Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sweden show why national politics and school grading policy don’t mix

What does an A mean? What does a B or C mean? Having survived the NJ public school system, I know they mean different things to different people. But at least I can be sure that when I try to convince my Grandma that F means fantastic (on a spelling test of course, if you couldn’t guess from this blog) – she won’t buy it. My mother had the same grading system in the 60s.

Here in Sweden, since I moved here, they have had 4 different grading systems. That is 4 different assessment systems teachers had to understand, interpret and apply in little more than a decade.

There was the 1-5 system. Then the VG-G-UG (high pass-pass-fail). Then they added an MVG (very high pass). Then they switched to an A-F system.

Most of the changes were due to policy changes directly from the government, that while built on actual pedagogical research, lacked the one thing I personally think is most important in a grading system – stability and general understanding of what each grade means.

Yes, in the US the grade C is supposed to be average, but the whole grading system is so inflated that C really means ‘poor’ in most schools. And that is OK because it is generally understood to be so. Many report cards will also include an explanation of each grade.

Teachers in Sweden have just barely managed to establish what an MVG means and it disappears.

If you want to give Swedish kids a fair shot, and lessen their stress levels, quit pulling the carpet out from underneath them, politicians, and give them a leg to stand on.


  1. Hear hear. I grew up with the 1-5 system and perhaps that's why I find it to be the easiest to grasp. But really... A-F is more or less the same thing (A-D being a 5-step-scale from great to really poor, and F being a "zero") - except it's not, because it's not supposed to show how well you compare to the best or the worst in your class/school/country, but how well you've learned certain specific topics and concepts. Sounds great, since all students in a class can now theoretically get an A... but neither the students nor the teachers know what the students need to know in order to get an A, and it's bound to differ between different teachers, schools and districts. It will never encompass a general understanding, so I think it's a bad idea.

    On the other hand - hold on to it for a couple of decades, and I'm sure it will fall into place! However, the odds of that happening are next to zero, given the confusing history of grading systems in Sweden...

  2. Its the same problem in the UK - the system is always changing. I have just finished SFI and for my C exam i got a VG and then for my D exam i got a C grade. I am very confused about the system and have no idea if this is good or not (I just know i passed ha ha) If i passed with the same grade in the UK it would just be average....

  3. I had the 1-5 system in högstadiet (middle school), but UG-MVG in gymnasiet (high school). The system with VG as the highest grade is/was used at uinversity level (some have now changed to the European standard ECTS).

  4. To respond to the first anonymous comment, there are percentages corresponding with the A-F system, at least that's how we had it in Ohio.

    90-100% was an A, 80-89% a B, 70-79% a C, 60-69% a D and 59% and below was an F. Hope that gives it a bit more grounding for you. =)

  5. Bit late to the party, but... It's next to impossible to find out what percentages the letters represent, I only know from teachers that the lowest for E is 70% and A is 100%.