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Andrew Hecht

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Should public schools in the United States eliminate the traditional A to F grading scale? And if so, what assessment do we replace it with?

In 5 months, at the age of 21, I will be graduating college from the University of Florida. Yet, it wasn't until recently that I began to realize how distorted my view of education has been for past 15 years of my life. From childhood, we are commonly "taught" (and indoctrinated) that when we receive "good grades", we are "good people" and "good students." Consequently, beginning around kindergarten, a child's self worth is defined on an "A" to "F" scale. From the perspective of a child, an "A" student is "good" and an "F" student is "bad".

This belief entirely distorts the real purpose of education. We are commonly driven to learn not for the sake of learning; but instead, we are motivated by the almighty grade. Growing up, rather than reading books for fun or curiosity, I commonly read only those books that were assigned. Rather than exploring new concepts, I stayed on the designated curriculum and track. And rather than creating new ideas after school, I completed my homework. By high school, my GPA became somewhat of a false deity, a barometer of self worth, and a ticket to future success. Sadly, a large number of my "academically successful" peers had an even more distorted view of education than I. In high school, I often saw students copying each others homework before class as a means to manipulate the system. School was not about learning, it was about recieiving high grades. In college, this same manipulation manifests itself every time I hear a student say "I'm not taking Professor X's class because it's hard and I need an "A" for grad/law/med school."

Moreover, not only does the "A" to "F" scale seem flawed but the standards we measure as well. Commonly, in public schools we measure math, science, and reading but deny the students who excel in dance, singing, painting, building, and poetry the self worth of receiving an "A" in their area of expertise.

Should pub. schools in the US eliminate the traditional A to F grading scale? Is there a better way?

  • Jan 3 2012: My personal experience is probably different from that of most students. I spent the early years of my youth in Germany, studied in Grundschule and later in Gymnasium, and then moved to the United States where I became a Jr High School and High School Student. As a young person, I particularly liked the idea of having many choices in classes here in the States. In Germany, the only choices I (and my parents) had in my education mostly had to do with which foreign languages I was going to learn. Other than that, everything else was regimented - the entire schedule was exactly the same for me and my 29 other German classmates.

    But, there is a cost. And that cost isn't just the amount of money spent on education (I live in NY, and the average cost per student for my state is somewhere around $17-19 k, per student, per year). It also tends to lump excellent students with duds. Yup, you read right, I called some kids "duds". In every situation where a bunch of strangers are randomly intermingled, you will always have some "stragglers" and non-performers.

    We need to STOP believing that every student/person has the potential to become MIT/Harvard/Yale material. That's simply idiotic and gives way too much credit to our teachers and education system. No matter how much money you throw at a problem, no matter what grading system you come up with, and no matter how wonderful we all think our teachers are, we will *always* have students that aren't at the same level as other students.

    Unfortunately, I firmly believe that *once again* we are trying to accommodate for the lowest common denominator. Excellence is NOT that everyone is a rocket scientist. It's not that everyone becomes a physician or lawyer or military commander. There are many ways to measure excellence, but duping parents, teachers, and students into believing that we all should have the same grades, the same intellect, is not "excellent".
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      Jan 4 2012: Herro, I appreciate your response but I could not disagree with you more. One of the biggest problems in the United States today is that millions of students are classified as "duds" (as you call them). You say that society will always have "stranglers and non-performers." This thinking is inherently at the problem of our education system today.

      I contend that ALL CHILDREN, yes I said it, ALL CHILDREN, have the capability to succeed. Unfortunately, often in society- families, schools, communities, etc.- we do not provide children the motivation, resources or capabilities to succeed. We commonly measure student excellence in a box that values only those students who become physicians, lawyers, or military commanders (as you mention). Unfortunately, when we teach the vital subjects (math, science, English, etc.) necessary to create these professionals, we do so in an UNEQUAL manor. It's time we admit to the existence of the million pound gorilla in the U.S.. Children born into poverty or poor neighborhoods have an unequal opportunity to succeed. Instead, these "duds" fall behind in school at a young age and never are given the attention or resources they need to catch up. Rich parents can send their children to tutors or can help them solve problems at home. Children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are not so lucky. A cycle of poverty continues from generation to the next.

      I'm not saying that all children were born to be lawyers or doctors (or to go to MIT or Harvard). However, we must recognize that MOST of those so called "duds" were duds because we as a society failed them. Do children have to take some personal responsibility? Absolutely! However, society also has to take responsibility for failing them since 1st, 2nd, 3rd grade and for not providing them fair opportunities to succeed. We also have to take responsibility for not recognizing, valuing, or cultivating their strength or passion, whether it be dancing, singing, poetry, construction, design, etc
      • Jan 4 2012: Both comments are deeply thoughtful and conceivable but as a response to Andrew, I disagree that society has failed the poorer population in general. This is of course, a multilevel issue, where several facets are much better than some have ever hoped and some obviously worse. Poorer kids do have a greater disadvantage although the current situation in the US, I believe (yes, this might be personal bias) is that most students can achieve most any degree with enough time spent in class and applying for scholarships. Rags to riches stories are not common, but I happen to know several personally myself. It is a careful combination of student loans, time in class, time on the job site, and time with family.

        "Poor people have poor ways." Is this true? Living in a society that feels so entitled to the riches of the world and with a large (although minor statistically, the dependent population I speculate is bigger than ever before in historical societies) population living on welfare and government benefits that lobbying politicians have been pushed into passing by an ever increasing crowd?

        One way to mitigate the effects of generational "non-progression" or the passing down of slum characteristics is to introduce the sciences/arts more steadily to a wider population. How do you get a scientist or a large group of them to tour the country talking to kids, inspiring them to move on? It isn't an easy problem easily fixed by money either, since those scientists have jobs, families, and educations to pursue. This contributes to the multilevel idea, like a graphite sheet with layers of information needed for each area of interest. Age, interests, capability, motivation, home-life/family, commitments, morality, education, religion, gender, all play a part in this system.

