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The Letter Grade “E” Existed Until the 1930s. It Was Removed to Avoid Parents from Interpreting the Grade as “Excellent”

Report Cards are not a new concept; it has existed for centuries because education has always been based on the exchange of knowledge between students and instructors. The assessment aims to improve student learning by systematically examining student learning patterns to inform future teaching and learning. But did you know that the letter grade E was removed for a reason?

The letter grade E existed until the 1930s, when it was phased out due to concerns that parents would interpret the grade as “excellent.”

E is not for Excellent

Most grading systems in the United States use the letters A, B, C, D, and F. So, what did E do to deserve to be skipped? E used to be a standard grade, it turns out.  E used to be a common grade.

According to historical records, the first letter grade in the United States was a B received by a Harvard University undergraduate in 1883. There is no indication of how he felt about the grade, but that straightforward method of evaluating student work quickly gained popularity.

Following that, other institutions began to adopt the concept of letter grading. Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts was allegedly the first to continue using a letter-based grading system in 1887. An A was equivalent to 95-100%, a B to 85-94%, a C to 76-84%, a D to 75%, and an E to anything less than 75%—which meant failure.

There has yet to be a definitive date for when the letter E was first removed from the letter grading scale. However, by 1930, most colleges had stopped using this letter to grade students.

According to multiple sources, colleges stopped using E as part of the grading scale due to concerns that students would mistake the letter grade for excellent. Despite the fact that F stands for failing or failure, the letter was removed—and it has remained that way ever since.

A year after Mount Holyoke’s grading system was implemented, each letter was changed to represent a different percentage. B became between 90 and 94%, C 85-89%, D 80-84%, and E 75-79%. They then added the dreaded F below that.

As the letter-based grading system became more popular in the 1930s, many schools began omitting E for fear that students and parents would misinterpret it as “excellent,” resulting in the A, B, C, D, and F grading system. (Source: Study Soup)

History of Adopting Letter Grades

The grading system was widely adopted across the country just ten years after colleges and universities stopped using the letter E as a grade. The letter grading scale was the most commonly used grading system by the 1940s. This system was implemented by elementary, middle, and high school public school systems, colleges, and universities in conjunction with the 4.0 scale and the number grading system (grades 0 to 100).

The system would be refined over time and eventually become more integrated with the numerical grading scale. The letter grading system is still in use today, though it takes many forms and variations depending on the school system, such as curved grades and cohort grading.  (Source: Study Soup)

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