Sunday, December 5, 2010

The pros and cons of letter versus number grades

Here's an interesting post from the ever-popular blogger ProfHacker courtesy of the Chronicle of Higher Ed:

Using Letter Grades


Some advantages:


  • I suspect students expect letter grades for the kinds of assignments and exams I give (primarily essay, in both cases).
  • Students know immediately how to interpret the grades.


Some disadvantages:


  • It’s not always easy to know how to mark an assignment that’s borderline between two grades, or how to record it. (How do you easily enter an A-/B+ into a spreadsheet, if that’s how you keep your gradebook?)
  • If you expect students to keep track of their own progress through the semester, letter grades can make that task difficult. They’ll have to do the conversion to the four-point scale, set up the calculation, etc.


Using Numbers


Some advantages:


  • Record keeping is easier (numbers work a lot better than letters in a spreadsheet formula).
  • It’s easier for students to keep track of their own grades and progress than it sometimes is with letters.
  • There’s a bit more fine-tuning possible with assigning and recording borderline grades. Not sure if a paper is a B+ or an A-? Admittedly, there’s still a difference between an 89 and a 90, but using numerical grades makes that difference smaller than the four-point scale would. For that matter, a spreadsheet will understand 89.5 just fine, so A-/B+ can be an actual grade.


Some disadvantages:


  • I sometimes feel as though I’m quantifying things that really aren’t quantifiable.
  • Students aren’t always accustomed to thinking of grades in numerical terms.
  • If students do start thinking in terms of “A 92 is an A-, but a 93 is an A,” they may be more likely to argue about the grade (instead of realizing that, over the course of the semester, there’s precious little difference between a 92 and a 93 on one assignment).

You can read the rest here.


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