As a full-fledged teacher, I'm responsible for assigning grades to about 75 students this semester. The Polish grading system is a little different than in the U.S. and it has thrown me for a loop a few times while I'm grading exams.
First, a failing grade is a 2. For some reason, the system skips the 2.5 and skips to a passing grade, a 3. From there, the grade increments are in half points (i.e. a student can earn a 3.5, but NOT a 2.5). The threshold for earning a pass (3) is 51% on an exam or in the class. I was flabbergasted by this. In the U.S., the standard for a course was 60% and I've had professors that demanded a 70% or higher to pass their classes.
When I was grading exams, I was quite disappointed by American standards in my students grades because many of them had Ds and Cs. However, in the system at my university, the grades turned out to be Cs and Bs with a few squeaking into the A- territory. It's good for the students' grades, but not so great in reflecting the students' mastery of material. I think universities should demand a higher level of performance to pass because a university education should prepare you for the real world. And, in a real job, a 51% won't keep you employed very long.
The other crazy exam caveat is that if you fail, you have a chance to retake the exam! This means that students sometimes get the entire summer to re-prepare for an exam, a practice held not just in Poland but other European countries too. I think that this could be even more detrimental to the European education system because it rewards students for not preparing. When I studied at SGH, I had friends who only studied for half their exams and took the other half during the retake. They didn't even try to prepare for the exams. Going back to the idea that universities prepare us for a career, this policy seems like a terrible system for teaching student responsibility.
I am frustrated at times with the lack of pride in good grades. Granted, I would probably be just as frustrated with this if I was teaching in the U.S. I gave students a chance to make up some of their excessive absences and many of them just took their lower grade because they have better things to do. Although, the Polish education system doesn't use extra credit ever, so it might have something to do with that.
The grade reporting system is also surprising. Each student has a book, an index, that they are required to carry during their entire education. To assign their grade, I have to sign and date their index plus my own class list and another piece of paper that they turn into the department. In total, that's 225 times of signing my name, dating the entry, and adding a grade with three signatures per student.
Thankfully, the department I work in is in the process of updating the process so I didn't have to follow this for my first year students, saving me 45 signatures. I was surprised that this rather inefficient system of grade reporting is still used.
Since there doesn't seem to be a centralized place to obtain a transcript, I asked one of my friends how she would apply for an American university. She said that when you graduate, you have to pay to receive a diploma and with it comes a transcript of all your grades. If you want it in English, you have to pay even more. My students were surprised that I can go online and access a record of my university grades at any given point in time.
The last thing I have to say about grades is students aren't surrounded by the bureaucratic need for privacy. In the U.S., it's impossible for a professor to report your grade in a number of manners because of privacy issues. I've had professors refuse to email me grades because they wanted to error on the side of safety. Because of the indexes, students are often aware of each others grades and didn't seem to desire any level of privacy from their peers in me giving them their grades. It was sort of refreshing because I think many of the legal forms of privacy that have been instituted in the U.S. are ridiculous.