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Jake Frackson

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Is the GPA marking system helping or hindering the current generation on their path to a career?

Is the Grade Point Average system beneficial or detrimental to a modern student on their path to a career? Is this marking system causing students to focus less on their passions and more on courses that will "boost their GPA"? Is this holding students back from getting the most out of their education by making them concern themselves with the marks that they'll leave with? Also, if we shouldn't be using the GPA system, what other marking models are more applicable to the modern student?

Topics: education
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    Aug 24 2012: I definitely think that students focus more on their grades than their passions because of the GPA marking system. If a student isn't comfortable with a subject grade-wise, then they are generally not going to risk their GPA to try something that could be new and interesting but difficult for them to excel at. As a secondary school student, I am currently making some of these decisions, and find that I am not as willing to try a course if I'm uncertain about how I'll do. I agree there shouldn't just be one system to cover everything from mathematics to languages to art, as all of these courses are very different in nature, and therefore require different grading systems. I also feel like a student's academic level should come into play. I've never liked the idea that if you aren't especially academically gifted, school is always going to be rough. Personally, I haven't been able to think of many systems that could work with all this, but I think that it's possible. It's a very interesting topic and issue that I think should be addressed.
  • Aug 24 2012: Standardized tests also help evaluate students. Of course, is you are interested in something few others are interested in studying grades can become fairly unimportant in going to graduate school.
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    Aug 24 2012: I went to a university that was founded in the 60s with all the attendant hippie ideology. It was a nurturing and accepting place overall and I never knew that I came first in my class until I asked why I won a bookprize that was unexpectedly handed to me at graduation.It helped me be a bit naive I think . but it also nurtured my smarts and self acceptance. .
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    Aug 24 2012: I would like subjects to be broken down into very tiny units - rather like Kahn Academy has - with students not moving on until the subject has been mastered. I would like such tiny units available in all areas, and video games as part of the learning experience. That way one child, who LOVES math, can go on in math, but another who LOVES dance, can go on in dance - not be held back because of age or pushed forward for the same reason.

    I would also like to see learning relevant to the present of the students. Telling a student that if he/she does well now, that in 10-20 years, they will have a good job is quite disturbing to me. However, telling a student that if they show mastery of a subject, the computer that they are working on will ring a bell, raise a flag, and play them a song, will have them learning in order to get the present reward.

    I saw a news program the other day. In NC (USA) because of the economic shit, one school district lost so much funding that it had to lay off 37% of teachers. It bought every child a laptop (which is cheap if you by them in quantity and at wholesale rather than retail). GREAT success. Teachers were amazed at increased test scores. One spoke of the amusement she had when students didn't even know they were learning. One said that boredom ceased because students didn't have to wait their turn. All were involved at the same time. Students spoke of how much easier it is to learn in small groups now that the rows of desks were gone.

    I don't remember the TED talk where a study showed that putting students in groups of 4 or so, and allowing them to talk among themselves as they learned about what they are learning - and getting up to look at what another group or pod is doing when they are stumped, and then bringing that info back to the pod, (which is not called cheating, but rather collaboration), that kids have what appears to be photographic memory of the screens, even when tested as much as 5 years later.
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    Aug 24 2012: From experience I have found that concerns with equality in the marking and grading systems often occur and for a wide variety of reasons. An example of this is what David mentioned with how the honours or challenge classes that a student is enrolled in too often reflect the wealth of that student's parents. Another example of a concern that is often brought up is the idea that not one single marking model should be used for all subjects. The idea that a liberal art should be graded with the same system as a mathematics course has caused a lot of debate. In my opinion, having a GPA system that encompasses all subjects is not an effective evaluation of a student's talent or skill, primarily because certain skills can't be measured on a scale of 1.0 - 4.0. I think a better system would involve multiple methods of evaluation specified to the course content, I also believe that these separate evaluations should be examined as just that, and not as a single unit, like the GPA model.
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    Aug 24 2012: Usually hurting, occasionally helping, in my humble opinion. For different, and very specific reasons.

    In America, an A is a 4 in most classes... unless you are in an honors class, then, an A is a 5... Therefore, if you are not placed in honors classes, in your freshman year... You're not going to a good university, unless you're perfect.

    Many good schools have an average GPA acceptance above 4.0 now... What's the problem with that? Well how do you decide who gets into honors classes in 8th grade? If you really look into it... Wealth. Wealthy partents are so much more likely to enroll their 10 year old children in special programs, and improve their GPA, than parents who are working poor. In this way, the GPA system, has created a form of classism in the US, and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the same system in place in Canada.

    So, why is it sometimes helping? Well... The concept is sound. You have to look back to the way grades used to be determined. It used to be based purely on testing, and the tests were plotted on a Bell Curve. Meaning that if the average score on the test was 90/100, that was a C. In order to get an A you needed to score far above the average.

    The benefit to this for society, is obvious. If most people remember 90% of the things they learn, and a very small few remember 99%... You want to get those people the important jobs, you want them to design your buildings, and operate on brain tumors... not the average person. This isn't how grading works anymore however.

