Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Not-so-easy A

Study shows teachers with higher grading standards produce better students


Not-so-easy A

Teachers who grade rigorously provide more short- and long-term benefits to their students than lax graders, a new study by the Fordham Institute suggests. Teachers with high grading standards significantly increased their students’ scores on standardized final exams and improved their performances in subsequent classes.

The study, which took place from 2006 to 2016, focused on Algebra I and involved 8,000 teachers and 350,000 eighth and ninth graders from North Carolina.

Seth Gershenson, associate professor of public affairs at American University in Washington, D.C., said he chose a math course because students are less likely to get math help at home. He measured the strictness of teachers’ grading by looking at the average score B students received on their final exams. If students who got a B from one teacher averaged an 80 on the standardized final exam and students who got a B from another teacher averaged a 90 on the same test, then the second teacher graded with higher standards.

Teachers were sorted into four evenly sized groups based on their grading standards. Those with the highest grading standards increased their students’ scores on final exams by 17 percent of a standard deviation compared to the scores of their counterparts in the lowest quartile. Over the next two years, these students performed better on their final exams in Geometry by 7 percent of a standard deviation and in Algebra II by 9 percent of a standard deviation, roughly the equivalent of three months of learning.

Why do students do better when there’s more red ink on their exams? Gershenson hypothesized they are more aware of when they need to seek help. Teachers who grade more rigorously grasp their students’ weaknesses and tend to follow up with increased interaction and improved instruction.

Teachers with certain backgrounds are more likely to have higher grading standards: Those who attended a more “selective” undergraduate institution or earned advanced degrees tended to grade more rigorously. Teachers’ grading standards also tended to increase the longer they taught.

Gershenson said there is “widening evidence that high standards [and] expectations matter.” He pointed to a 2004 study of elementary students in Florida that suggested “the effect of grading standards is not specific to any subject, grade, or jurisdiction.” Another 2019 study found that 10th graders exposed to a teacher with higher expectations—a characteristic consistent with having higher grading standards—are more likely to complete college.

As more educators are admitting to and confronting grade inflation, standards-based grading—also known as proficiency-based learning—is catching on in many states. The approach grades students on their mastery of individual topics while removing subjective behavioral components such as participation in group activities.

Gershenson also found grade inflation contributes to two-thirds of high school students being poorly prepared for college. Teachers who take their students’ work and learning more seriously don’t just create better students, they also create better teachers.


Unleaded on tap

The Environmental Protection Agency could soon regulate the drinking water at schools and licensed child care facilities for its lead and copper levels.

The agency is considering expanding a nearly 30-year-old rule about allowable levels of lead and copper in drinking water to include schools and day cares. The facilities’ tap water and drinking fountains would be subject to scrutiny for the first time, and districts could be held liable for required modifications.

The new regulations are part of the Trump administration’s strategy to bolster protections for children against the toxic effects of lead after widely publicized water quality issues in the Flint, Mich., and Newark, N.J., public schools.

The public comment period for the proposed changes closes at midnight Wednesday and had garnered more than 55,000 submissions, many in favor, by midafternoon.

But numerous school officials expressed concern about where the funding would come from for expensive infrastructure repairs.

“Given limited local resources, it is imperative that federal funds support [school districts’] efforts in removing lead from schools’ drinking water,” wrote Missouri’s Leeton R-X School District Superintendent Susan Crooks. “This concern cannot be overstated.”

The proposed regulations could also produce misleading results since lead levels fluctuate for a variety of reasons and even vary from tap to tap within a building, according to Erik Olson, a senior strategic director at the environmental nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. —Laura Edghill


Secrets and lies in academia

A Harvard University professor accused of giving academic research to the Chinese is free on a $1 million cash bond. Federal authorities arrested Charles Lieber, chair of the department of chemistry and chemical biology, at his on-campus office two weeks ago. The prominent expert in nanoscience and nanotechnology is accused of secretly participating in China’s Thousand Talents Plan, which recruits foreign scientists willing to share their research in exchange for funding and other perks.

Federal prosecutors say Lieber not only accepted ongoing $50,000 monthly payments but also received more than $150,000 for living expenses. In addition, they claim he got $1.5 million to establish a nanotechnology lab at China’s Wuhan University of Technology, which carries the Harvard name without the authority to do so.

The incident is “a small sample of China’s ongoing campaign to siphon off America’s technology and know-how for its country’s gain,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said.

Lieber and his attorneys have declined to comment on the case.

Federal prosecutors also recently announced charges against a researcher from Boston University who is accused of hiding her status as a lieutenant in the Chinese military. Prosecutors claim that Yanqing Ye researched U.S. military projects and gathered information on two U.S. scientists. She is wanted by the FBI and believed to be in China. —L.E.

A pile of student debt

An Ohio man recently received a stack of letters that filled 79 postal service bins and required two trips to his local post office to bring them all home. Upon inspection, Dan Cain realized they were 55,000 identical copies of his latest student loan statement.

Cain told WOIO-TV in Cleveland, “I was shocked—are you kidding me—who makes that kind of mistake?”

An official from College Ave Student Loans apologized for the error and said they would work with Cain to remedy the situation, including picking up the piles of letters and offering a possible statement credit for the inconvenience.

“I just hope it doesn’t happen again,” Cain said. “I might just have to return to sender.” —L.E.

Bob Brown

Bob is a movie reviewer for WORLD. He is a World Journalism Institute graduate and works as a math professor. Bob resides with his wife, Lisa, and five kids in Bel Air, Md.


I enjoy them immensely and share them every week. —Joel

Sign up to receive Schooled, WORLD’s free weekly email newsletter on education.

Please wait while we load the latest comments...