In Canada, 80% is an A-, in the States, it's a B-. Does that mean...

  • #1
Summary:: Comparing education systems from different countries.

..our education system is easier? Or does that mean our material is tougher and the grading system balances out? Or is just cultural differences.

The only exception is York. It doesn't like (-) so an 80 is just an A. 90+ is an A+.
 

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  • #2
kuruman
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I would say that there is a Canada A- and a United States A- just like there is a Canadian dollar and a US dollar. From what you say, Canadian graders have different conventions from US graders regarding what an A- means in terms of percentages. Whereas percentages are (more or less) absolute, an exchange rate is needed to convert Canadian grades to US grades. Saying I got an A- without specifying in which country is like saying I paid 100 dollars for a dinner at a restaurant without specifying Canadian, US, Australian etc. The grading conventions adopted by a country clarify whether an A- student is Good, Very Good or Excellent just like the currency exchange rate determines whether a 100 dollars for a dinner is moderately priced, pricey or very expensive.

I don't think that the education system is easier or that the material is tougher in Canada. I think it is a matter of calibration. Perhaps a PF member who has taught in both countries will have something to say on this. I have taught only in the US and I do not have experience with grading in Canada.
 
  • #3
jtbell
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Whereas percentages are (more or less) absolute,
When I was teaching at a small undergraduate-only college in the US, I could in principle make the distribution of percentage grades on e.g. an exam come out to anything I wanted, by adjusting the difficulty of the questions and how much partial credit I gave for solutions that weren't completely satisfactory.

At the end of a semester, I reported grades to the college's registrar as A (excellent), B (good), C (fair), D (poor), F (failing). In some courses I used "+" and "-" variations. I was free to use whatever rule I chose for converting between percentages and letter grades, so long as I informed the students of it in the syllabus that I gave out at the beginning of the course. In practice, I always used A = 90 to 100, B = 80 to 90, C = 70 to 80, D = 60 to 70, F = 0 to 60, and assigned my numeric grades accordingly.
 
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  • #4
DrClaude
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It depends on the exam, doesn't it?

You often can't even compare grades across different programs at the same university, so I don't see how yo could do it across countries.
 
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  • #5
symbolipoint
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It depends on the exam, doesn't it?

You often can't even compare grades across different programs at the same university, so I don't see how yo could do it across countries.
Would that depend on the regulation which the institution establishes, either campus-wide, or system-wide? The teacher or professor does not always have full control on this; does he/she?
 
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Would that depend on the regulation which the institution establishes, either campus-wide, or system-wide? The teacher or professor does not always have full control on this; does he/she?
The institutions where I've taught, three community colleges in the Seattle area, don't have any campus-wide or system-wide regulations on grading. I taught from '79 to '97 in one college, then changed careers to something very different from teaching, and after retiring from that career in 2013, took up teaching in CCs again.
Unless the instructor is seen as being very unfair in grading, and gets a lot of legitimate complaints by students, administrations don't step in. The situation might be different in grades K-12, based on a few stories I've heard.
 
  • #7
jtbell
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Also worth noting: at my college at least (also the three other other colleges and universities where I studied and taught), only the final letter grade in a course appears on a student's official academic record. The numeric grade that the professor calculates and uses to determine the letter grade, is kept only in the professor's and student's personal records. Same for the components of the final grade (exams, homework, labs).

If a student were to "go over the professor's head" in disputing the final grade in a course, the department chair and/or the provost (academic dean) would probably want to see the professor's records. Fortunately, that never happened to me in 28 years of teaching.
 
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  • #8
DrClaude
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Would that depend on the regulation which the institution establishes, either campus-wide, or system-wide? The teacher or professor does not always have full control on this; does he/she?
Even in cases where the relation between numerical grades and letter grades is fixed (either in absolute value or used on the bell curve), I have seen professors use fudge factors to adjust for exams that were too hard/too easy.
 
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  • #9
hmmm27
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I don't see what the problem is supposed to be.

Anybody in a position of judgemental authority (like uni application supervisors) would/should have the experience - andor references available - to know that school x's grades scale differently than school y's ; or county a's vs county b's... or state l's vs... you can see where I'm going with this, yes ? Not only school vs school comparisons but programme vs programme.

Your aunt lording it over your mum that her widdle pwecious is getting straight A's while your medley includes the odd B or two, isn't really an international issue. :wink:
 
  • #10
jtbell
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I have seen professors use fudge factors to adjust for exams that were too hard/too easy.
I did that sometimes, in my early years. With experience, I became better at choosing exam questions/problems at a suitable level of difficulty.
 
