First, let us discuss the same system which is being followed in The United States of America.
The Structure of the U.S. Education System:
International Affairs Office, U.S. Department of Education Feb 2008
U.S. educators at the secondary, higher, and adult/continuing education levels use a variety of formulae to calculate, record, and interpret the amount of earned academic or training credits that students accumulate en route to earning certificates, diplomas, degrees, and other qualifications. In most cases, the earned credits are identified by the term “credit hours” or “credit units.”
Several important points need to be understood about credit:
- Credit hours or units represent a mathematical summarization of all work completed and are not the same as the actual classroom contact or instructional hours.
- U.S. institutions use credit formulae to record all types of academic work, not just taught courses. A U.S. doctoral student’s academic record, for example, will contain credits earned for independent research, often expressed as if the student had been enrolled in classes, even though the actual work was independent research.
- Credits are a convenient numerical way to assess tuition and fee charges and determine student status. Even unsupervised doctoral candidates must be registered as students and pay tuition charges.
- Registered student status is usually defined as being enrolled in a given semester or quarter for a specified minimum number of credit hours, which are assigned to any type of study recognised and required by the faculty, and tuition charges are usually calculated by the instructional cost per credit hour.
SECONDARY LEVEL CREDIT UNITS
The most widely used credit systems in U.S. secondary education are based on the Carnegie Unit system. Carnegie Units were proposed in 1906 as a basis for measuring school work. A unit would represent a single subject taught for one classroom period for five days a week. Fractional units would be awarded for subjects taught less frequently. The term “Carnegie Unit” is still used to describe this system as are other terms such as “annual credit unit.”
The unit was developed in 1906 as a measure of the amount of time a student has studied a subject (originally designed as a standard for student exposure to subject matter). For example, a total of 120 hours in one subject—meeting 4 or 5 times a week for 40 to 60 minutes, for 36 to 40 weeks each year—earns the student one “unit” of high school credit. Fourteen units were deemed to constitute the minimum amount of preparation that could be interpreted as “four years of academic or high school preparation.” http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/faqs/
In essence, it was an opportunity-to-learn standard—assuring that students received at least some common base of academic study in the high school and post-secondary systems that were emerging early in the 20th century. Today the Carnegie Unit functions as a currency that organises a vast array of educational transactions: everything from academic calendars to faculty workloads and compensation, transfer and graduation requirements, athletic eligibility, and the distribution of billions of dollars in federal financial aid. “The Carnegie Unit was never intended to measure what students have learned,” says Silva, a Carnegie Foundation senior associate. “Measuring learning was left to the discretion of individual teachers and professors. Given the great diversity in goals and activities in the U.S. educational system and the autonomy enjoyed by faculty, particularly in higher education, creating an alternative to the Carnegie Unit poses formidable challenges. While the Carnegie Unit has many limitations, it does provide a minimum guarantee of student access to opportunities to learn.” http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/newsroom/news-releases/carnegie-foundation-releases-results-two-year-study-carnegie-unit/
Some secondary schools assign credits by semester. These semester credit units are based on the formula that a semester credit unit equals a single subject taught for one classroom period for five days a week. Still, other schools assign credit by the classroom period, or “hour.” Since the standard secondary class load is five subjects, five hourly credits equal on semester credit unit, which is doubled for annual credit units.
POSTSECONDARY CREDIT SYSTEMS
Semester Calendar Credit Hours. Most U.S. higher education institutions operate on an academic year divided into two equal semesters of 15-16 weeks’ duration, with a winter break of 2-3 weeks and a summer session of 10-12 weeks, plus additional shorter breaks. The actual amount of academic work that goes into a single semester credit hour is often calculated as follows:
- One lecture (taught) or seminar (discussion) credit hour represents 1 hour per week of scheduled class/seminar time and 2 hours of student preparation time. Most lecture and seminar courses are awarded 3 credit hours. Over an entire semester, this formula represents at least 45 hours of class time and 90 hours of student preparation.
