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November 2003 Issue

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Why A Grade Of 90 Percent Can Mean Failure?

By Gary K. Probst, Prince George's Community College
Email:probstgk@pg.cc.md.us

Traditionally, a numerical grading system has evolved in which a letter grade is assigned to represent a cent percent of correct answers. Usually, the grading system is a follows:

A = 92 * 100
B = 84 * 91
C = 75 * 83
D = 70 * 74

Sometimes when a whole class does poorly on a test, the instructor "curves" the grades so that most of the students receive a passing grade no matter how low are the test scores. The result is a feeling among students that a "C" is an acceptable grade and a "B" is a good grade. 

Most students feel that it is not necessary to learn 100 percent of the information in a course and if 90 percent of the questions are answered correctly 90 percent of the time, they should get a grade of an "A" or at least a "B."

There are two ways to demonstrate to students the importance of being accurate and knowing all of the information about a subject.

A. Ask a question whose answer requires knowledge of knowing previously introduced vocabulary terms. If you do not know the terms, it is impossible to answer the question. The following statement can demonstrate this:

"Package is the number of services such as room, food, transportation, and 
entertainment usually purchased separately but put together and marketed
at a reduced price made possible by volume and breakage."

Immediately you wonder how "breakage" could cause a price to be reduced. This is because the definition of "breakage" as used in the travel industry is not known. In the travel industry breakage means the financial gain to a hotel when meals or other services included in a package are not used by the guests. Knowing the definition of breakage as used in the travel industry now permits you to understand this statement and make the correct conclusion.

B. Accuracy can be easily demonstrated by this simple mathematics test.

1. 5 times 8 =
2. the sum of 40 and 7 =
3. 2 times 4 =
4. 8 plus 3 =
5. find the common denominator of 47/8 +11/4
6. 8 divided by 4 =
7. 2 times 11 =
8. 69 divided by 8 =
9. reduce 8 4/8 =
10. 8 minus 3 =

Ask the students, "What grade should be assigned to a student who correctly answers 9 of the 10 questions." Usually, the students will say an "A" or "B" should be the grade. Tell the students the grade would be a "F."

The grade would be a "F" because these are the steps required to so the following problem:

5 7/8 + 2 - 3 =

It is important to point out that if you have an accuracy rate of 90 percent on a lower-level skill, a higher-level skill that requires several lower-level skill or knowledge to be performed cannot be performed successfully. Thus, a 90 percent grade or knowledge can become a failing grade on a higher-level skill.

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Last Modified: January 13, 2004 10:22:39 AM