Education Impact: Grading Practices

By Sarah Ostergaard

A grade serves many purposes: feedback, evaluation, motivation, assessment, achievement, a systematic communication of ability, and a demonstration of subject mastery. Grades matter when applying to colleges and for scholarships. Understanding the underlying assumptions in grade calculations is therefore very important. Does an A mean mastery and a D less so? Sometimes. Always? 

Most of us are accustomed to the 100-point grading scale (90-100 = A, 80-89 = B, 70-79 = C, 60-69 =D, 0-59 = F). There are well-meaning debates whether the 100 scale is equitable since a student has a greater numeric possibility of failing a course (points 0-59 on the 100-point scale) than passing a course (points 60-100 on the 10-point scale). A zero for each missed assignment can sink a grade, adversely affect opportunities to improve, and lower motivation or morale. Learning to recover is also important in a child’s psychological development. For those reasons and more, some schools are turning to a grading floor in which a student cannot earn less than a minimum grade for an assignment. 

Many factors affect a final quarter, semester, or yearlong grade, including but not limited to a grade floor. Is late work accepted? How many points, if any, are deducted for late work? May a student retake a test? Rewrite an essay? Is tutoring available? Number of total assignments? Weight of assignments? A zero has less impact if late work is accepted, for example. A failing grade on an essay could be improved with feedback and a rewrite. Such policies are usually teacher, department, or school discretion. 

School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties’ Board Policy IKA (issued 6/16) states the District’s purpose and intention regarding grades:  

“Students respond more positively to the opportunity for success than to the threat of failure. The district seeks, therefore, through learner objectives and its instructional program, to make achievement both recognizable and possible for students. The district should emphasize achievement in its process of evaluating student performance.”  

Board policies and administrative rules are publicly available on the LexRich5 School District website: 

Specifically, regarding the mechanics of grading, AR-IKA-R (issued 4/21) provides overarching details. For example, AR-IKA-R reiterates the SC Department of Education uniform grading scale GPA conversions: grade-level CP classes carry a 5.0 weight, Honors 5.5 weight, and IB/AP/Dual Enrollment 6.0 weight. As shown in the chart in AR-IKA-R, this means that a high school student earns the same GPA conversion with a 100 in a CP course, a 95 in an Honors course, or a 90 in an IB/AP/DE course. This accounts for the additional “rigor, complexity, challenges, and creativity” as the “level of difficulty” increases (AR-IKA-R).  

Nonetheless, there is not a uniform approach to individual grades state- or district-wide. This is not necessarily a bad thing; courses, assignments, students, and teachers all form unique relationships and growth can be stifled with too much heavy-handed, specific procedure. Further, the role of a school board is to create and enforce policies and the role of a district’s senior leadership, along with each school’s administration, is to implement procedures necessary to carry out the policies. Policy IKA sets forth the policy goal to “emphasize achievement.” A great teacher, supported by administration, can bring a subject to life for a student and spark an interest that carries the child well into productive adulthood – achievement. 

Regarding grade floors, WLTX News19 reported on this statewide issue August 10. The article explains “the grading floors are a common practice spanning from the Greenville school district all the way up to Charleston and into midlands districts as well” but also that the practice is not commonplace at every secondary school even within a district. 

Here in LexRich5, for example, Chapin High School, Dutch Fork High School, and Irmo High School do not have a minimum grade floor. Students there may receive zeros for assignments they do not do. Spring Hill High School has a grade floor of 25. At the middle school level, Chapin Middle School, Dutch Fork Middle School, and Irmo Middle School have a grade floor of 50. 

Ultimately, at their very core function, grades are a system of communication between a teacher and student about performance. To best understand what the grades convey, therefore, it is helpful to know how grades are calculated and what procedures guide these calculations.