Absolute vs. Relative Grading in the Classroom

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  • 0:00 Grading in the Classroom
  • 0:35 Absolute Grading
  • 1:25 Relative Grading
  • 3:30 How to Choose
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

In this video lesson, you will learn the differences between absolute and relative grading. Learn in what instances you should choose absolute grading and in what instances you should choose relative grading.

Grading in the Classroom

Imagine that you are a teacher giving a test to a class full of students. As you are grading, you think about the importance of giving the proper grade to each student. See, the grade that each student gets can determine whether that student passes or fails. If your class is a prerequisite for another class, giving a student a grade that will cause him or her to fail will mean that you can potentially hold a student back from continuing in his or her studies. How should you grade? Let's look at two different kinds of grading systems: absolute and relative.

Absolute Grading

The first kind of system is called absolute grading. In this system, each point value is assigned a letter grade. This is the system that most students in primary school are under. For example, the most common absolute grading system in the United States is the one that assigns an A for points 90 to 100, a B for points 80 to 89, a C for points 70 to 79, a D for points 60 to 69, and an F for points 0 to 59. All of these points are from a test worth 100 points.

In this system, it is possible for all of your students to pass and even for all of them to get As. If all of your students score a 90 or above on the test you have just given, then all of your students will get an A on this test.

Relative Grading

The other kind of grading system is called relative grading. In this system, grades are given based on the student's score compared to the others in the class. This system is used in some universities and colleges and even in some advanced high school classes. In this system, a few students are guaranteed to receive an A and a few students are guaranteed to receive an F.

Point values in this system don't translate directly into letter grades. For example, if most of your students scored between 80 and 90 out of 100, then this would mean that scores around 85 points are assigned a C. Scores around the 90 mark are assigned a B, and the highest scores are assigned an A or A+. If the highest score is a 92, then 92 will equate to an A+. The lowest score will equate to an F. If the lowest score is a 75, then that 75 is an F.

Is this system fair? It is if your student's grades are spread far enough apart. For example, if some of your students score a 20 out of 100 and some of your students score 90 out of 100, then this system of relative grading will work because it will assign an F to those students who did not perform and an A to those who performed very well.

It is also very possible for students to receive an A when they don't really understand the material at all. For example, on a test worth 100 points, if the highest score is 30 points, then this would mean that 30 is an A. But does scoring 30 out of 100 mean that the student has understood the material? Probably not. It is also possible for students to receive an F even though they have a good grasp of the material. If the lowest score is 90 out of 100 on a particular test, then this would mean that 90 is an F when using relative grading. In these instances, you have to ask yourself, if this a fair letter grade for this student.

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