    In America the SAT performs this function now, an enormous standardized test. If you score high enough on the SAT, you can get whatever grades you want... but you really need to know your stuff. Grading should return to its roots, and take a more prominent roll in my humble opinion.
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    Aug 24 2012: I have long preached the value of Competent / non-competent grading. If there was a course map and the student could progress through the map at their own speed when proving competent in a module. This system would allow students to advance through academics while remaining with their peers for social development. Yes the classes would be ranked for difficulty. If your transcript were sent to college XYZ and they saw you had completed all prerequisite courses and graduated with honors plus your scores on placement exams would all be considered for admission. Honors / distinction / would depend on how many modules in the advanced level you completed. The honors courses would be approved at each college and either accepted or denied. Since colleges are in it for the money, the student would have to investigate which school accepts these credits.

    Can you manupliate GPAs sure. The question is with the competent / non-competent system with course mapping you could have three years of physics, calculus, and college level english courses ,etc ... that could all translate to college credits.

    Is it doable. You bet. However, you must work within your system. Do not forget your frustration and work to make a better system for your children.

    All the best. Bob.
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    Aug 23 2012: My original intention for the question was to look at the model's use in secondary school, but I'm intrigued by your response about its application to college. Coming from the view point of a secondary school student, I am currently being graded by this system and I am beginning to believe that it is hindering me and my peers more than it is helping. On the point of pass or fail courses, I do see their merit and I wish that my province's education ministry would too. Currently in British Columbia, Canada, we are working in our schools with a GPA system in which all term long courses are weighted evenly (excluding advanced placement or challenge programs). Because of this, a student's GPA can drop significantly if he or she chooses to step out of his or her comfort zone and try a new subject, such as an art or social science. With our current model, if the student is enjoying the course but is not "excelling" and they do not choose to drop the course before the end of term it will often have a negative effect on their overall GPA. This unfortunate scenario I believe is holding some students back from taking the time to explore other subjects and fields.
    To pose some questions on your response: Do you believe that pass or fail courses have a place in secondary school? Do you agree with the notion that secondary and post secondary courses should be marked on a numerical or percentile scale? And, do you think secondary schools should adopt the college model that you previously mentioned, in which courses are weighted depending on their difficulty?
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      Gail . 50+

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      Aug 24 2012: I would like to see diplomas look more like circular road maps than fancy documents with fancy writing. Each pod of learning earns a filled-in pixel, and it leads to other pixels that are filled in upon mastery. Thus, when the employer or school looks at the degree, it can be assured that complete mastery has been obtained. Most students will have different looking diplomas depending on the route taken to High School graduation requirements. This map will give much more information about the student than a piece of paper with fancy writing.

      this method would also make it possible for the student to be a life-long learner, growing the diploma throughout a lifetime. This, along with digital IDs, would require computerization of MUCH of education. (Where a teacher can be replaced with a computer, do so). It will also allow a third grader to be studying the math of quantum mechanics if he is ready, even though the rest of the class is stuck on multiplication.

      I too clearly remember the boredom that came with "Don't read ahead. Don't get ahead of the class" My school years were wasted, but I had such promise. I had a genius level IQ, but was required to perform according to my age group, no matter how little sense it made to me. And, I was required to call my teachers Mr. x and Mrs. x or Miss x, even though they called me by my first name. I felt belittled and degraded every single day of school. We MUST start treating students with more respect before they will respect themselves more. Until then, they will not find the JOY of learning. They will just be memorizing largely useless information.
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        Aug 24 2012: Those are some fairly radical ideas, but frankly that's what our education system needs. Revolution, not evolution. We need to rebuild our systems and those ideas should definitely be a part of the experiment.
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      Aug 24 2012: Hi, Jake. I did not mean that on a college transcript courses are weighted by difficulty. I meant that when you apply to college or to graduate school, the admissions committee looks not just at your GPA but also at difficulty.

      My son is in high school. I believe that some courses are pass-not pass, but not by student election. For example, in middle school art, drama, and seminars were pass not pass. PE was graded but only on effort.

      I know that numerical scales (1-100) have become increasingly popular. I prefer grade scales, mainly because I think numerical scales put more pressure on students. Suddenly A students are worrying about whether they got a 96 or a 98.

      In my view there is too much pressure around grades as it is.
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        Aug 24 2012: I agree entirely on that last statement. It seems that a majority of current students feel that way and the fact that more people are not working on developing a new model for marking is surprising to me. There is at bare minimum a need to experiment more with the current model. Students' focus should not be on the percentage that they need but rather on the subjects that they are passionate about.
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          Aug 24 2012: I believe it is vital to apply yourself also to subjects you may not be passionate about in themselves but which provide a foundation and leverage for further learning.

