What are the advantages of grading on a curve?

The simple method of grading on a curve can help many schools overcome the challenges associated with the perception of detrimental grading policies. Grading polices are designed to create a sense of equity that all students can achieve. However, grading policies that exclude grading on the curve present controversial challenges for school boards, parents, school administrators, and students.

The grades that students achieve is in direct correlation to the instructional techniques of their teacher. For example, if a teacher has a sixty percent failure rate, it also means that the teacher is a failure consistent with the failure rate. The reality is that many teachers grading output remains unchallenged and becomes the school administrators’ challenge to bring equity in to the classroom. 

Equity does not mean that all students are treated equal. Equity in this sense means that no matter where a student starts or the behaviors that the students exhibit, each student has the opportunity to reach the same level as other students, therefore making grading on a curve paramount. 

Grading on a curve has to become consistent with the normal distribution curve. The normal distribution is useful because of the central limit theorem. In its most general form, under some conditions (which include finite variance), it states that averages of random variables independently drawn from independent distributions converge in distribution to the normal, that is, become normally distributed when the number of random variables is sufficiently large.

The normal distribution is represented by the bell curve. The bell curve refers to the shape that is created when a line is plotted using the data points for an item that meets the criteria of normal distribution. The center contains the greatest number of a value and therefore would be the highest point on the arc of the line. This point is referred to the mean.

The important things to note about a normal distribution is the curve is concentrated in the center and decreases on either side. The bell curve signifies that the data is symmetrical and thus we can create reasonable expectations as to the possibility that an outcome will lie within a range to the left or right of the center, once we can measure the amount of deviation contained in the data .

According to the normal distribution curve, when grading on a scale of 100% it is expected that 2.14% of the students will fail the test. This means that 93% of the students should pass the teachers least with at least a D. Specifically, 13.59 % of the students should pass with a D or B. Also, 68.26% students should pass with a C and at least 2.14 percent of the students should pass with and A.

Teachers who are interested in grading on a curve must begin preparation in the lesson planning process. The lesson planning process must begin with using the backward design method. The backward design, also called backward planning or backward mapping, is a process that educators use to design learning experiences and instructional techniques to achieve specific learning goals.

It is best to begin with the learning objectives for the unit. Next develop an assessment for each learning objective. Once you have determined how many tests that you are going to provide for the unit, the rest is easy. Each lesson plan, classwork assignment, and homework assignment need to be designed so that each student learns what they need to know to get an A on the assessment. When students are provided the assessment there should be no surprise. If the teacher follows this method, they will so find that their students will exceed the standards set by the need for grading on a curve.

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All the best,

Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.