- One laboratory credit hour represents 1 hour per week of lecture or discussion time plus 1-2 hours per week of scheduled supervised or independent laboratory work, and 2 hours of student preparation time. Most laboratory courses are awarded up to 4 credit hours. This calculation represents at least 45 hours of class time, between 45 and 90 hours of laboratory time, and 90 hours of student preparation per semester.
- One practice credit hour (supervised clinical rounds, visual or performing art studio, supervised student teaching, field work, etc.) represents 3-4 hours per week of supervised and /or independent practice. This, in turn, represents between 45 and 60 hours of work per semester. Blocks of 3 practice credit hours, which equate to a studio or practice course, represent between 135 and 180 total hours of academic work per semester.
- One independent study (thesis or dissertation research) hour is calculated similarly to practice credit hours.
- Internship or apprenticeship credit hours are determined by negotiation between the supervising faculty and the work supervisor at the cooperating site, both of whom must judge and certify different aspects of the student’s work. The credit formula is similar to that for practice credit.
A typical bachelor’s degree program of study on a semester calendar requires at least 120 credit hours to be earned by the student. Normal full-time registration is usually 15 credit hours per semester or 30 per academic year (shortfalls can be made up in summer sessions or independent study). This roughly translates into at least 30-40 courses (depending on the major subject and thus the proportion of types of credit hours earned) and represents at least 5,400 – and probably more – actual hours of dedicated academic work for a non-science or non-art concentration, and well over that total for graduates of programs in the sciences, engineering, fine arts, or performing arts. A master’s degree program requiring at least 33 credit hours and including a research thesis or project represents over 4,000 actual hours of supervised and unsupervised (independent research) study, while a doctoral program can represent 8,000 or more actual hours of advanced study and research beyond the master’s degree.
Quarter Calendar Credit Hours
Some U.S. institutions use a quarter calendar, in which the academic year is divided into three terms, called quarters, of 10-11 weeks’ duration plus a summer session (considered the fourth quarter, but optional), a short winter term and other calendar breaks. Quarter credit hours represent proportionately less work than semester hours due to the shorter terms, about two-thirds of a semester credit hour. Thus, a bachelor’s degree at an institution on the quarter calendar may require a minimum of 180 quarter hours, which compares to 120 semester hours.
Other Post-secondary Credit Systems.
The semester and quarter hour systems are only the most commonly used credit systems in the United States. Several institutions employ their own special systems for recording credits, ranging from unit systems similar to the Carnegie system (one course = one credit) to point systems based on various formulae.
Education leaders from eight American states and seventeen Chinese provinces shared ideas and discussed efforts to improve teacher professional development and to implement effective student assessments.
Students entering the U.S. higher education system with credits from other systems have these credits converted to U.S. credit hours using formulas for the transfer of credit that each higher education institution has established. The principles that govern these formulas include:
- The assumption that the basic academic content and student academic load is similar across universities and higher education systems, even if the local policy on the award of credits differs from place to place; and
- Dividing the number of credits to be transferred from a home campus or system into the number of credits that would be awarded in the receiving campus or system for the same work.
This formulation can result in students from systems where the credit system awards more than 30 credits in an academic year seeing a reduction in the number of credits when translated into the U.S. credit hours system, and vice versa for students from systems where the standard academic credit load is less than 30 credits per year.
The Structure of the U.S. Education System:
Experiential Credit Conversion
Higher education credit can be awarded for experiences and training obtained outside the higher education system. Common examples include credit for military training programs, employer training and certification and refresher training done as part of the requirements of professional associations and licensing authorities. Credit can also be earned for self-study and other experiences that provide evidence of learning under some circumstances.
The requirements for being able to assign credit for such experiences, called Prior Learning Assessment in the United States, include the following 10 standards:
- Credit should be awarded only for learning and not for the experience alone.
- Higher education credit should only be awarded for learning at that level.
- Credit should be awarded for learning that demonstrates theory and practical application.
- Determination of competency standards and the decision to award credit needs to be made by appropriate academic and subject experts.
