People of that eighteenth century were graded on such things as their ability to earn a living, their physical attractiveness, or their level of commitment to a religion. They were also perniciously graded on their circumstance of birth – whether born with a silver spoon in their mouth or a pick and shovel in their hand.
Grades were also a benchmark of whether or not one’s work performance was “up to grade.” Students were not given grades per se, but were tutored individually. Once their studies were complete they went into the work force with a recommendation from a tutor instead of a transcript.
William Farish, a tutor at Cambridge University in 1792, is given credit for developing the modern grading system. By assigning grades, he would not have to get to know his students as well as other teachers, thereby allowing him to process many more students in a shorter period of time. His clever “invention” caught on in America in the nineteenth century and ballooned in the twentieth.
These days, grades are typically assigned a letter value, A, B, C, D, or F. Some grading systems include percentages that may or may not translate to letter grades. A 70 percent can be equivalent to a “C” grade in one system or a “D” grade in another. Universities frequently assign a number grade point, meaning letter grades can be converted to or from a number value, (A=4.0, B=3.0, C=2.0, D=1.0, F=0.0). Grade points can be on a five-point scale, or a three-point scale.
In the mid-twentieth century a popular grading system was referred to as ESNU; E (Excellent) S (Satisfactory), N or NI (Needs Improvement), or U (Unsatisfactory)
Grades may be weighted or un-weighted, and might include plus (+) or minus (–) after each letter grade, with the exception of F. Grades might also be I (Incomplete), FN (Failure, Non-attendance), X (audit) or W (Withdrawal). Samford University, near Birmingham, Alabama, offers 21 different grades that could be earned by students.
Grades can also come in colors: A “Red 70” can be a passing grade that is on the verge of failure. Red and Blue Ribbon, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Platinum medals, can be considered colored grades. It is clear that more than Fifty Shades of Grades can be identified in evaluating academic achievement. What William Farish began has become so scattered in education that it begs for a new name. Dictonary.com defines the word wacky as “odd, irrational, or crazy.” I’ve coined my own term for the grading process in education. I call it “Wacademia.”