What’s In a Grade?

It was recently announced that students in New Jersey’s Mount Olive School District will no longer be receiving a letter grade of D.  Instead, the school district has made the decision to simply eliminate D from the grading scale altogether.  Students will receive an A, B, C or F.

As the New York Times writes:

D’s are simply not useful in society,” said Larrie Reynolds, the Mount Olive superintendent, who led the campaign against D’s as a way to raise the bar and motivate students to work harder.  ‘It’s a throwaway grade.  No one wants to hire a D-anything, so why would we have D-students and give them credit for it?’

Not surprisingly, quite a bit of controversy has ensued following this policy change.  However, Mount Olive is not the first school district to eliminate D from the scale.  In fact, it’s difficult to read this story without considering that another letter has been long removed from the grading scale-the letter E.

According to Slate Magazine the letter-grading system has endured its fair share of changes.  These have ranged from 5-point, 7-point and 10-point numerical scales to needing an exact score to achieve certain letter grades.  Some have suggested that the letter E was removed in an effort to avoid the confusion of it standing for ‘excellent’.  Whether the letter D will face the same fate as the letter E on the grading scale remains to be seen.

Mount Olive’s grading scale change is a useful reminder of just how historically contingent grading scales can be. Over the next few years, as the focus shifts from proficiency to college and career readiness, we’re likely to see many more such changes-changes that measure student readiness for life after high school.

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