0 to 4, students need more.

Why the zero to four grading scale should be reformed

Although confused with standard based grading, a 0-4 common grading scale has swept its way through DHS with the 2022-2023 school year. Standard based grading focuses on trends–how the student has been doing over the course of the semester, rather than just a certain point. The 0-4 scale, which grades assignments on a scale of zero to four, has been applied through all departments and courses. While a 0-4 grading scale shows benefits within student mindsets, it is inconsistent and difficult for students to keep track of. 

DHS Literacy Coordinator Laurie Lintner said the decision to switch to this grading scale is derived by the desire of increased student success.

“We have all seen students who struggle early in a semester and cannot mathematically overcome a 13% or 35% in a course, despite earning high scores later on,” Lintner said. “The giant range of 0-59% equaling an ‘E’ made it simply too difficult for all students to maintain hope and continue to put forth effort. Moving to an equitable range between each proficiency level (0-4) allows DHS students to recover from early mishaps in a course.”

The 0-4 grading scale comes from the incentive to switch to a growth mindset. It’s important for students to adapt to a growth mindset as it allows them to “focus on improvement instead of worrying about how smart they are,” (forbes.com).

Although the 0-4 grading scale has been implemented building wide, some teachers choose to switch it with standard based grading. Similarly, standard based grading is graded from zero to four, but focuses on the tendency of the student. This can be seen as beneficial as students are able to make up for any off days or any mishaps within their grade. However, because it focuses on trends, this grading scale heavily takes into account assessments. Smaller, formative assignments might be used to help determine the trend line, however, they wouldn’t directly impact a student’s grade. This places extra stress on the students as they have to perform well on tests especially. According to a study done by UCLA, roughly 40-60% of students are “negatively affected by test anxiety”. Test anxiety can be defined as “a type of performance anxiety characterized by psychological distress, academic failure, and insecurity about succeeding academically” (UCLA). Under this pressure, students might not be able to perform to their best abilities, and therefore, their grade would be negatively affected.

Additionally, there is difficulty when transferring AP courses to the 0-4 grading scale. AP English Literature and Composition teacher Sara Sabbagh said that shifting from the AP College Board grading system to the 0-4 grading scale took work.

“It requires some mathematical gymnastics – but we created this scale [pictured above] to help grade multiple choice practice,” Sabbagh said. 

Although teachers have been able to shift to this new implementation, it has built confusion derived from inconsistency. Some departments take the 0-4 grading scale a step further into standard based grading; some don’t. Additionally, In all AP courses, the 0-4 grading scale differs from what they see within their AP course and tests. This inconsistency shouldn’t exist in a student’s education as it buffers the smooth pathway in seeing what they need to work on and what they need to improve on. To keep in mind, this variety in grading isn’t at the fault of the teachers, but at the scale itself. Sabbagh said that all AP teachers are working towards an equitable grading scale.

“AP teachers have met multiple times to discuss calibrating our grading practices to ensure equitable and fair feedback to help students know their progress on the skills we are working on,” Sabbagh said.

The building is open to changes based on feedback as Lintner said.

“Our staff’s Leadership Coalition meets monthly to examine our practices and make adjustments based on evidence and new learning,” Lintner said. “We are continually working to improve how we provide feedback to students and parents with the goal of clear and actionable communication.”

If DHS wants to keep the 0-4 grading scale, it’s important to build consistency throughout the building. To do right by the students, collectively as teachers and as departments, either standard based grading or the 0-4 grading scale should be implemented building-wide. Additionally, if AP courses need to be included on this grading scale, the scale should be reflective on that. If not, AP courses should be exempt from the 0-4 grading scale due to the mechanics that go in shifting grading scales.