No. 42



Development of Five Point Grading Scale in Estonia’s Education System

09 December 2020


RiTo No. 42, 2020

  • Einar Värä

    Einar Värä

    Adviser, Internationalisation Department, Education and Youth Authority

The article looks at the five point grading scale used in the Estonian general education system, tracing its history from its introduction in the first half of the 19th century until today.

The familiar five point grading scale with its two failing grades was adopted by the Ministry of Education of the Russian Empire (which then governed the Estonian territories) as an experiment in 1837. This was first applied in county schools and gymnasiums that were governed by the Ministry. It was ultimately confirmed nine years later. This system was also introduced in Estonia; for example, it was adopted along with the 1849 curriculum in the Tallinn Governorate Gymnasium (now Gustav Adolf Grammar School). By the end of the century, the five point grading scale had become prevalent in the county schools and gymnasiums of the Russian Empire, though other types of schools also used other grading scales. Questions about the need and usefulness of the numerical grading system were raised in the second half of the 19th century. A three point grading scale was introduced for a period in the newly independent Republic of Estonia (unsatisfactory, satisfactory, good). The system attracted strong criticism from the start. The familiar five point scale (weak, lacking, satisfactory, good, and very good) of the Tsarist era was reintroduced in the Republic of Estonia in 1934. The Bolshevik Russia initially abandoned any kind of grading scales completely, but eventually the Tsarist era five point scale was restored there as well in 1935. During the same period, Latvia was using a four point scale (from two to five), and Lithuania a five point scale. After the Baltic states were incorporated into the Soviet Union, the strongly centralised Soviet education system was forcibly applied in Estonia. This also concerned grading. After World War II, the USSR was using a numerical grading scale from one to five, where 1 and 2 were failing grades. After a while, the numbers were again qualified by adjectives (weak, lacking, satisfactory, good, and very good). The social changes of the end of the 1980s brought the issue of grading back up for discussion. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the (again) independent countries started to shape their education policies. Several countries gave up the five point grading scale and transferred to a four (Kazakhstan), ten (Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, Moldova, Belarus), twelve (Ukraine), or twenty (Armenia) point scale. The five point grading scale with its two failing grades is still used in Estonia, but also Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan. A five point grading scale is also used in many countries that have never belonged to the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union (e.g. the Balkans), but these include only one failing grade. Estonia would benefit from a grading system that would reflect the development of the student, instead of the “depth of their failure” (la profondità del fallimento) to quote Leonardo da Vinci.