How marks are decided in German primary schools

The German school system has, on the face of it, a fairly simple marking arrangement.  The marks for a piece of work are given on a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 being the highest and 6 the lowest.

The numbers 1 to 6 roughly correspond to A to F in the British system as well, although 5 is usually the lowest that will be given for anyone actually completing the work or a test, with 6 reserved for those who don’t do it at all.  There are also the + and – grades in-between.

But how do the marks get decided for each child in the first place?

One possible answer to that question, and probably the most plausible in many subjects, is be the teacher making the decision.  This does, of course, require a competent and fair teacher, but having heard horror stories of parents going in to schools to demand that their children get better grades (in some cases where the child had not actually done the work or even attempted a test), I had hoped not to end up in that situation myself.

Except that there are other ways to decide the mark a child receives, such as settings bands for each mark and converting the number of right answers in a test to the final mark that way.  So you might have 59 possible points available, and set 53 to 59 points to be a 1 (A), 45 to 52 to be 2 (B), 37 to 44 to be 3 (C), and so on.

I have it on good authority and from multiple sources that such tables exist, and are in some way standardised.

However despite my initial hope, I got to a point where I could not always understand why marks were being awarded that didn’t fit into this schema.  So in the end, I asked (at an Elternabend).

It turns out that regardless what may exist at a higher level, there are schools that unilaterally decide to use a different scale, at least for certain subjects.    So in my example above, a score of 52 out of 59 may get you a “2” in one subject, but  it only be enough for a “3” in another, even within the same school!

But it doesn’t stop there, because in some cases it appears that a type of “quota” system is in place, which can result in children being moved up or down a band if the quota is full.  Whether this definitely goes in primary schools I cannot say for sure, although I think it’s pretty unfair on the children if they learn for a test only to be marked down if everyone does well.  In secondary education the system does, however, seem to be in place in some schools.

It’s that type of system that seems to take away the merit of the individual child, and instead moves the emphasis onto their ranking within the class.  At the end of the day, this can not only demotivate the child, but if the class always has the same number of children attaining each of the grades awarded, then any deficit the class may have as a whole could possibly go undetected.


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About Graham

Graham Tappenden is a British ex-pat who first came to Germany as a placement student in 1993, returning in 1995 to live there permanently. He has been writing for since 2006. When not writing blog posts or freelancing for the Oberurseler Woche and other publications he works as a self-employed IT consultant solving computer problems and designing websites. In 2016 he gained German citizenship.

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