Making sense of Swiss school grades

Making sense of Swiss school grades

Academic grading in Swiss schools

‘So, my child recently got her first report card. I always considered her to be a very good student, so I was slightly taken aback by her grades. I mean do students ever get a 6 in anything in public schools or is this grade reserved for little Einstein’s?’

Like the mum above, many parents initially struggle with the Swiss grading system. Trying to compare grades between to different school system can be tricky and Switzerland tends to have stricter grading standards than a number of other countries.
This article wants to shed some light on grades and grading criteria in Swiss public schools.

Swiss public schools use a numeric grade system:
6 (excellent – the best possible grade = 100%)
5.5 (very good)
5 (good)
4.5 (satisfactory)
4 (sufficient) (60%)
3 (insufficient) (below 60%)
2 (poor)
1 (very poor)

(Source: Wikipedia)

Is a ‘6’ in a Swiss school equivalent to an ‘A’ in the UK and US school system?

There has been much debate in the UK and the US about ‘grade inflation’ in schools.
Whilst I would not agree that others countries simply ‘give away’ their grades, it is certainly true that high grades in Switzerland are something that the student has to earn.

If you come from either the UK or the US system assuming that a ‘6’ is equivalent to an ‘A’, you might be in for a shock! As the marking scheme above shows, a ‘6’ is not just very good but basically means that your child exceeded the learning outcomes – a result comparable to ‘high distinction’.

What follows is that an A grade in the UK may equate to anything between a 5 or a 6. In the Swiss system, grade averages between 5.5 and 6 are very rare and an average of a 6 is almost impossible to achieve. This explains why schools frequently ask for an average grade of 5.2 or 5.3 in three or more subjects in order to qualify for entry into Gymnasium (fast track academic stream).

Report cards and grades
In most cantons, children receive grades from 2nd grade onwards. Grades on report cards are either rounded to integers or half-integers, some also use quarter steps, e.g. 4.25-4.75.

Some schools use a grade range rather than half integers – e.g. 5-6 instead of 5.5.

Once the individual grades have been rounded, a weighted mean is used to calculate the overall achievement. The weight of a grade is usually proportional to the number of hours the according subject was taught per week. For example, in primary school, grades in the three main subjects are usually weighted as follows: German – 40%, Math’s – 40%, M&U (man and environment) – 20%. If the overall result is below 4, teachers might recommend that the child repeat the class.

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