Being a teacher, grading as a concept is very crucial. In a train that starts by defining the learning objectives, passing through formative assessments, towards summative assessments, it seems that grading is the final station at which my student will stop. However, what seems to me the terminal stop is at the same time a starting point for the student who will enter into another stage. So grading is a non-stop decision that the learning process can not do without. Unfortunately, in our culture, getting a high grade is almost the only objective of both the student and the teacher. An ambitious clever hard-working student will always look for the highest grade, either in order to please his parents, or for self-satisfaction. Thus, for some students it is an endless circle of working hard, to get high marks, to be promoted to another stage where they work hard, to get high marks…etc. As for teachers, they will certainly be glad (and may be promoted) when their students get the highest marks. For a teacher, high marks will, by mistake, stand for an effective successful way of teaching. Both teachers and students tend to neglect the importance of the validity and reliability of the results, and before that the learning objectives that the students have to achieve to get those marks. Of course there are statements about what students are expected to do (standards), but we have to ask the following questions: to what extent does a grade represent the student's achievement (mastery) of the learning objectives? Are the students aware of what they have to achieve? Is grading a means or a goal? What does a grade communicate, and how does it communicate that? In this essay, I will try to demonstrate my own grading philosophy, based on both my long experience as a student and short one as a teacher, and on my recent readings in the field of assessment and grading.
I shall start by defining the concept of grading according to my own interpretation. Grading is the observable evaluation of what the student has mastered of the learning objectives. It is not a comprehensive evaluation of the students themselves. A student who got 99% is not more intelligent, gentle, cooperative, helpful, hardworking, or motivated than the one who got 89%. In other words, a grade stands for specific criteria which are concerned only with the achievement of the learning objectives. Thus, from the very first class both students and teachers should be clear about the learning objectives. To students knowing what will be achieved by the end of the course will motivate them, and a high grade is no longer the goal. The goal becomes achieving the objectives. A grade is a conclusion of the learning process. A successful learning process means achieving the learning objectives, assessed by multiple assessment tasks leading to valid and reliable results, and will thus anticipate high grades.
What about low grades? What does a 50% mean? Subsequently, it means that the student achieved the least of the learning objectives which s/he was supposed to achieve in the marked period. However, there are many reasons behind his/her failure, should I consider those reasons? Actually I believe that I have to. Objective as I should be, a student who fails means that something went wrong. Students who fail a course should have an individual meeting with the teacher to find out the causes of the failure. In fact, it is not easy to define failure as it is a broad term. It does not mean that the student knows nothing at all, but there is something s/he missed and they need to discover it. In our system, students who fail the end-of-year exam (which is almost the only assessment tool) will have another chance. However, without feedback and facing the problem which the student faced at the first time, they will most probably fail the second exam or got the least marks. Thus, the importance of detailed feedback for such cases as long as it is related to the achievement process.
In consequence, sometimes the teacher is faced with a misconduct or carelessness by the students, and the only weapon s/he has is the word "FAILURE". In my grading plan I should have a column of "what if": what if a student violated a deadline, what if a student did not show up to present a paper, what if a student duplicate a study already published and presented it without any references to the original work, and what if a student almost does not attend any class. All this "what if" statements should be clear from day one, as they do not deal with achievement, but rather with attitude and students' personality. I believe that students should understand that if any of the previous statements took place this will not mean, they are going to get ZERO as in this case the grade will not be valid ( because it represents only their achievement not a judgement on personality). However, it will not be fair to give someone who violated the deadline the same mark as the one who turned it on time based on achievement. Thus, a separate mark should be put in the grading plan for such attitude. As a matter of fact, a grading plan is like a contract that should be signed by both teacher and student. In any contract there is a penalty for violating it. But a penalty on violating a rule is not like a penalty of violating a conduct. That's why they should be separated in matter of marks.
As a matter of fact, distributing grades is not a matter of choice by the institution or the teacher. It depends mainly on the students' achievement. If all of them achieved the assessed learning target, then they deserve an A, if not then they should deserver an F. Teachers should not intervene to raise or lower the marks. If they did so, then the results are invalid and subsequently unreliable. The results will not represent the students' real achievement or proficiency level.
My grading philosophy is based on the absolute scale (criterion-referenced) standards. What I emphasise in my grading plan is the content, or the material on which the objectives are based. That is why when I put marks, they must be related only to the student's degree of achieving the learning objectives, rather than the degree of his/her performance compared to his class-mates. I believe that norm-referenced framework does not produce a reliable result. If I am a manager who is going to employ someone just for being the first on his/her class, without knowing his final grade which must reflect the degree of his performance achievement, then I will not be sure that this potential employee really mastered the courses he had in college. Another example that proves the lack of reliability of such a system is the General Certificate ( sanaweya aama). Although it is invalid to interpret grades in the General Certificate as a method for placement in college, using the norm-referenced system is another mistake. Thirty years ago, if a student got 80 % then s/he is qualified to enter the faculty of medicine, today if someone got that same mark it means that s/he is not qualified enough to enter that same faculty, so what does that grade stand for? That is why I would prefer the criterion referenced frame work.

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