Why change a university grading scale?

LettersI recently mentioned the 2014 paper by Schinske and Tanner that is a great review on various aspects of grading, including some of the history of grading in higher education.

Schinske and Tanner highlighted the fact that grades were developed as a method for universities to communicate (e.g., between schools). This is still an important function that grades play today (within/between schools, and beyond), and there are clear benefits from having a valid, reliable grading system. In the early 20th century, percentage (100-point) scales were frequently used (Cureton, 1971).  The letter grade system adopted at Harvard was apparently a result of faculty members’ concerns about the reliability of grades measured on a percentage scale, and it was believed that a letter grade system (with 5-categories) would provide increased reliability. 

Even today, issues with reliability (as well as validity) of grading exist. (Schinske and Tanner discuss this as well.)  Thus, I found it a bit surprising last fall when the University of Windsor (where I currently teach) switched from a letter grade/point system (a 13 point scale) to a percentage system for final grades. I could understand if this shift were bringing the school’s grade reporting in line with many others in the same region (e.g., within a province or country); with different grading systems/scales used by various universities, it can be challenging to make comparisons between students from different schools for things like scholarships, professional school applications, etc. However, from my observations (and the OMSAS Undergraduate Conversion Chart), the percentage system isn’t the most widely used grading scale in Ontario, nor across Canada.

I’m not sure why the change to a percentage grade system was made. It is possible that the rationale was  provided in some form, but that I didn’t receive it, or have overlooked it. I’ve asked colleagues here, who also didn’t know. Some (quick) searching of the university website hasn’t pulled up anything helpful, but again, it could be there and I’m not finding it (as my search terms are pretty common words on a university website). Although I’ll be a bit embarrassed if someone posts a link to something that explains it, I’d still appreciate knowing!

A few questions come to mind: Why did this university change from letter grades to percentages? Is this something that has happened at other institutions? Are there schools that have recently taken the opposite approach (moving from percentages to a point system)? (From the OMSAS chart, I’m guessing that Dalhousie and the University of Toronto made changes, but I don’t know in which direction.) Have any changes in grading systems/scales been accompanied by initiatives relating to how grades are determined?

As ever, I’m interested in seeing your comments (and, hopefully, answers to some of my questions)!

References:
Cureton L.W. 1971. The history of grading practices. NCME Measurement in Educ. 2(4):1-8. Link to pdf.
Schinske, J., and Tanner, K. 2014. Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently). CBE-Life Sciences Education 13(2): 159-166.
http://www.lifescied.org/content/13/2/159.short

 

Advertisements

BYOD and classroom web response systems – my intersession experience

Lecture ToolsI recently finished teaching an intersession introductory microbiology course. It was a relatively small class (at least, for me) – just over 50 students – and it was a blended, flipped class. (I may post more about the flipping/blending later.) For the in-person classes, I used a couple of Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) web-based classroom interaction systems: Lecture Tools and Learning Catalytics. (In previous offerings of the course, I used clickers.)  In this post, I’ll refer to these types of systems as WRS (Web Response Systems). We had access to both systems (at no cost to the students*), and used Lecture Tools regularly.

As I discussed in an earlier post, I had hoped I could use this experience to help me make decisions about moving away from clickers to a WRS. The fact that I met my students in class for only three hours once a week for six weeks was perhaps not the best way to gather a lot of data, but it was nice to try out new technology in a smaller class. Here are some of the things I observed/learned: Read the rest of this entry »


Thinking (and reading) about grading

I just finished my intersession course (yay!), and am trying to catch up on some reading. Schinske and Tanner’s “Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently)” paper, recently published in CBE-Life Sciences Education includes lots of good stuff: a brief history of grading in higher ed, purposes of grading (feedback and motivation to students; comparing students; measuring student knowledge/mastery) and ending with “strategies for change” to help instructors who want to maximize benefits of grading while reducing the pitfalls. There are many interesting points and suggestions in this paper, and hopefully it will be one of the ones we discuss in an upcoming oCUBE journal club meeting.

In the meantime … anyone else want to chat about some of the stuff discussed in the paper? <:-)

Reference:
Schinske, J., and Tanner, K. 2014. Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently). CBE-Life Sciences Education 13(2): 159-166.
http://www.lifescied.org/content/13/2/159.short