        Amanda, 17, kindergarten-sophomore year, catholic, interested in music and graphical design is pressured by her parents to drop out and make money for the family so they can raise kids. Argument? not so easy
      • Jan 7 2012: Andrew wrote: "I contend that ALL CHILDREN, yes I said it, ALL CHILDREN, have the capability to succeed. " ... if you lower the standards low enough.
        But when you have general measures (objective written tests) with "grades" deemed having the "Basic Skills" (or not) and being "Proficient" (or above) people are surprised that low standards mean students DO NOT have even the needed "basic skills" for that subject, content area, or grade level.
        If you want to abandon grading why not abandon grade levels? Why not group children by age? (Oh yes, that's what the social promotion policy does, while hoping the child will learn in the next year what they didn't learn in the prior year.) Letting students learn without structure, without standards, and without grades, leads to the society of the barnyard.
        • Jan 7 2012: I strongly disagree that lowering standards is the only way to allow all children to succeed.

          I myself, was a successful student. Analyzing what it was that made me successful and others not, I cannot honestly conclude that there is something inherent in me that is superior to others. All I see are chains of events and conditions that have led to, for example, my wielding a certain way to think that was amenable to academics.

          I interpret Andrew's assertion to mean that all children have the same basic tools. And that the events and conditions that surround and nurture them in their life determine their proficiency at certain tasks and therefore their success.

          I agree with this interpretation.
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          Jan 7 2012: Larry, if you re-read any of my previous posts you will notice that I never once advocated for the lowering of standards. In fact, I think we should have higher expectations for our students than we currently have.

          "Letting students learn without structure, without standards, and without grades, leads to the society of the barnyard."

          Larry, I respectfully disagree with this statement. This is the baseless argument many people revert to anytime someone propose structural changes to our education system. I am not promoting a structureless education system without evaluations where kids run wild. I am simply arguing we focus more on LEARNING than judging and evaluating. If you think we should raise standards I'm all for it. However, standards are a waste if all we do is focus on how we will measure those standards and fail to give attention to how we will TEACH those standards.

          Maybe its just my perception, but if you listen to the rhetoric surrounding public education, you hear the words TEST, ACCOUNTABILITY, EVALUATION, STANDARDS, and MERIT more than you hear the words TEACHING and LEARNING.
      • Jan 7 2012: Andrew wrote: "Children born into poverty or poor neighborhoods have an unequal opportunity to succeed. Instead, these "duds" fall behind in school at a young age and never are given the attention or resources they need to catch up. Rich parents can send their children to tutors or can help them solve problems at home. Children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are not so lucky. A cycle of poverty continues from generation to the next."

        Being poor doesn't mean you can't pick up the trash around your house, can't work hard in school, nor that you cannot learn. You equivocate low income with poverty of thought and bad habits (vices that suck up ones income).
        • Jan 7 2012: If I were to reframe what I understand to be Andrew's assertion, it is that being poor makes short-term interests more important than long-term interests because if you were rich, you'd have more options to invest in longer term interests. When you're poor, you can't afford to invest long-term because it's too expensive right now.

          I don't think there was an equivocation of low income with poverty of thought and bad habits. If anything, I think your comment was insensitive to what it means to be poor.
        • Jan 8 2012: Hi Larry, here is a thought. I grew up in the military. I landed in Hawaii, awesome! It was high school. They grade on a scale. I would get a B, ( in said class ) My grade controlled the scale! Needless to say, I got a lot of cr---p, from my peers. There needs to be a basic, fundamental aspect of education. Grade a student, for their progress. I was poor, I was bullied, I was not an idiot. YET, I received cr--p for being poor and smart? We are putting too much emphasis on the public schools. Public schools su--k! Grade a human for their ability to learn. :) ( I will stop the rant )
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          Jan 8 2012: Larry, I think we can both agree that regardless of their economic backgrounds (poor, middle income, high income, etc.) all students have the capability of learning and succeeding. That is without question. But you are severely mistaken if you think a child born into poverty receives an equal education and has an equal opportunity to succeed as their more affluent peers.

          I am all for capitalism and meritocratic values. However, it is unfair to expect a sprinter to win a race if he or she is a mile behind and their competition is given a car (solely an analogy). The unfortunate reality is that often low income does in fact equate to poverty of thought as well. Not because children born into poverty are not capable. But because they commonly lack access to good role models, good schools, good computers, and resources that aid in the cognitive development all children need.
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      Dec 31 2011: This is too funny.....I just had to let you know.....I understand your point.
  • Jan 9 2012: Replacing the A to F grading system will not change the culture of school to the extent that we would like, because the grading scale isn't the problem. The problem is the deeply embedded cultural idea that a good grade = a good person and a bad grade = a bad person.

    As a teacher, one of the biggest obstacles I face is the fear of "the wrong answer". Useful learning is not comprised of a set of memorized facts or formulas. Useful learning requires that a student be able to take the facts and actually build formulas through experimentation, analyzation, synthesis and extrapolation. If a student is afraid to take a guess, then he or she will never get to the other steps. In an attempt to begin to free students from the fear of failure I built a sign that is prominently displayed in the classroom. It says" There are no such things as mistakes or failures, only choices and outcomes. If your choice didn't work, make a different choice until you get an outcome that does."

    Most of the methods used in education are at least 150 years old. They do not take into account current knowledge about the brain and how humans learn. We are only just now beginning to adjust our classrooms to use the new technology. My colleagues and I are about 20 years behind when it comes to integrating computer tech in school. The whole field needs to be forced into the 21st century, both physically and philosophically. Experimentation needs to be encouraged and failure seen as a way to learn what not to do next time.

    It is a shame that the field insists on doing the same things and expecting different results. A new assessment would focus on what the student could do with the information rather than the information itself. This would make the assessment as useful to the student as it is to the teacher.
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      Jan 10 2012: Mariahn,

      Such a good point about the difference between memorization and applied learning! It makes a lot of sense therefore that the problem is not so much the grading system as the fact that teachers use the wrong metrics on which to judge performance. Why don't more teachers grade on demonstration of competence at a skill or step, as opposed to grading on memorization? Or, what can be done to shift the mindset?

      I also agree with you about having a tolerance for experimentation. I think it's important to highlight the iterative nature of this. One experiment which ends in "failure" should not be the end of the lesson. The experimentation should be continued until "success" is achieved (however that is defined).
  • Jan 7 2012: I think you bring up very good points, but may fall short of what I feel the conclusion is: The grading system itself may be the problem, no matter how you modify it. We, as unique people, are raised in a no-options educational system where, no matter what our hobbies, likes, dislikes, career goals or new ideas, we are herded into the same classes and taught the same material. It is little wonder why our schools are overrun with chaos. The children are not being defiant, we are failing to let our children bloom in to the happy, productive people they want to be.

