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The Hippocratic Oath and Grade Equivalents

Abstract

Medical researchers and practitioners often cite Hippocrates’ famous adage, “Above all, do no harm.” Implicit in this statement is that all actions are not helpful and, in fact, can be harmful. While we typically think of the Hippocratic Oath in terms of medical treatments, the principle also applies to the assessment of students’ reading and mathematics abilities. For years, the educational measurement community has lamented the practice of reporting students’ abilities as grade equivalents. And yet, some assessments continue to measure performance using these inaccurate and often misleading metrics.

The misconceptions of grade equivalents have been well documented by research organizations, most noting that the metrics create more confusion than clarity (AERA/APA/NCME, 1985; Airasian, 1994; Miller, Linn and Gronlund, 2009; Stiggins, 2009). In 1981, for example, the International Reading Association (IRA) crafted a resolution on the misuse of grade equivalents. In it, the organization “strongly advocates that those who administer standardized reading tests abandon the practice of using grade equivalents to report performance of either individuals or groups of test takers” (1981). In spite of the advice, counsel and warnings from IRA, as well as other leading organization

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