Blog: The Educated Reporter

Making the grade: story ideas.

Okay, yeah, sorry about the headline. Such an easy fallback title that shows up practically everywhere.

The topic, though: so much there! Over the last five years or so, school districts have taken a hard look at the way students are graded. Efforts to make grades more “meaningful” butt up against efforts to leave no child behind, as a lawsuit in Austin demonstrates. Minimum-grading policies that set a floor of 50 may seem like coddling, but then again, isn’t the 0-100 scale, with a 40-point range of acceptability and 60 points of failing, sort of arbitrary, mathematically? Reporters grapple come to me frequently looking at one piece of the puzzle, grade inflation—the idea that it is easier than it used to be to get an “A.”

The aspect of grading I find most intriguing is, I suppose, not a question of grading at all but of curriculum and alignment. I don’t think we can have enough stories at the moment (with real people and data) about students who get all A’s and B’s in college prep classes and then test into remedial classes once they are at college. Does that constitute grade inflation, expectations deflation or simply a complete disconnect between what you learn in high school and what you need to know in college?

A potentially illuminating story I have never seen, even in districts completely remaking their grading metrics, walks the reader through teachers’ gradebooks and shows how those numbers and letters got there.  Take us beyond the school board disagreements and show us: What do the grades mean?