    No child answers "what do you want to be?" with "Homeless and starving" or "Working a dead end job". They have grand plans for themselves and we herd future scientists into cooking classes and language classes, which aren't themselves evil, but to kids with no interest are punishment. Punishment for showing up to learn both discourages their attendance and teaches them what they want is irrelevant, when what they want should be the focus of the school.

    There are already schools which have adopted this "cart blanche" method of aiding education as opposed to directing education. The founders of Google attended such schools, and well, they created one of the most successful companies in existence. Imagine if they had been forced to learn sewing or history (neither of which are bad, just irrelevant to their goals) instead of programming, science, electronics and math? Note how most of the required courses today are listed as classes which likely helped them to be successful. Allowing children to choose their own adventure, to use a novel term, lets them decide when they are ready to learn the basics. When anyone is given the choice, they arrive motivated and willing, something severely lacking in the military method of perform or reprimand the school system embodies today.

    For those curious, please look up Montessori education on the same Google the education approach itself helped build.

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      Jan 9 2012: Hi Edward
      The Montessori approach is based on the idea of auto-didacticism, or to 'self-teach.' It depends on both the teachers and materials necessary to be in the environment as required by the physical and psychological level of the students who, given motivation by the teachers, and the proper materials to study whatever the student is interested in (prompted by both the teacher and provided materials) the student will naturally learn.
      It has of course had great success since the beginning of the last century. The students are in student sized environments surrounded by materials that enable them to reach the goals they are ready to achieve.
      Whether or not it is graded at all is not the point. It would be possible to either grade or not depending on the particular school and teachers involved at that point.
      That is all great.
      At some point either the student has to enter the main stream or make their own stream, such as the Google team did. So for some very bright and motivated students, self teaching will work.
      How will society at large benefit from this, and how will the student justify their interests to the system? Will the ed system - which is now facing a storm of critical review - be able to receive the necessary financial support from tax payers who are already revolting against the high cost of education? At least the ed system can - for now - point to the recognized achievements of its graduates. The resumé still carries weight. Harvard rates above Podickly. What will happen if everybody 'does their own thing?' How will students be evaluated upon entering the work force? Will the work place give them a test? Will they grade A-F?
      At some point, the other shoe will drop. Avoiding realistic evaluation of student progress is a mistake.
      • Jan 9 2012: Hello Jon
        You bring up some great questions, and I hope I have some good ideas for solving them.

        "How will society at large benefit from this, and how will the student justify their interests to the system?"

        The system already justifies the specialization approach in careers, certifications, licensing and the workforce in general. In my view, the educational system is the only system left still adhering to an arcane "generalized skills" approach. To move to a self selected specialization approach would both motivate students and lead to much better suited workers once they leave the school system either for further study or directly into the workforce.

        "At least the ed system can - for now - point to the recognized achievements of its graduates."

        A great number of the recognized achievers are highly specialized in their selective trade, which benefits a specialized school system over the current generalized system.

        "The resumé still carries weight. Harvard rates above Podickly. What will happen if everybody 'does their own thing?'"

        Harvard is well respected because graduates come out with more knowledge in a certain area than lesser schools. This will not change, though with public schools allowing students to choose their focus, the students will head to colleges with higher levels of knowledge in their focus area, allowing all colleges to teach new students at a higher level immediately, which means the Harvards of the world will still pump out great achievers, but it also means all colleges will improve the usefulness of their graduates to the same ratio as current levels.

        "How will students be evaluated upon entering the work force?"

        In nearly the same way they are today, by focused trade exams. These exams could be used throughout their education to provide insight as to their current skill level and where focus can be directed. All of this can be done on a standardized, national level. Upon graduating, the final scores will follow them to college/work
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          Jan 9 2012: hi Edward
          You have great ideas and an approach that is very sensible. I wish I knew how to implement it on a grand scale.
      • Jan 9 2012: What I think is the best benefit of the system I have laid out is employers will line up to provide their own trade exams to students, which provides exceptional benefits for everyone involved.

        1) Major employers could specialize exams based on their needs for skilled workers.
        2) Students would be nearly guaranteed work coming right out of lower education
        3) Even normally low achievers could leave lower education with a specialization guaranteed to be useful to at least one specific employer.
        4) Trade exam materials would be provided, at no cost to taxpayers, by those who are best suited to write them, the employers in the respective trades.

        To further expound on the benefits, employers could also help students, who choose their selected trade, select the proper literature to learn from. I don't think it would be overly optimistic to expect some larger employers to write and even provide the required materials to students. After all, it would be money well invested, and the students would be catered to like they have never been before.

        Employers could stop being the recipients of whatever there was to choose from and begin molding a workforce they dream of. The flip side being students would have a solid chance of getting well paid, solid employment right out of primary school, something almost unheard of today.

        All of this guaranteed employment would have other, less direct benefits, including higher wages, lower crime (namely theft) rates, much lower unemployment, lower welfare rates, which would lead to more stable families, .. the list goes on.
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    Jan 4 2012: In short... no. If you don't learn the material, then you don't know it. I don't want doctors to be peer evaluated, I want them to be in the 5% of people who remember most of the things they've learned. The grades are a means to an end. If you want to start a donut shop, or make car parts for a living, drop out and get a job, learn the trade. If you want to be a respected engineer, or lawyer, or doctor, or chemist... Learn 90% of the stuff.

    Nothing is stopping everyone from getting an A... If everyone got 90% of the questions right, and did there homework, they'd all have A's... Colleges would fight over the most emotionally developed students, the best dancers, and writers. People are lazy. People give up. People fail. The competition isn't that stiff up here.
    • Jan 7 2012: We have Google and Wikipedia that can remember context-specific details for us. Someone like Kim Peek (inspiration for Rain Man) would probably not be a great doctor. I don't think we have a definitive answer for what makes a good doctor/engineer/lawyer etc, yet schools, vis-a-vis grades, implicitly shout "Yes We Do."

      I don't think the point is that school's should somehow lower their standards. Rather, I think the point is that schools undermine learning when evaluating students based on a linear, absolute and arbitrary measurement.