- Credit should be appropriate to the academic context in which it is considered for acceptance
- Credit awards and recording should be monitored to avoid duplication.
- Policies and procedures should be fully disclosed and available for review.
- Fees for credit award procedures should be for assessments and not based on the amount of credit to be awarded.
- Assessment personnel should receive adequate training and professional development opportunities.
- Assessment programs should establish regular review procedures and a continuous improvement process.
Continuing Education Units (CEU)
Continuing education units, or CEUs, are awarded by many education and training providers to signify successful completion of non-credit programs and courses intended to improve the knowledge and skills of working adults. Among the most common uses of CEUs are to record refresher, transitional, or knowledge improvement accomplishments for professional workers undergoing what is called continuing professional education.
The typical CEU represents approximately ten (10) contact hours of experience in a structured continuing education experience (class, seminar, retreat, practicum, self-study, etc.) that is supervised in some way by a qualified continuing education provider.
CEUs are similar in theory to academic credits but differ in two important respects:
- CEUs are not awarded for academic study and do not represent, or provide, academic credit; and
- They may be awarded for a variety of experiences in different settings whose only common criterion is that they be measurable, supervised educational or training experiences with defined starting and ending points.
Some CEUs can be converted into academic credit hours. This is done by both higher education institutions and special examining and assessment services. Academic credit can only be granted for CEUs if
(1) the subject matter and nature of the CEU experience is approved as applicable to consideration for academic credit;
(2) the continuing education experience has been analyzed for content and level and, if necessary, the person holding the CEUs has been examined; and
(3) a formal recommendation is made by competent academic authorities (faculty, review board, etc.) based on an agreed conversion formula. CEUs are most commonly converted via a formula that considers at least ten (10) CEUs to equal a single academic credit hour.
U.S. Grading Systems
A variety of grading systems are used in U.S. education. The decision on what grading system to use is a matter within the exclusive authority of the individual school or higher education institution, and usually up to the individual faculty member or disciplinary department within the school or institution.
NOTE: There is no nationally mandated grading scheme in the United States. The examples described below are only some of the most frequently encountered grading systems.
NORM-REFERENCED GRADING SYSTEMS
Norm-referenced grading systems are based on a pre-established formula regarding the percentage or ratio of students within a whole class who will be assigned each grade or mark. The students, while they may work individually, are actually in competition to achieve a standard of performance that will classify them into the desired grade range. For example, a faculty may establish a grading policy whereby the top 10 percent of students will receive a mark of excellent or outstanding, which in a class of 100 enrolled students will be 10 persons. A norm-referenced grading system might look like:
|A (Excellent)||= Top 10 % of Class|
|B (Good)||= Next 20 % of Class|
|C (Average, Fair)||= Next 30 % of Class|
|D (Poor, Pass)||= Next 20 % of Class|
|F (Failure)||= Bottom 20 % of Class|
The underlying assumption in norm-referenced grading is that the students are roughly equal in ability, and the goal is to select the best performers in the group. Norm-referenced systems are most often used for screening selected student populations in conditions where it is known that not all students can advance due to limitations such as available places, jobs, or other controlling factors. Highly competitive and oversubscribed programs of study, such as law and medicine, or related preparatory programs may use norm-referenced grading to reduce the class size that is allowed to enter or continue such programs. U.S. students often refer to norm-referenced grading systems as “grading on a curve,” a phrase that reflects the formulaic character of such systems.
CRITERION-REFERENCED GRADING SYSTEMS
Criterion-referenced grading systems are based on a fixed numeric scale, usually equated to a letter mark, from which the faculty assign grades based on the individual performance of each student. The scale does not change regardless of the quality, or lack thereof, of the students. For example, in a class of 100 students, there might be no one or any number of students who score high enough to achieve a grade of excellent, or who fail. Criterion-referenced systems might look like:
|A (Excellent)||= 95-100||or||90-100|
|B (Good)||= 85-95||or||80-90|
|C (Fair)||= 75-85||or||70-80|
|D (Poor)||= 65-75||or||60-70|
|F (Failure)||= -65||or||-60|
Criterion-referenced systems are often used in situations where the faculty are agreed as to a standard of performance but the quality of the students is unknown or uneven; where the work involves student collaboration or teamwork; and where there is no external driving factor such as needing to systematically reduce a pool of eligible students.
