools in the United States use an "eleven-point" system. In this system, one point is usually added to "weight" a more challenging course. Numerical values are applied to grades as follows:

  • A = 11
  • A- = 10
  • B+ = 9
  • B = 8
  • B- = 7
  • C+ = 6
  • C = 5
  • C- = 4
  • D+ = 3
  • D = 2
  • D- = 1
  • F = 0

The E-S-N-U system

At one time (until roughly the mid-20th Century), the most popular grading system in the United States used four letters, which ranked, in descending order:

  • E (excellent)
  • S (satisfactory)
  • N (needs improvement)
  • U (unsatisfactory)

This system has largely been replaced by the A-F system dealt with previously, but is still encountered quite often at the elementary school level, particularly in kindergarten and Grades 1 through 3 (this educational level being frequently referred to as primary school). It is also occasionally used at schools for older children, including high schools, in the issuance of "conduct" or "citizenship" grades. Primary or elementary education is the first years of formal, structured education that occurs during childhood. ... A kindergarten in Afghanistan. ... Primary or elementary education is the first years of formal, structured education that occurs during childhood. ... High school - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia /**/ @import /skins-1. ...

There are a few variations to this system, including the use of an "O" (for "outstanding") grade, which is even higher than the "E"; a "G" (for "good") placed between the "E" and the "S"; the use of a "G" (again for "good") instead of the "E"; and the lack of a "U" grade.

Plus and minus grades are seldom used in this system, and on most of the occasions where they do exist, only the "S" grade may be so modified (with an "S+" and "S−" being available in addition to the base grade of "S").

A similar system is used to rank practical work in the certain science department of Oxford University; however only with the grades S (Satisfactory) S+ (more than satisfactory, and may be used in the allocation of degree grades) and NS (Not Satisfactory). The University of Oxford, located in the city of Oxford in England, is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. ...

De-emphasis of grades

A number of reputable liberal-arts colleges in the U.S. either do not issue grades at all (such as Antioch College, Bennington College, the New College of Florida, and Hampshire College) or de-emphasize them (St. John's College). In all cases, the rationale is that grades often do not provide a clear picture of academic aptitude or of potential for success, and that learning, not achieving the highest score, should be the goal of a liberal education. In many cases, narrative evaluations are used as an alternative measurement system. A liberal arts college is an institution of higher education found in the United States, offering programs in the liberal arts at the post-secondary level. ... Antioch College is a private, independent liberal arts college in Yellow Springs, Ohio. ... Bennington College is a liberal arts college located in Bennington, Vermont. ... New College of Florida State University System of Florida FAMU FAU FGCU FIU FSU NCF UCF UF UNF USF UWF New College of Florida is a small, nationally recognized, public liberal arts college, located in Sarasota on the former Charles Ringling estate. ... Hampshire College is an experimenting private liberal arts college in Amherst, Massachusetts. ... St. ... In education, narrative evaluation is a form of performance measurement and feedback which can be used as an alternative or supplement to grading. ...

See also

Grade (education) A grade in education can mean either a teachers evaluation of a students work or a students level of educational progress, usually one grade per year (often denoted by an ordinal number, such as the 3rd Grade or the 12th Grade). This article is about evaluation of...



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