  • #11
kuruman
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A colleague and I were talking about a student whom we shared when I remarked, that he is a B student. The colleague, who was at the beginning of his teaching career, asked me how I knew this. This is what I told him.

Say a student comes to your office hours asking for help with a homework problem. During the course of the help session you scribble a few drawings and an equation or two on a piece of paper. Watch the student's behavior.
The A student will say, "Oh, how silly of me not to have seen seen this. I feel embarrassed."
The B student will say, "Can I have that piece of paper?"
The C student will leave without saying anything but will come back an hour later and say, "How was that again?"
The D student will not come to office hours.
The F student will not do homework problems.

I mention this to indicate that after a few years of teaching, one gets to develop a sense for evaluating independently of test scores where the student stands on the scale Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor, Failure. One doesn't even need to meet the student face to face to rank him/her on this scale. Just look at the reactions of OPs to requesting homework help, count the number of posts needed to get to a resolution and examine the last post by the OP. Here is a suggested scale and please correct me if I'm wrong.

The A student will post twice, saying in the second post "Oh, how silly of me not to have seen seen this. I feel embarrassed. Sorry for wasting your time."
The B student will post a handful in which he/she provides constructive answers to the leading question "what do you think you should do next?" and in the last post says, "I can finish this on my own now. Thanks."
The C student will require a dozen or more posts and often needs to have the question "what do you think you should do next?" broken down into sub-questions and prods of the "Note that ..." variety. Nevertheless, the OP sticks around until the question is answered. The last post is something like "Thank you very much for your patience, I learned a lot."
The D student quits after a handful of posts with the question left unanswered.
The F student posts once and then disappears even though several posts with helpful suggestions from different perspectives have been posted.

Test scores are only one dimension contributing to a student's standing on the Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor or Failure scale. Native intelligence and attitude are additional dimensions, just as important, if one is to encapsulate a student's quality into a single letter grade. How to fold these dimensions equitably into the overall assessment of a student has been of some concern to me during my teaching career. My resolution of the issue was not the same as that of my colleagues at my institution and certainly not the same as other U.S. or Canadian institutions. Therefore, I agree with others on this thread that it is meaningless to attempt letter grade comparisons.
 
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  • #12
symbolipoint
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kuruman,
I do not know if I completely or a large bit agree but post #11 is interesting.
 
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  • #13
harborsparrow
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When teaching college (in the U.S.), I and many teachers I knew graded "on the curve", which means using a normal distribution with standard deviation. In that case, the actual score meant little. Getting an A meant being on the (better) outside of the inner 65% or so of students.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_deviation#/media/File:Standard_deviation_diagram.svg

As for how many A's I gave out at the end of the course, I believe there was in fact grade inflation going on, because I was well aware of the cutoff for the program where I was teaching, and so giving out a grade below the acceptable cutoff had consequences. A student generally had to be pretty bad to get a grade below the cutoff, where I felt they had not applied themselves at all or would be unable to competent in the area taught if they ever needed to step up to the plate.

Of all things related to teaching, testing and assigning grades was something I found to be utterly miserable, and I deeply hated the aggressive stance of some students when demanding a better grade. I used to rely on my spouse to help me out: they would read an email wheedle with me, listen to my assessment of the student, and bolster me sometimes by saying "just say no".
 
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  • #14
bob012345
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Say a student comes to your office hours asking for help with a homework problem. During the course of the help session you scribble a few drawings and an equation or two on a piece of paper. Watch the student's behavior.
The A student will say, "Oh, how silly of me not to have seen seen this. I feel embarrassed."
The B student will say, "Can I have that piece of paper?"
The C student will leave without saying anything but will come back an hour later and say, "How was that again?"
The D student will not come to office hours.
The F student will not do homework problems.
I assume you only meant this is a way to predict where a student will end up and not a metric to overrule the student's actual work.
 
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  • #15
mathwonk
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Once, as a research postdoc, I asked a Fields medalist a question about moduli spaces of curves. He scribbled a few notes on a pad, which seemed inconclusive to me, and then stopped. Thinking he was stuck, I remarked that it was ok, as I didn't really need the result. He looked at me a bit oddly, so I asked for the pad and left. After about an hour of studying it in my office, I realized his scribblings completely answered my question. I looked for him to thank him but he was gone. This experience felt kind of like a D- or worse, so I am delighted that kuruman might have given me a B- (except for my remark of course).
 