      I think there's a scale with Actual Learning on one side and Societal Pragmatics (i.e. If we don't grade, we can't pick the best people) on the other. I think an ideal solution should balance both.

      What is incorrect, I think, in mainstream thought is that the 'best people' are somehow inherently the Best. Contrarily, I believe that the educational system has a primary influence on this. As I understand it, the poster's opinion is that the grading system is at the root of it. I don't disagree.
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        Jan 7 2012: Hi Chan
        You said: "linear, absolute and arbitrary measurement." Of course you are correct in that belief, but the A-F grading system is not that way. It is flexible and can be modified 'on the fly' as students' capability changes.
        The idea of depending on standardized tests is a good idea in theory and absolutely counterproductive in actuality. Teaching to the test is the result, and creativity and focusing on student needs are thrown out the window.
        Politically, standardized tests are becoming more favored, which will lead to more criticism of teachers for the simple reason that they will be held accountable for the achievement of the students. The assumption that the standardized tests are an adequate way to evaluate the education process is one of the great mistakes being made in the politics of the institution of education today. Teachers teach, provide an environment suitable for learning, and motivate students to learn. But in the end, students have to do the learning. Politically, this is not a popular idea. Politically, every student should be able to learn everything. Politicians have been promising this kind of idea in many areas of politics. We are experiencing the results. I hope that student centered education will experience a rebirth.
        • Jan 7 2012: Hi Jon. I share your hope. I think it to be one of the great opportunities of this century.

          Just to clarify:

          When I say linear, I mean that A is always better than B, B is always better than C etc.
          When I say absolute, I mean that my C+ is exactly equivalent to my neighbor's C+.
          When I say arbitrary, I mean that the actual reality is much more complex and the summary that the grade provides is dangerously misleading.

          I am in no way defending standardized testing. I agree with you, I think they are flawed. I just think what is more flawed is to be judged while you learn, for the sake of culling.
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          Jan 8 2012: You are actually making an argument here, that basically, denies the scientific method of human inquiry, and I'm pretty sure you don't reallize it. If there are concepts, that we expect schools to teach our children, in a specific class, and the standardized test, tests students on their abillity to demonstrate mastery of those concepts... Then "teaching to the test" is fine.

          If the tests aren't doing that, we need to fix the tests. To suggest that we give up national standards all together however is literally to say, that an individual teacher, could make a test that tests conceptual learning, but the government, couldn't possibly pay a teacher to do the same thing. You're saying that the people who are good at teaching, are only good at it, in a way that is no way reproducable or demonstrable. Good teaching is something that only exists when you can't see it. That can't be true.

          Why on earth would someone possibly believe that it's the good teachers, whose students are failing standardized tests? Is the government so good at intentionally not teaching concepts, that they've made it impossible to teach concepts and have your students pass the test? Improve national testing, spend some money on it, recruit some great teachers to right tests that test "real learning"... Don't give up on objective reality. Don't let bad teachers convince you that standardized tests couldn't be anything but bad... That's nonsense.

          As to A to F... An A is always better than a B... An A means you remembered at least 89% of the material, a B means you didn't... I don't care what the excuses are. If you can't do it in a class room, how are you going to do it in a warzone? on an operating table? on the floor of a billion dollar business? Without standardized testing, the south wouldn't teach slavery, as part of history, or the history of the American Civil War, it would all be states rights. No national standards sounds nice, till you look at the counties.
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    Jan 3 2012: Great question Andrew. I think grades are completely useless and suck all the joy out of learning. In my classes (I am a primary teacher in the UK) I concentrate on telling pupils what they are good at and how they can improve. Quick, simple example; a child writes "Billy walked into the room". They are good at using capital letters and full stops. Next step is to use an adjective to describe the room. Then they could extend the sentence with a connective, etc etc. It is irrelevent what "grade" that sentence is. The most important thing is that the child is continually developing their skills. The teacher needs to know how to build skills up, not how to slap a letter on a piece of work.
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      Jan 3 2012: I love your response and totally agree!
  • Jan 3 2012: Andrew, please forgive an old teacher: It is the MANNER in which people are being graded, not manor (that is a house).

    See? As both a teacher and a parent I see many sides of this issue. And there are many flaws. But, most are societal in my eyes. Issues about the perception of the purpose of education clouds everything else about it. We have become an extremely goal oriented society that seeks "metrics", means of measurement for absolutely everything. And while this has its place it has become vastly overused. The current system in the U.S. of declaring schools failures if their students don't reach a pre-approved metric is a fallacy in and of itself. Since the metrics are not standard across states the statistics are deeply flawed. Then, you remove any and all social influence of family and community and place the entire burden on the teacher. Ridiculous.

    Over the last 30 years we have made schools of all levels into diploma mills. The goals are to pop out pieces of paper, not well educated functioning members of society. Since the goal is to get that grade and that paper parents go crazy over the grade. I have watched as parents threaten to sue teachers who gave a student a perfectly appropriate grade - in college. That is not a flaw in the grading system, it is a flaw in the society.

    Let's look at one oddity. In the US students are taught to be competitive. They all, to the last, hate group projects. And we all know why we hate group projects. Yet name for me one part of your life that is not, in essence, a group project! Is there a better way to "grade" students? Yes, of course. But, you need to recognize that the entire society's attitude toward education needs to change before you can decide what you want to achieve in the change. I give the US an F for its attitude toward knowledge, education, and learning.
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    Dec 30 2011: Hi Andrew
    Schools have to do something to indicate how well a student is doing. I think you will agree to that.
    So, The best way is for each teacher to write a comprehensive report covering everything that a student has accomplished or not accomplished in the class. This should be done frequently so that parents and students as well as the school know how a student is doing. Writing each report will take the teacher about an hour for each student. A normal teaching load is often around 150 students. At 8 hours a day, it will take the teacher almost 19 workdays a month to write these reports. Wait... there has to be a better way that will work in this world.
    OK. Lets have the teachers give points for student achievement. Total up the points and and wait... One teacher's points are not the same as another teacher's points. Points end up being meaningless.
    OK. Let's build a system where the teachers can use whatever method they think works best in their class, for their students and us a common, easily understood way of indicating how the kid did in each class. Wait... That is what the A-F system is. The grade is easily understood and it is matched to both the achievements and behavior of the students. It is possible for a bullying little tough to get an A in achievement and an F in Citizenship. This is very clear and when the name of the class is added, such as Chemistry, we can start worrying about whether that kid might try to blow up something. Getting a D in Math and an A in Citizenship could mean we have a nice kid who should not grow up to be an accountant.
    The A-F system is very sophisticated and provides everybody with an insight into the students' achievements and behavior. When you come up with a better system, please discuss it with your community school system at the Board of Education meetings.
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      Dec 30 2011: I 100% agree with you Jon that "something to indicate how well a student is doing" (a.k.a a student assessment) is needed. Moreover, I am not against the concept of grades. However, I am against the seemingly arbitrary manor in which grades are formulated and the disconnect between grades and learning…Let me explain.