In many situations, faculty may wish to indicate that certain students, despite achieving a specific score, demonstrated qualities that cause the faculty to believe that the grade by itself does not reflect the student’s actual contribution or potential. In such cases they may attach plus or minus signs to the letter grade (examples: A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, etc.) to refine their evaluation. These refinements can be important in calculating cumulative grades and awarding honors.
It is noteworthy that many U.S. criterion-referenced grading systems use the principle of subtracting points from a defined perfect score, which is usually, but not always, set at 100. This approach differs from that sometimes used in other countries such as the United Kingdom, where points are added from a defined lowest score (zero or another number). Understanding this difference can make comparing criterion-referenced grades easier, since grades representing similar achievement but calculated in these different ways can be as much as 20 or 30 points apart.
|Purpose||To determine whether each student has achieved specific skills or concepts.To find out how much students know before instruction begins and after it has finished.||To rank each student with respect to the achievement of others in broad areas of knowledge.To discriminate between high and low achievers.|
|Content||Measures specific skills which make up a designated curriculum. These skills are identified by teachers and curriculum experts.Each skill is expressed as an instructional objective.||Measures broad skill areas sampled from a variety of textbooks, syllabi, and the judgments of curriculum experts.|
|Each skill is tested by at least four items in order to obtain an adequate sample of student performance and to minimize the effect of guessing.The items which test any given skill are parallel in difficulty.||Each skill is usually tested by less than four items. Items vary in difficulty. Items are selected that discriminate between high and low achievers.|
|Each individual is compared with a preset standard for acceptable achievement. The performance of other examinees is irrelevant.A student’s score is usually expressed as a percentage. Student achievement is reported for individual skills.||Each individual is compared with other examinees and assigned a score–usually expressed as a percentile, a grade equivalent
score, or a stanine.Student achievement is reported for broad skill areas, although some norm-referenced tests do report student achievement for individual skills.
ALTERNATIVE GRADING SYSTEMS
Pass-Fail Systems. Some U.S. faculties, schools, and institutions use pass-fail grading systems, especially when the student work to be evaluated is highly subjective (as in the fine arts and music), there are no generally accepted standard gradations (as with independent studies), or the critical requirement is meeting a single satisfactory standard (as in some professional examinations and practica).
Non-Graded Evaluations. A number of U.S. faculties, schools, and institutions do not assign numeric or letter grades as a matter of policy. This practice is usually based on a belief that grades introduce an inappropriate and distracting element of competition into the learning process, or that they are not as meaningful as measures of intellectual growth and development as are carefully crafted faculty evaluations. Many faculty, schools, and institutions that follow a no-grade policy will, if requested, produce grades or convert their student evaluations into formulae acceptable to authorities who require traditional measures of performance.
Good learning happens when:
…students are given a clear learning objective that states what they will learn and how they can show that they’ve learnt it successfully. (Learning intentions and success criteria)
…students are given feedback that is geared towards teaching them how to improve.
…students are given multiple opportunities to practice something.
…students are assessed using criterion-referenced rubrics which are written in clear, accessible language. Students understand the rubric and know what success looks like.
…assessment is designed to teach.
…the emphasis is not on exams, but on more representative tasks that show student learning, rather than their ability to rote memorize. [ http://thinkedu.net/blog/criterion-referenced-assessment_learning-objectives/ ]
North American GPA equivalents in other countries
|Country||GPA 2.0||GPA 2.5||GPA 2.75||GPA 3.0|
|Korea||2.0 – 70%||2.5 – 75%||2.5 – 78%||3.0 – 80%|
|Mexico||6.0 – 60%||7.0 – 70%||7.3 – 76%||8.0 – 80%|
|Saudi Arabia||3 – 70%||3 – 75%||3 – 78%||4 – 80%|