Percent Grading

The long-standing use of percent grading in any form is questionable. Scores on papers, tests, and projects are typically converted to a percent based on the total possible score. The percent score is then interpreted as the percent of content, skills or knowledge over which the student has command. Thus an exam score of 83 percent means that the student knows 83 percent of the content which is represented by the test items.

Grades are usually assigned to percent scores using arbitrary standards similar to those set for grading on the curve, i.e., students with scores 93- 100 get A's and 85-92 is a B, 78-84 is a C, etc. The restriction here is on the score ranges rather than on the number of individuals who can earn each grade. Should the cutoff for an A be 92 instead? Why not 90? What sound rationale can be given for any particular cutoff?

In addition, it seems indefensible in most cases to set grade cutoffs that remain constant through- out the course and several consecutive offerings of the course. It does seem defensible for the instructor to decide on cutoffs for each grading component, independent of the others, so that the scale for an A might be 93- 100 for Exam No. 1, 88-100 for a paper, 87-100 for Exam No. 2 and 90-100 for the Final Exam. Some instructors who use percent grading find themselves in a bind when the highest score obtained on an exam is only 68 percent, for example. Was the examination much too difficult? Did students study too little? Was instruction relatively ineffective? Oftentimes, instructors decide to "adjust" scores so that 68 percent is equated to 100 percent. Though the adjustment might cause all concerned to breathe easier, the new score is essentially the percentage of exam content learned by the students. The exam score of 83 no longer means that the student knew 83 percent of the exam content.