What’s in a Grade?

FUSD data indicates that report card grades do not match with proficiency.

Over the last few weeks we have shared information about how despite graduation rates improving, proficiency rates and readiness for college and career remain well below where we hope to be. Yet, as we have spoken with parents and students, they have been surprised to hear these findings — they point back to a report card and wonder how a child is passing classes while not being ready for what is to come. What we have uncovered is that report card grades – the single easiest way to convey whether a young person has mastered material – are not helping parents, students or teachers understand how students are truly doing in school.

For the better part of the last century, schools have used the A-F grading system–we know it, we’re comfortable with it and we understand it. Almost all of us went to schools that used this system. We expect the system to mean that a child earning passing grades is on grade level and will be ready to pass end-of-year tests that indicate they are ready for the next grade.

As part of Choosing Our Future 2.0, GO Public Schools Fresno has committed itself, alongside families, educators, and community members, to provide an honest and transparent accounting of how we have grown and where we still need to grow.

Today, we are looking at how a student’s grades in their classes relate to how they do on end-of-year tests, which are the best metric we have of whether they are prepared for the next grade or for college beyond high school.

In a perfect system, every grade a child showed on their report card would be a perfect representation of what they know and don’t know and whether they are ready for the next grade level. In looking at this information for Fresno Unified, though, we see a significant disconnect between the grade a child receives in an English or Math class and their performance on end-of-year tests in these classes. We would expect students who earn passing grades – and especially students who earn an A – to be able to pass a grade level test. Yet, this is simply not the case for huge numbers of students in Fresno Unified.

In all, 63% of students who passed English with an A, B or C failed the end-of-year test and 72% of students who passed Math failed the end-of-year test.


Even students who are earning the highest grade in a course – an A – are suffering from this disconnect between grades and readiness, as shown by the graph below.


In the 2015-16 school year in Fresno Unified schools, almost half (49.41% to be exact) of students who earned an A in math class could not pass the end-of-year math test showing they were ready for the next math class.

The data is concerning because parents, students and teachers often rely on a student’s report card grades to understand how that child is doing in school. The simple A-F grading system is the most time-honored way for each of us to answer the question: How is my child doing? As a lifelong educator and now as a parent of two school-aged kids myself, this issue of grading hits very close to home. When I’ve looked at my daughter’s grades and seen an “A” I assume that she is doing well and that I have no reason to worry. But what if those grades don’t actually help me figure out how she is doing? What am I to do then? What about for the thousands of families whose children are passing with a “C.” Should they be worried that a “C” is not actually sufficient to be prepared for the next grade and eventually for college?

This issue is not a teacher, parent or principal issue; it is a systemic issue with the grading system itself. Clearly, the current system doesn’t work for most students, parents or teachers. Parents want a clear and easy way to make sure their children are being prepared each year. Teachers want to give authentic and clear feedback and want to ensure that the children coming into their classes are ready to succeed in those classes. This issue is not specific to Fresno schools, either, yet the urgency to address this is real.

If we want to ensure more children are ready for the next grade and eventually for college, it is clear that our schools in Fresno Unified need to do a better job ensuring that a report card grade provides a clear signal to students, parents and the next batch of teachers what a child knows and is ready to do.

What are your ideas to address this issue? As we delve further into Choosing Our Future 2.0 with community members, parents, educators and students we will continue to identify areas where we can find better solutions to better support students, parents and educators in preparing all of our children for success.

If you haven’t already, please take 5 minutes to fill out our Choosing Our Future 2.0 Community Survey.

If you want to join in our Choosing Our Future 2.0 community conversation gatherings this fall, please be sure to sign up for our email list at the bottom of this page so we can keep you informed!

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