Minimum grading is defined as setting a limit on the lowest grade a student can make. This is not a new idea, but it has been implemented across schools fairly recently. Insert a sentence about what fairly recently means. This was introduced because educators became concerned when they observed a massive flaw in our widely-used 100 point grading scale: this scale skews to one side, the failing side. Every letter grade that falls on this scale is allotted 10 points—except a failing grade is given 64 points.
Given that grades are averaged in a set, a student’s grade can be unfairly and massively influenced by one mistake. Another reason the minimum grading system was introduced was to help students’ mental health. Students’ emotional states are heavily impacted when they either see their average drop significantly because of one mistake, or they see a remarkably low grade; they lose confidence in themselves and any motivation to try and bring it up. Many people are in favor of introducing minimum grading; however, there are many against the idea.
For instance, Carey and Carifio (2012) mentioned that the governor of Texas outlawed this grading practice when 1000 of 1139 of Texas’ school districts were trying to adopt this new educational initiative (p. 202). Critics say that minimum grading merely assigns a student unearned grades and is thus an example of grade inflation. Critics also state that minimum grading will result in social promotion, promoting a student even if they have not mastered the necessary material to move on to the next grade. This study focuses on invalidating those assertions made by the opponents of this practice.
The study aims to test the claim that minimum grading leads to social promotion. In order to do this, Carey and Carifio chose to perform an ex post facto study, and retroactively sifted through existing data to compare students’ school-issued grades with their results on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). The school in question is a large urban high school in Massachusetts that previously instituted a minimum grading policy before it became such a largely-contested topic (for the purposes of this article, the high school is referred to as “Mill City High School”).
Mill City High School utilized this grading practice for seven years prior to the study. In order to understand this study more, one must examine exactly how the subject school implemented the grading system. Mill City High School requires its students to take a semester-long class that is broken up into two quarters, with the class grade being an average of the two quarters. For one quarter of each semester (or half the semester), minimum grading was not in effect. This quarter-style method of assigning grades is significant because it differs greatly from many other grading methods in the United States; in many classrooms, all grades inform a semester’s overall average (usually with weight given to more important grades). At Mill City High School, all class grades for one quarter were on the minimum grading scale (making the lowest possible average a 50), and all class grades from the other quarter were not on the minimum grading scale (making the lowest possible average a 0). The semester’s overall average was only taken from these two quarter averages, instead of from all grades over the course of the class session.
The study conducted two different set of data analysis. For the first prong of this study, Carey and Carifio (2012) set out to find out how often minimum grades were assigned and how often a passing grade in the class followed the assigning of a minimum grade. To find this out, they examined data from all of the grades issued from the fall of 2003 through the spring of 2010. They sorted through 343,425 grades assigned to 10,958 students attending this high school. Of the 343,425 grades assigned 8.5% (29,187) sets of the grades began with the assigning of a 50 (the lowest grade possible). Of this group of people, only 1,159 ended with a passing grade in the class (p. 204). This data is easily interpretable, and it indicates that minimum grading is not leading to significant number of courses of being passed that would not be otherwise.
For the second prong of this study, the authors chose to address critics’ claims that minimum grading leads to social promotion. They evaluated this assertion by comparing students’ grade point averages (making sure to include both those that had received a minimum grad and those who had not) with the MCAS tests. The assumption was that if a set of students had a similar grade point average, both affected by the practice and not, they should score similarly on a standard outside assessment. Carey and Carifio (2012) ended up with 449 students that had been assigned a minimum grade and 739 students who had not. When these two sets of students were compared, there was an overwhelmingly definite result; “Students who had received minimum grades were outperforming their peers who had never received a minimum grad on the state on the state exams that measure academic achievement…[These results are] consistent with views that, even after minimum grading has taken place, the grades assigned to the struggling students are still under-reporting the academic achievement of these struggling students when compared to the grades assigned to their better performing peers” (p. 206)
This study was conducted fairly well, as it included a multitude of statistical equations in order to make sure the data they included was relevant and did not skew their results beyond standard deviation; however, this study was conducted on one large urban high school in Massachusetts. This study could have been less focused on one specific school in order to get a multitude of data points. This would have added more validation to the results and conclusions from this study. The authors themselves point out that there were many things left unexplored in the study such as the positive mental health benefits from minimum grading. This article contributes significantly to the conversation surrounding minimum grading by adding some data. A large amount of journal article about the practice of minimum grading are opinion pieces that heavily rely on the mathematics of the 100 point grading scale to make their argument for them.
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