The Danger of Prescriptive Grading

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4.0 GPA

Over the past several decades legislatures have enacted countless laws that have strangled teachers’ creativity, flexibility, and ability to respond to the needs of their students. Far too often, instead of being valued, policy makers devalue us and view teachers as replaceable cogs. Four states, Arkansas, Florida, West Virginia and South Carolina, have even gone beyond standardized grading scales; they’ve made prescriptive grading a law.

In attempting to create uniformity, these states established fixed percentages for each letter grade. In these states, it is illegal for teachers to use professional judgment when assigning grades. Driven by their mistrust of educators, legislators have defined percentages and grades.

In West Virginia and South Carolina, if a child scores a 93 or above he must earn an A. If he just misses that cut-off, he must receive a B. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Florida and Arkansas lawmakers also limited teacher discretion and professionalism, but they were a little more lenient to the students with the lowest A set at 90%.

Imagine you’re a teacher in one of these states. A student in your class earned a 71 for the first marking period, a 78 during the second marking period, an 82 for the third marking period, and for the final marking period she earned an 88. You’re impressed with the growth she’s shown and in your professional judgment she deserves a B. But you’re also a law-abiding citizen. What do you do? Remember, if you live in any of the four aforementioned states it is illegal to use your professional judgment.

Yes, it’s actually illegal for the this student to receive anything other than a C.

Is it any wonder teachers feel disrespected and devalued?

These laws demonstrate politicians’, and thus the public’s, mistrust of educators. Politicians’ desire for control further erodes the relationship between educators and politicians.

I’m always appreciative of the support we do receive, but I eagerly await the day when educators are universally trusted to do what’s best for our students.

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Reed Gillespie

Reed is a longtime educator and coach, who is passionate about progressive learning and 21st-century assessment practices. Read more of his work here. "I'm a co-moderator of #VAchat, a Twitter conversation for Virginia (and non-Virginian) educators that meets Monday's at 8 ET. Most importantly, I'm a father of four wonderful children and a couple grandchildren. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, reading, sports and, of course, spending time with family."

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