Jessica Watson

The dreaded letter grade

The anguish of having to evaluate progress with a single letter

It's grades time! This is probably the one thing as a teacher I dread the most, even more than the first day back after an exceptionally long break! 

Why do I dread it so much? Well, the extra work I have to bring home with is irksome, but I also really dislike passing judgment on my young students. No matter the culture, school and grades are synonymous and parents use them as a guide to determine their child's intellectual growth; good grades means your child is smart and low grades mean your child is, well...struggling. It's a sad black and white view of education for someone, like me, who sees so many shades of grey.

I teach Pre-School, Kindergarten and Prathom 1, 2 and 3 and while I find it easier to dole out letter grades to my Prathom students, giving A,B,C's to my Pre-School and K's is much more difficult. How do you grade a 3 year old who is only just learning to speak Thai? Then my mind starts to wander and I wonder how the parent's will interpret a B or C grade; will they let that affect their child's young and still-developing intellect? 

And personally, I only see my students once a week for 50 minutes and yet the students' parents, who see them everyday, will judge them based on the letter grade I give them. It's a scary thought and once I try not to think about too much or else I won't be able to return from the guilt trip!

This isn't just as issue plaguing the Thai education system, it's worldwide. I'm sure we all have memories of getting a low grade in school and being terrified of our parents' reactions. Don't let this deter you from teaching though, you can grade conscientiously without insulting the student's personal strengths. Letter grades are so vague and don't accurately portray a student's performance, so if your school doesn't already require it, include a brief comment about the student's performance with the letter grade.

You don't have to write a book, but a few sentences exploring the child's strengths and weaknesses and their relation to the letter grade should soothe a parent's worries about their child. This is especially helpful if the student doesn't appear to be progressing but is just very quiet or shy around a foreign teacher. I think a personal comment holds more weight than a letter grade and it is worth the extra effort not only for the student and parent, but also for yourself; you don't want to be pinned as a bad teacher because of a student's disposition, especially in the case of a shy, quiet Kindergarten student.

Remember, grades are just a short period of the teaching year and you shouldn't have too many sleepless nights over them. All you can do is be confident if what you have taught the student's and be mindful of their ages and levels. You know their strengths and you know the letter grade is not a mirror of their abilities. So, continue to teach them how you see fit, encourage them and don't get too discouraged by the blank stares of some of your students!


I always tell my students, "I have never failed a student. But you may fail yourself if you don't do your work." It's critical that a teacher is well-organized with his/her grading system, especially if and when a parent comes to school to challenge a grade. That may not happen in Thailand too often, but it is common in the West. A competent teacher keeps meticulous grades to inform a parent or administrator of a student's current grade at ANY TIME, not only at the end of semester. Grading may not be a concern for a kindergarten teacher, but for older students, it's crucial. When older students know their progress and grade at all times during a semester, many behavioral and classroom discipline issues are also reduced.

By Guy, bkk (11th August 2011)

If you are grading hundreds of students, what other method would you use?

By Gerald, Bang Na (10th August 2011)

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