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  • #16
atyy
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Say a student comes to your office hours asking for help with a homework problem. During the course of the help session you scribble a few drawings and an equation or two on a piece of paper. Watch the student's behavior.
The A student will say, "Oh, how silly of me not to have seen seen this. I feel embarrassed."
The B student will say, "Can I have that piece of paper?"
The C student will leave without saying anything but will come back an hour later and say, "How was that again?"
The D student will not come to office hours.
The F student will not do homework problems.
Once I went to office hours with a friend (an "A+" student) about a question on the homework we couldn't answer. I didn't understand a thing the professor was saying, but my friend nodded vigorously to everything, so I assumed she understood and I'd just ask her afterwards. After we left, and I asked her, she said she hadn't understood anything either, but decided to pretend to, as she had decided while in his office that she wanted to try solving the problem on her own again, so didn't want to hear the professor's explanations! It's a miracle I didn't strangle her. :oldbiggrin:
 
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  • #17
Vanadium 50
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It's a miracle I didn't strangle her.
This is where you say, "I married her instead".
 
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  • #18
bob012345
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In high school I took 'Physics for Poets' or it's equivalent junior year. The text was Paul G. Hewitt's Conceptual Physics. My teacher, a kindly old man, took me aside and advised me to drop the course as I was in danger of flunking. That talk somehow motivated me just enough and I ended up passing the course. Then, when I started junior college, I really got motivated. Later, when I transferred to the University of Illinois, I majored in physics. Then I went to grad school at U. of I. in physics. I can't believe I started as an 'F' student in Physics for Poets! A little motivation can go a long way.
 
  • #19
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A colleague and I were talking about a student whom we shared when I remarked, that he is a B student. The colleague, who was at the beginning of his teaching career, asked me how I knew this. This is what I told him.

Say a student comes to your office hours asking for help with a homework problem. During the course of the help session you scribble a few drawings and an equation or two on a piece of paper. Watch the student's behavior.
The A student will say, "Oh, how silly of me not to have seen seen this. I feel embarrassed."
The B student will say, "Can I have that piece of paper?"
The C student will leave without saying anything but will come back an hour later and say, "How was that again?"
The D student will not come to office hours.
The F student will not do homework problems.

I mention this to indicate that after a few years of teaching, one gets to develop a sense for evaluating independently of test scores where the student stands on the scale Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor, Failure. One doesn't even need to meet the student face to face to rank him/her on this scale. Just look at the reactions of OPs to requesting homework help, count the number of posts needed to get to a resolution and examine the last post by the OP. Here is a suggested scale and please correct me if I'm wrong.

The A student will post twice, saying in the second post "Oh, how silly of me not to have seen seen this. I feel embarrassed. Sorry for wasting your time."
The B student will post a handful in which he/she provides constructive answers to the leading question "what do you think you should do next?" and in the last post says, "I can finish this on my own now. Thanks."
The C student will require a dozen or more posts and often needs to have the question "what do you think you should do next?" broken down into sub-questions and prods of the "Note that ..." variety. Nevertheless, the OP sticks around until the question is answered. The last post is something like "Thank you very much for your patience, I learned a lot."
The D student quits after a handful of posts with the question left unanswered.
The F student posts once and then disappears even though several posts with helpful suggestions from different perspectives have been posted.

Test scores are only one dimension contributing to a student's standing on the Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor or Failure scale. Native intelligence and attitude are additional dimensions, just as important, if one is to encapsulate a student's quality into a single letter grade. How to fold these dimensions equitably into the overall assessment of a student has been of some concern to me during my teaching career. My resolution of the issue was not the same as that of my colleagues at my institution and certainly not the same as other U.S. or Canadian institutions. Therefore, I agree with others on this thread that it is meaningless to attempt letter grade comparisons.
Also I've noticed that A students will ask questions that help them generalize what they're learning and apply it to new problems and to make sure they understand the big picture. Most other students take a more narrow view.
 
  • #20
kuruman
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Hi @Gocalc and welcome to PF.

:welcome:

Also I've noticed that A students will ask questions that help them generalize what they're learning and apply it to new problems and to make sure they understand the big picture. Most other students take a more narrow view.
Generalization cuts two ways and may result in a narrow view by a C student looking for shortcuts.

Instructor: "Since the force is in the same direction as the displacement, the work done by the force on the block is ##W=\vec F\cdot \vec s=Fs##."

Physbite internalized by C student: "Work is force times distance". :headbang:
 
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