      First, the A to F model tears down the self-confidence of students on the lower end of the scale. Why did we start using an A to F scale? The scale is very arbitrary and does little to let students know how well they are actually performing in school. On the scale, a student who receives a “0 to 59” receives an “F” but someone who receives a 60 receives a D. How about the student who receive a 59 on tests. He or she obviously knows some information but not enough. But unfortunately, they are classified a “FAILURE.” This characterization is in no other words, judgmental and wrong. These students need to know that they are not a “failure” but rather that they need to improve.

      Secondly, the A to F grading scale does nothing to help students learn or to improve academically. It is simply a judgment tool. But your right, a “comprehensive report covering everything that a student has accomplished” is not feasible. However, that doesn’t mean the grading system has to be so hard lined and inflexible. An alternative- Maybe we can have sub categories when we administer grades. For example, in an English Class, we could provide students an assessment on their use of grammar, another on their reading comprehension, and dare I say it another category on their creativity in writing their own stories. It allows students to use their grades as a way to IMPROVE themselves. It’s not simply a judgment tool for teachers and schools
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        Dec 31 2011: Hi Andrew
        You say: arbitrary manor in which grades are formulated.
        I hope not. There are generally 2 kinds of courses: Skills classes where a high score is needed in order to function. Failure is real and in the real world costly. Math, Typing, Driver Ed., Chemistry, Medicine for example. Do you want a doctor to operate on you who received an A+ or "Satisfactory"? Even sports like running has real athletes who will go on to the Olympics, but where 99% of the students just need to learn how to warm up before mild exercise for the rest of their lives. If they show up to class they should pass. This may seem arbitrary, but it reflects reality.
        The schools have been pampering the below average students for too long. The idea that everyone can succeed in college is a sad joke. But society wants to believe that, and as a result, grades have less and less to do with reality and more to do with politics. The result is plain to see in American society. What was once the most productive and creative country in the world, is a laughing stock, with 10% unemployed and 25% underemployed.
        If Americans can not reinstate the idea of excellence and high achievement through hard work, it will be relegated to the 2nd level of nations.
        There are as many 'gifted' students in China as there are students in America. If America places its hopes and dreams on the brilliance of the 'average' student, it will not be competitive in the future. The core idea of my position is that the A-F system works very well. What is wrong with the system is not how students are graded, but in the softening of the scale to pacify political forces.
        Every student can succeed in a system that teaches courses suited to them. But is a fallacy to think that every student can be a doctor or an astrophysicist. It is wrong to tell the student that they can be what ever they want to be unless they know the truth about themselves and can make good choices about what they want to be.
        • Jan 7 2012: Why exactly is it that any given student would be unable to become a good doctor or astrophysicist?

          My belief, generally speaking, is that there are certain recurring mental thought patterns that prevent a given person from learning more about a given thing. At the root of these bad thought patterns, I believe, are bad past experiences. Many bad past experiences, I believe, stem from the educational system, but are delivered through social experiences which are colored by certain premature assertions inherent in most educational system.

          Bad recurring thought pattern: Chemistry is hard. I'm not smart enough for chemistry. What the hell are "mols"? What the hell is all this chemical bonding nonsense?

          Bad past experience: Everyone else in the class (seemingly) 'gets it' but I don't. I must not be smart.

          Premature assertion: If you don't get it right away, then it's because you're not smart. All people with A's are smart. If I get an F, I'm not smart.

          The actual root cause of why this person didn't 'get it' could be a myriad of things. Life distractions/pressures, unique learning style (whatever that means).

          We have not proven that even if the education was executed differently, learning would still not happen.

          Belief in some fundamental potential of all human beings is not politics. Genetics has not been proven to be a limiting factor. Any occupation boils down to a series of tasks and knowledge. I would argue that emotional wisdom is a much more significant driver for efficacy at performing these tasks and retaining this knowledge. Unless it is proven to me that emotional wisdom cannot be developed explicitly, I strongly believe that anyone can do anything.
      • Jan 7 2012: 59% = F+
        Try again.
        Aim for 75% mastery in summer school and earn a "C" grade.
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      Dec 30 2011: Thirdly, the A to F model inherently promotes educational inequality. By using an A to F grading scale we can easily classify children into categories based off percentage results on tests. Why can’t we use a satisfactory, unsatisfactory, needs improvement (and explain in what areas they need to improve ) type grading scale? A to F grades are used simply because it’s a way for society to separate the “good students” from the “bad”, the “dumb” from the smart, in order to help us better determine who is worthy of AP, honors, IB classes and who is “worthy” to ultimately go onto college. This model inherently promotes educational inequality.

      I am not against grades or student assessments. However, I am against grades being used solely to JUDGE students as we use them in the United States.