          You did not reply to my question to you of how you actually think students at your school would respond to the elimination of grades.
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    Aug 23 2012: Are you asking about secondary school or college? Universities will take into account the difficulty of courses a person takes as well as other features of a student's record of work, personal essays, mastery exams, attainments in the form of projects and service, and so forth Having grades on work in progress would seem to take the pressure off relative to systems that focus entirely on mastery exams in the end of the year. You probably understand there needs to be some way of conveying how well you have learned what was before you.

    What would you do differently, specifically, if you didn't need to think about grades? Now pick someone in school with different specific values from yours. What do you think that person might do? I am assuming here you are a student, in which case your experience of what you would actually do differently is informative for those of us who have finished school.
    If you are no longer a student, maybe think back to what you would have done.
    When I was an undergraduate, we could take a certain number of courses pass-fail so that we could take on things outside our majors that we were not good at. MIT has their whole first year for undergrads pass-not pass. Yale Law school has either the first semester or first year pass not pass. University of California, Santa Cruz used to be entirely pass not pass until I believe students pushed for the option of GPAs so they could distinguish themselves from less serious students at their school.
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      Aug 24 2012: To answer the question that you posed, I would put into place a model that would help reduce the attention put on grades but not entirely eliminate it. What would this model look like? For maths I agree that it should be marked with a numerical scale, however with language I think the level of mastery, creativity, and style diversity should be graded with more of a letter grade system. This way students wouldn't have to bother themselves with single percent points but simply focus on progressing to the next level or letter. For the arts, the only aspects I think that should be evaluated are technique (i.e. certain brush strokes, musical theory, etc.) and effort (how much time they put into it). Through this the student would be given technical marks but would primarily be marked on the time they put into their projects or pieces, I believe this would help support a better environment for creativity. For the humanities and social sciences I would use a mastery based progression system; the students would learn various theories and would progress through those lessons upon mastery. Along with the lessons the students would also write essays and responses that would be evaluated with personal feedback and no mark or percentile grade. For this I think the importance of supporting creative thinking outweighs the need to critique logic or theory; personal feedback could help point out inconsistencies and other logical flaws but it should not disvalue a student's work because of the delivery of their ideas. For other subjects, I have not put as much thought into new marking systems. Along with these ideas, I have to mention that I think these should be experimented with, not necessarily put into place nationally or anything like that. Fritzie, do you have any possible models that you would like to see experimented with in modern education systems?
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        Aug 24 2012: I think there can be a difference between classroom feedback and what moves forward as a summative measure of student performance.
        As there has been plenty of variation in grading systems over the decades, the first stop I would make is to look at research that has already been done.
        You did not interpret my question as I meant it. I meant how would you and your peer group actually use your time and effort differently if there were no grades- not in theory but actually. Have you ever worked in a project group with anyone you would call a "slacker," for example?
        And what in your system would be the basis for a university to guage your mastery of content in humanities and social science as part of their admission process?
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          Aug 24 2012: Sorry about the misinterpretation, to answer the question again though: Personally, I would use the lack of structure to alter the amount of time spent on various activities. I know that I don't learn nearly as efficiently through reading comprehension so I would minimize the amount of time I spend doing that sort of activity. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I find that I learn most productively through discussion so I would make an effort to seek more of that out. To address my peer group as a whole though, the reality is that this unstructured system would give some of those "slacker" students an easier time to dodge work. If they weren't getting evaluated or marked they wouldn't do the work; this attitude would also spread easily due to the social environment of a high school. Because of this, I believe that a marking system has to be in place in order for proper education to happen . Some of these long term gains that are associated with marks (university, high paying jobs which require education, etc.) may make sense to teachers and some students, but a majority will focus on the pros and cons of education at present. To comment on your other question: the reference system seems to me to be almost an untapped resource. If a student would like to apply for a program in which these courses are applicable than a prof could either write a reference, if he/she feels compelled, use a template reference for multiple students, or even use a student's best essay as a reference. I'm not entirely sure how this model would work, but the idea seems plausible to me.
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        Aug 24 2012: Why do you say the reference system is an untapped resource? Recommendations are extremely important in applying to college and they are the single most important factor in graduate school admissions.
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          Aug 24 2012: In my experience, I have been consciously and subconsciously told that my GPA was the most important factor for getting into post-secondary education. I understand that this is most likely a gross exaggeration but I was never told that my references were valued in the same way for the majority of universities/colleges. Recently I have learned that for certain institutions this is not the case (United World Colleges, many scholarship programs for Ivy Leagues, etc.), and now I am beginning to wonder if we could make references more important at earlier stages in the education process (this opinion is from my knowledge on the importance of references in my provincial education model and how it could be increased).
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        Aug 24 2012: I don't know about Canadian colleges. But the advising office of your high school should know, and in my experience the websites for individual colleges will be very clear about it.
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      Aug 24 2012: Another note on the social science and humanities model: these essays then could be circulated depending on interest, if a prof reads something that they think is creative, innovative, clever, etc. they can share it with others in their community and so forth. Through this excellent essays and ideas can be shared on account of their content and delivery not because of how strong their grammar is or what numerical score it earned.