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  • Annette Laguerre

Traditional grades or mastery achievement

Updated: Jul 4

Every parent must admit to their disappointment at D's and E's (or F's) on a child's report card. Conversely, parents swoon over grades that are considered high marks, like A's and B's. But what exactly do these letter grades mean, and how effectively do they speak to a child's level of learning?




Traditional letter grades are based upon a percentile grading system. Look anywhere for the meaning of grades, and results will show that A tends to refer to 90-100%, B refers to 80-89%, etc. The question then becomes what a 90% means. Generally this means that a student, on that particular assignment or assessment, completed an average of nine out of ten questions correctly. The level of correctness becomes the declaration of a students level of understanding. The teacher or school typically then moves to the next topic, assuming the student will eventually master any remaining material. At the end of a quarter or semester, the grade becomes a small part of a final calculated average of all assignments. In a mastery learning system, students are asked to learn the material until they are able to successfully answer any question on the topic. When a student stumbles, reteaching occurs. Lower percentages are an assumption that more learning is needed. Consistently high percentages show mastery level has likely been achieved.


For a concise explanation of mastery or standards based grades, check out this article by ASCD.


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