The Value of Three Percent

By: James Pearce

In this section of this website, I discuss grading policies. There are some things that have already been set in place before we even begin grading such as grading scales and sometimes rubrics. I want to focus today on the overall grade percentage so I’ll be working off of the grading scale.

There is always talk about the value of a grade and how it is determined. There are many topics to explore within grading. Today’s topic is the value of three percent. Assume for this article that a grading scale has been set. This means that prior to grading all assignments, the evaluator has been made familiar with a scale.

A scale sets down cut lines or places where the grade changes from one level to another. A correspondent letter grade is applied due to the position where a grade sits. If a scale is a traditional plus/minus scale, it has break lines every three percent. Therefore, a 92% is an A- while a 93% is an “A”. I argue here that this distinction between 92 and 93 at this break point is significant. A 92 is not an 93 and a 93 is not a 92.

First of all, if someone thought a 92% should be an “A” and not an “A-“, then why do we have a scale in the first place? What are the benefits of establishing a scale if we never use it? If we decide to adjust a 92% to an “A” rather than an “A-“, then aren’t we applying our own arbitrary thoughts and feelings? Aren’t we leaving the space that was mathematically confined for us and entering a zone where math has no bearing?

Second, if we adjust a grade up one percent then aren’t we applying a curve? If we apply a curve, shouldn’t it be applied before the final grade determination and equally for all students rather than individually?

If you are following (and agree) with my first two statements, then I think you’ll follow my rationale on the three percent discussion now. A three percent separation is mathematically 3 percentage points on a set scale. As I stated before, if we have a scale then we should be using it. In the case of three percent, we might be deciding whether a 90% is an “A” when the cut line for an “A” according to our scale is at 93%.

If we look at a measurement involving total points, this separation difference becomes more evident. Let’s use 500 total points in the grading period. A student with 93% would have 465/500 points. A student with 90% would have 450/500. Fifteen points, well, that’s not too far apart you might say. Let’s look at it this way. Let’s say the separation was that the 93% student scored a 95% on the last term paper (95/100). The second (90%) student scored an 85/100 (85%) on that same term paper. Does the student who is ten percent less in score on the term’s main paper deserve the same grade as the 95% student? No, they do not. The second student has clearly achieved at a different level.

I argue that 3% is a long distance, a major difference in performance. If we’re going to actually use a scale, then we need to stick to that scale’s parameters. We shouldn’t change it at all and modify it just because.

James Pearce is a talented writer, markets analyst, and speaker. To secure his services or obtain rates, email:

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