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Traditional Grading Scale: Pros, Cons & Alternatives

The traditional grading scale (whether letters, numbers, or percentages) has been around for so long; it’s hard to imagine an education system without it.

Here is an example of a typical grading scale in American schools:

  • A = 90-100%
  • B = 80-89%
  • C = 70-79%
  • D = 60-69%
  • F = 0-59%
  • I = Incomplete
  • U = Unsatisfactory
  • N = Needs Improvement
  • S = Satisfactory

Anyone who took a report card home or has a child in school has seen something of this nature during student assessments. While many educators find this method effective, several critics find it archaic and inadequate.

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of the traditional grading scale, along with some alternatives that have been suggested.

Traditional Grading Scale Pros


The traditional grading scale is universally recognizable. Virtually everyone is familiar with the concept and can understand what is meant by a simple letter grade.


The simple nature of the traditional grading scale makes it accessible to teachers, students, and parents.


Numbered or lettered grades make it easy to track a student’s success throughout their educational career.


They provide a clear line for passing/failing.

Traditional Grading Scale Cons


This scale is easily manipulated because of its subjectivity. Teachers’ requirements vary, so a student performing well but not following their teacher’s instructions may get a low grade.


A singular final grade does not explain what students were learning, what they were struggling with, or what they excelled at. There is no explanation behind the assessment.

Needs Testing

The traditional grading scale requires a testing culture. Major tests are necessary to make up the grade. Standardized testing has recently undergone many criticisms, and letter grades do not provide much room for alternative strategies.


Many alternative assessment strategies are being employed in the classroom. Some of these can work in conjunction with the traditional grade scale, as school systems are unlikely to completely give up letter grades.

Teacher feedback & live commentary

By providing real-time feedback to students, a teacher fosters collaborative learning attitudes. This emphasizes learning rather than judging the final result and encourages personalized learning per individual needs.


Allowing students to evaluate themselves encourages self-reflection and teaches them responsibility. Obviously, allowing a student to pick their final grade could have disastrous results, but students need to evaluate their own performance in terms of effort and result.

Select highlights and areas for improvement

This is similar to an employee evaluation. Rather than one comprehensive grade, the teacher provides the student with an evaluation of their overall performance. Highlighting areas in which they excel and pointing out areas they need to work on—suggestions and advice on how the student can make improvements leave the student feeling motivated and encouraged.

In Conclusion

As the world around us evolves and changes, so must our classrooms. While it is unlikely that letter and number grades will disappear anytime soon, it’s important to consider the traditional grading system’s positive and negative effects.

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