      Also, full disclosure, I'm not some disgruntled student who received bad grades in school lol. I had over a 4.0 GPA in HS (graduated 7th in my class) and have great grades in college at UF. However, as I reflect on my k-12 education and the education of my peers (many of whom were not as academically "successful" as I), I really think we need a pyradym shift on grades in education

      Thanks for your thoughts Jon. I would really like to hear what you think.
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        Dec 31 2011: Andrew, you say: "A to F grades are used simply because it’s a way for society to separate the “good students” from the “bad”, the “dumb” from the smart, in order to help us better determine who is worthy of AP, honors, IB classes and who is “worthy” to ultimately go onto college. This model inherently promotes educational inequality."
        You are mistaking 'worthy' with 'qualified.' People are not equal in many ways. This does not make anyone less worthy of respect and consideration than anyone else.
        However, the system is set up to suit a technological society where the cutting edge areas need the best and brightest in order to understand and improve the technology.
        Regarding a paradigm shift, you are absolutely correct. It has to based on what the full capabilities of the students are and how to help them reach their full capabilities. But this means we must accurately know what their capabilities are, have a curriculum supplying classes for a wider range of talents, and stop telling kids that 'everything will be all right, don't cry.' when they fail at a a task that is simply not within their capabilities or for which they did not prepare. In our 'ideal' school, real tests for a variety of talents or 'intelligence' would be available and the student and parents would receive real world information which would help them reach the goals that are within the reach of their family. Society would provide a variety of teachers who could get to know each student in a smaller class size, and there would be counselors and real world experiences to give the students a correct understanding about their world and what needs to be done to be successful in it without destroying it.
        It is good that a top student like yourself is questioning the system and is looking for a better way.
        • Jan 7 2012: The very inclination of many to conflate "worthy" with "qualified" is part of the problem is it not? Isn't this very attitude what actually happens in the real world? The hypothesis, as I understand it, is that this attitude stems from a grading system that doesn't reflect reality. And the result of this attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

          My personal belief is that a course grade that dually acts as a filtering mechanism is inherently flawed. Instead of a GPA, all there should be is an attendance record. Standardized testing (with its own flaws) can remain as the filtering mechanism.

          To put the pressure of a GPA on students while learning is supposed to happen is flawed and, on the whole, counterproductive. Learning should have its own merits. Competitions that include some kind of scoring system should be available for voluntary participation.
      • Jan 7 2012: @Andrew, i think you do yourself, and the discussion, a disservice by stating your GPA in a discussion where you are arguing to remove such a grading system. If grades are unhelpful, then your GPA is moot.

        This discussion hits very close to home for me, and I ask you share in my personal experience:

        I was gifted in math from a very early age, teaching myself algebra by age 4. By the time I entered grade 1 (7 years old), I was at the level of the current American Algebra 2 course load. As you can imagine, I was beyond frustrated with what I saw as a waste of my time being forced to attend basic math classes. Being enrolled in public school, and dictated by federal government education policies, I was never allowed to attend math classes in line with my current skill set.

        I was still a seven year old child, so my other skill sets in English, history and science were at or near the "expected" seven year old level. Skipping six grades was not an option, as I would have been far behind in other subjects. By the time I entered school, aeronautical engineering was my goal. I was well ahead of the curve, yet the school system itself was so rigid, as time went on I became burnt out trying to fight for an appropriate education and, as a result, bored and defiant.

        I was given homework assignments well below my knowledge level and stopped doing them out of boredom. I scored perfect scores on tests on a regular basis, as I knew the material but was unable to be challenged.

        In the end, I went from straight A's to D's and F's simply out of boredom. It should be noted, in college this inflexible system continues, where I had to fight tooth and nail to skip the "required" math courses and move straight to calculus and beyond.

        In the end, I think they need to give out tests PRIOR to attending and educate based on the results. Beyond removing the A-F scale (and keeping with 0-100 tests), they need to remove grade levels and teach based on knowledge, not age.
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    Dec 28 2011: I think the grade more appropriately belongs to the teacher.

    It's not merely that the student has failed that subject, but that the teacher has failed to teach the student.
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      Dec 28 2011: Too simplistic. It's usually the assessment system/method that fails both.
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        Dec 28 2011: I agree to a point. Often there is inadequacy on the part of the teacher as well.

        That in part can be attributed to a failure of the system (teachers college, curriculum-setting, etc.) to give the teacher the right tools to reach a broad spectrum of learning styles.

        So I alter my statement to "the grade more appropriately belongs to the system."
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          Dec 28 2011: The difficulty with education in modern times is that people seem to need a one-shot quick-fix.

          Unfortunately, in New Zealand, this attitude keeps being applied to teachers but nothing else. For example, why are doctors not being hauled over the coals because of rampant obesity or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases?

          To me, the answer is obvious - the system is badly flawed. Ironically, all those parents that 'hated' school, still only want to see a simple statistic at the end of the year to sum up their child's learning. (In my experience, they really only want to know if their child is 'better' than their classmates).

          Old tradition dies hard, but it is happening.

          Honestly, the first step is to tell politicians to keep their noses out of education. Their job should be only to invest appropriate amounts of tax dollars in the future generation, which they fail at anyway in their mindless crusade to "save" money.

          I agree that there should be robust appraisal systems for teachers and the power to oust those poor performers. I also think the same should first be done for politicians.

          Sorry about the rant, but education is at a fork in the road and it feels like a lot of people are poised to head down the wrong path (I'm talking about the kind of politician that doesn't know when to let go of the reins and hand them over to experienced folk).
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        Dec 28 2011: Don't apologize for the rant. We're on the same page.

        The system (here in Canada as well) is broken and really needs to be completely re-envisioned.
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    Dec 24 2011: I could not agree more, Andrew. As a college instructor, I am sick of the letter-grade system I am forced to use, and the deleterious effect it has on learning. Not only does a letter grade belittle many hard-working students, but it utterly fails to do what it's intended to do: encapsulate the prowess of students whose abilities span multiple domains and modes. For example, what in the world does a "B" grade mean? Does it mean the student is hard-working but has trouble grasping a few concepts? Does it mean the student is a genius but doesn't apply themselves as much as they could? The system is ridiculous.

    Some institutions like the Evergreen State College in Washington eschew letter grades, replacing them with narrative assessments written by professors for each student, highlighting strengths and weaknesses. At least this way you get a more nuanced and multi-dimensional view of each person's learning. I'm not sure this entirely escapes the problem of students seeking the easiest professors, but at least it's a step toward something more meaningful than a letter grade.

    I've wondered what would happen if schools stopped giving letter grades altogether. Would this solve the problem of false motivation you so accurately describe (going for a grade rather than actually learning all you can)? I suspect it would help, but the next problem you'd face is the diploma/degree/certificate: people will still attend a school just to get that symbol, and may likely pursue the acquisition of the symbol instead of actual learning.

