Can someone please tell me why the US gradeschool (even up through highschool) usesthe “A, B, C,D and F” system to grade? Why did they exclude the E?



Can someone please tell me why the US gradeschool (even up through highschool) usesthe “A, B, C,D and F” system to grade? Why did they exclude the E?

In: Other

The simple answer is… The “F” literally stands for “Fail”. A, B, C and D are all passing grades (well, in some situations a D is not considered passing, and even a C is not passing in some courses). Everything else is just a “Fail”, or F. If “Fail” were spelled like… Zfail then it’d be a “Z” grade.

A/B/C/D are four “levels” of a passing grade.

F = Fail

In some school systems you get an “R” instead of F which means you have failed and have to “**r**epeat” that course.


I had someone in teaching administration who designs curriculum and such tell me a “better” way to understand it, ABCDF is just shorthand. A proper method would look more like:

A = “very high level of understanding/knowledge, and performance

B = “high level of understanding/knowledge, and performance”

C = satisfactory

D = Unsatisfactory

F / Fail = failed to meet / does not meet minimum standards

This is a much better way to view it. The letters are just shorthand for a level of performance you attained. Taken, if you’re graded on a curve, this system likely would not apply, this is more for static grades.

E is not relevant as once you reach “D” you’re unsatisfactory and the only worse grade is to not meet standards, hence, F, fail. If we had E, we’d have an additional level of unsatisfactory achievement which is unnecessary.

A D allows you to assign a performance that does not fail (ie you exceeded minimum
Standards, but not by much) but indicates your did not have perform in an acceptable manner and did not learn the skills necessary. There’s not much to go down from there other than F – failed to meet minimum standards.

In many cases, D is not a passing grade as you were unsatisfactory

The letter grading system was invented in the late 1800s in Massachusetts. The earliest known letter grade is a “B” on an assignment at Harvard in the early 1880s, but there is no context left to interpret its significance. At nearby Mount Holyoke, we know in ~~1887~~1897 they gave grades of A-E, with E being a failing grade. Soon after an F was added, then soon after that the E disappeared, but no one knows why. I found some articles speculating people thought it would be misinterpreted as “excellent,” but every source is worded similarly, and none cited anything, which makes me think it is entirely speculative, and it gets repeated because it sounds good and is mildly plausible. But no one knows for sure!

(There appears to be an ESNU system in use in parts of the US, excellent/satisfactory/needs improvement/unsatisfactory. This adds plausibility to dropping E due to possible confusion. )

Edit: Thanks for all the examples of the ESNU system still in place.







Wait. They used the E in the seventies and eighties when I was in school in Michigan… it was the lowest grade…the F existed, but it was like, if you didn’t finish your work or even try or whatevz, not a percentage correct like the other grades.

E was an absolute tho. There was no E plus or minus, though there was D minus.

Was this regional or something?


My high school in Long Island used E as “failing with effort”, in contrast to an F which was basically failing by pure incompetence or neglect to do assignments. An E could be remedied by retaking the course and it would look less harsh on your records.

Hi Everyone,

This post is getting popular and that is wonderful. For those of you joining us from r/all, and otherwise, I would like to ask you to read rules before participating. In particular rule 3: top level comments must be explanations.

This means that when reply directly to the post it has to be an objective explanation, it **cannot** just be an anecdote of what your school system was growing up (or is currently).

If you would like to just share how your school did it then you are welcome to leave that as a reply to this comment.

Please let me know if you have any questions

Because grade school commonly uses
E= excellent
S= satisfactory
N=Need improvement

This is to put less stress and ease confusion for little kids, I’m not sure this is the reason we took out E but it’s what we currently use the letter E for.

**Please read this entire message**

Your submission has been removed for the following reason(s):

Straightforward or factual queries are not allowed on ELI5. ELI5 is meant for simplifying complex concepts.

If you would like this removal reviewed, please read the [detailed rules]( first. **If you believe this submission was removed erroneously**, please [use this form](🙂 and we will review your submission.