    Let's take this idea to its ultimate conclusion and imagine if schools didn't grant diplomas/degrees/certificates at all. I don't have any firm visions of how this scenario would play out, but I suspect it's one worth pondering and investigating. I imagine it would reduce the number of students attending the institution, but the average motivation of those students would be much higher.
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      Dec 25 2011: Thanks for your compelling response Tony. I completely agree. Removing grades would not solve the problem entirely but it might be a step in the right direction. There will always be a need for assessments (diplomas, degrees, cert., etc) that prove educational attainment. For example, It is essential that doctors receive a degree to prove medical competency. In a similar fashion, I would expect a pilot to prove they can fly a plane before we allow them in the skies. I would expect these assessments to serve as final indicators of knowledge and an appropriate form of motivation. However, there are 2 vital questions:

      First, Do the assessments we use take away from learning, or enhance the learning process? And
      Secondly, Are the assessments and grading tools we use accurately determining an individuals knowledge?

      Unfort., the current assessments greatly take away from learning and distorts the meaning of education. For one, standardized testing limits curriculum, and creativity. For ex, growing up, I was never inspired to read a book in my spare time, or to write independently. Why? Because within the schools I attended, this was not a priority (or even a goal for that matter). All that was expected was that I met the basic educational standards. And I did.

      Also, I could go on for days about how the A to F grading scale is flawed but my biggest gripe with the scale is that it does absolutely nothing to improve learning. Instead, the scale is very subjective in how its administered and is used solely to judge a student. Lets say a student receives an F. On there report card, does that F ever include information on why they received that grade? Does it let them know the areas they need to improve on? And does the grading scale ever allow students to improve in the future to move up the scale once they've mastered material? The answer to all of these questions is unequivocally no. The A to F inherently promotes learning gaps and educational inequality within schools
  • Jan 11 2012: I guess it depends on what or who such letter grades serve ... for potential employees it is a unidimensional way to measure you against the herd in terms of perceived academic excellence ... it could just as well reflect an ability to cram for exams successfully, show that you have a great mind, prove you are a able to cheat sneakily, that you have mastered great exam technique or that you are an erudite scholar.

    It does not necessarily indicate you have a grasp on the fundamentals of the various topics.

    Our education system has the hidden curriculum and message that says if you get good marks you will be a success and get a good job etc.

    There are so many aspects of intelligence ... the ability to apply learning, to adapt it, to communicate it and to synergise with other disciplines ....

    Our world is too obsessed with how athletic, beautiful, rich, connected we are rather than shifting to a different paradigm where we value each other in the total honesty and effort we put int o living together in harmony ..

    That is the real "win win" that educatio has to work on ... not just rote learing but teaching kids how to think and also how to act ethically.
  • Jan 10 2012: Try reading "A whole new mind" by Dan Pink and the "Rich Dad" series by Robert Kiyosaki. These should be good eye openers for you
  • Jan 10 2012: The reasons why teachers don't assess differently are many and varied. As I see it, there are two prominent reasons why teachers don't assess competence in the same way that every other field does(namely, can you use what you know to complete a project?). First, there is a nearly carved in stone belief that testing for content is the only way to accurately assess what people know. While this is known to be false by those in education, it is state legislatures that hold the purse strings and call the shots. Since the politicians believe that testing is an accurate measure, there is a lot of pressure on teachers to teach students to be experts at taking tests. This involves covering a great deal of content, but leaves little time for project development and extrapolation.

    Another reason is time, specifically the lack of it. A hundred years ago, a person could learn everything they would need to know in order to earn a good living in about six years of schooling. At that time, school lasted nine months. There was one final at the end of the school year and if you didn't pass you were held back. Today, people have to be at least a hundred times more culturally and technologically literate. Public school teachers have the same 180 days to cover orders of magnitude more material. But if you measure it in hours and you take out all the lunches and pull outs and required testing - that 1080 hours of learning time shrinks substantially. The point is, experimentation takes quality learning time that we simply don't have. So my short answer is money and time. Trust educators to develop and implement modern ways of teaching, and give us the rest of the year to do it, with one week breaks at the quarters and we would graduate a lot more creative life long learners.
  • Jan 4 2012: ....continued... just as there are stragglers in every other part of our society. We have kids that suck at sports. We have kids that suck at chess. We have kids that ... yes... suck at math. Just like we have companies that suck at customer service, suck at closing a sale, suck at building a retaining wall, etc. That's the "American Dream", pal. Except, that's the part they don't show you in Hollywood movies and afterschool specials.
    It's the part where for every winner there's 11 losers. For everyone that becomes a Bill Gates there's 5,000 that fold up their business and cash in their 401k to keep their house. For every real estate agent that retires there's 40 that leave for other jobs. I think you've gotten sucked into the "winner" part a little too much. You forgot about the competition part. The part that makes America "great". That we do produce losers. And that failing businesses ... fail. And that companies that don't have good customer service and suck at selling stuff and can't glue two bricks together get closed. And yeah, a country where kids that suck at math don't get scholarships, or when they suck at football they don't get to play in the superbowl.
    And how exactly do we figure out who the deserving ones will be? Do we just dance around in class all day, make clay pots and straw hats, paint with our fingers, and judge our kids by how happy their faces look at the end of the day? I've got news for you. That's what we've been doing all this time. The US lags behind pretty much every other nation except the ones that suck even worse than us.
    I say, more grades. More tests. Separate the intelligent kids from the ones that have trouble. Don't punish our kids, the ones that do well, by lumping them with the ones that struggle. Quit basket weaving 101, photography 102, and music appreciation 103.
    Math, Science, Language. Let the chips fall where they may, and our country WILL rise, and our kids with it.
    • Jan 7 2012: Pedagogy is politics. Politics is pedagogy.

      What is the end game? Is it to become Bill Gates? Is it to win the Superbowl?
      Perhaps we can agree that the ideal is "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for all.
      Now, if we have an educational system that is unjust, does this not infringe on the ideal?

      Your assertion seems to be that the educational system is unjust because we don't sufficiently filter out the "duds". This is a fine assertion, but its predicated on what I believe to be a faulty assumption. Namely, the existence of "duds".

      I would contend that if you go back far enough, those "duds" are "duds" for unjust reasons. That is, the non-duds just got "lucky".

      So what we have here is a situtation where lucky people are successful, unlucky people are not.

      To make it more "just", what is it that we, as a society, should reward with success? Is it intellect? Does the ability to determine why e^(i*pi) equals -1 of merit in our society? Perhaps it is, because then we can compete with the Chinese.

      But does this promote "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for all men?

      Harsh realities suck. But I think to stray from ideals is dangerous.
  • Jan 4 2012: This is interesting! The public schools, that have been funded, are now failing? The grade system is now, not working?
    You are 21! Congrats! You are in college. How did you get there?
    When it comes to the arts and dance and singing, painting, poetry, self worth. The tax payers cannot foot the bill. Hell, we cannot even teach children the basics! ( too expensive ) Awesome question! :)
  • Dec 31 2011: I teach in an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme and we are beginning the process of eliminating the traditional grading scale and using criterion based scoring. The students and parents were very receptive and positive to this idea. Allowing students to achieve by measurable criteria that doesn't indicate "failure" but rather gives students a target and the steps to each that target, I think, will be life-changing for many students.

    It has been a difficult shift for many of our teachers, but for me, it was exactly what I have been searching for.
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      Dec 31 2011: Hi Christina, that is great to hear. I don't know the specifics of the program but It sounds like a good idea.
  • Dec 31 2011: My High School used a 100 Point scale system. This meant that there was no "work to get an A" mentality. It made grades real in the realest sense. This prevents the disparity of the student who busts their hump and gets an A to the student who does the bare minimum to get in A. This alternative of a 100 point system, allows students to see their true hard score and keeps them true to their ethics. I know that I worked harder and retained more in with this system. It also creates a realist approach to perfection. Where an A is perfect, it makes perfection seemingly obtainable. The truth of the matter is that the insatiability of the human imagination drives us to strive for this perfection, with a 100 point scale it helps young students gain this perspective that they don't need to be perfect to succeed and thrive. 100 points > 4 points
  • Dec 30 2011: "A grade is not given, it is earned", a quote I'm sure we're all familiar with. Grades are the combination of teaching skill, student ability and level of interest. I don't believe grades can ever disappear, how could they? How could we weed out those worthy of becoming doctors, lawyers, engineers?

    Say the grading system were to be removed such that if you felt like you could take on medical school, fine, have at it, no MCATS. What then? You go to medical school and...read all the books you're supposed to...do some flash cards. So you've spent your $200,000 and are pretty ready to be a doctor now, mind you, you have still taken tests but even if you receive some awful grade, who cares right? Not you because your school doesn't show you the door after bad grades because that system isn't there. You 'graduate' medical school and...are a doctor now right? I don't quite think so, we should probably still have you take the USMLE because we don't want you mending bones and performing surgeries without adhering to some standard, that's common sense. Here's the end game; you've either been given more opportunity because of the absence of the grading system till this end point or you've just dug a debt hole so deep you'll be working some other job till you're 75.

    We need grades but we need standardized tests to be IMPORTANT and more FREQUENT. There should certain required subjects and optional subjects; say math and writing as required then two or three other choice subjects (art, history, philosophy, music, science, etc). I haven't thought much on this but something along these lines could be a good direction.

    Unfortunately parents dictate a student's involvement in academics more so than most factors. How can "do as I say, not as I do" truly be taught here?
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    Dec 29 2011: Having an A or an F doesn't mean we are good or bad. But without it, how can we know someone is good or bad?
    I am not pretty sure but in my humble opinion, we still need this kind of scale until someone figures out a new method, breaks a new ground and brings new developement into education and into this earth (may be).
    You happy with that scale, you follow, no dispute, hand down.
    You are not happy, invents new and you will become famous, everyone will remember you.
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    Dec 28 2011: I propose for consideration that education adapt competent / non-competent system of advancement. If you successfully complete a module you may advance to the next module. You continue this until you complete the course map. The computer monitors your course map and allows you to progress for any area you meet the prerequsites. You would progress at your rate of learning through all available modules. You would not receive a grade. You would instead receive a transcript of successfully completed courses. This would be a educational resume and a transcript for further education. Each module has progressive demands. EXAMPLE: Band I is basic. Band IV requires in depth knowledge and expertise to achieve competency. This is a thumbnail sketch of a complete system. I would be glad to further discuss this plan.
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    Dec 26 2011: I'm perplexed. If you already know that it is the "belief" that distorts the purpose of education, why are you suggesting a different grading scale?

    No matter what kind of grading system we have, as long as our meritocratic perspective persists, nothing would change.
    • Dec 26 2011: Why the "perplexed" comment?

      In your profile you say that you are a good listener but never cease talking, two mutually exclusive activities, and you are a "TED TRANSLATOR". I could easily say that I am perplexed by that but I will not. What's the point?
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        Dec 27 2011: Hi Patrick. That was just a simple remark of my impression while reading the description of the conversation. It's a part what I want to express and question thereon. Frankly, when you ask "What's the point?" I think you know well what the point of it is - it has the same purpose as you commenting about my profile, and still asking "what's the point?" If you really didn't know what the point was, you wouldn't have mentioned it at all.
        • Dec 28 2011: And Hi to you,
          Not sure you got my point though. The point of me mentioning your profile was to show it was a pointless comment not adding to anything.
          I see too many people on here "perplexed" about things.
          I just think comments could be more constructive, or not made at all
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        Dec 28 2011: Hi again.
        You may have a distinct definition of what a constructive comment is, but I don't think my comment was out of context in any way. If I'd only mentioned that I'm perplexed, perhaps I could understand where you're getting at. But really, do you always read people's comments and pick out what you think is less constructive while completely disregarding the rest?

        You say too many people are "perplexed" about things. May I ask, what's so wrong with that? If they are, let them express it.

        What I consider less constructive would be making a comment on a part of another's mere reaction and standing entirely awry from the main prompt of the conversation.
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    Dec 26 2011: For me it's not about the grades that we get but the subject we teach. Of course we all need to to learn to read and write and communicate but beyond the the education system is driven by a collection of subjects that we deem to be good and bad, in a sense 'A' and 'F' subjects. If you take Math and Science, you are a good kid child, if you take Art and Dance well, you know the rest. 'A' and 'F' grading needs to exist so that we can see how we are performing by the standards we have set not by the standards others have set. Using this approach I would hope that children will learn to make a distinction between the subjects they take and the person they have become and not they they are one of the same. I have lived half of my life on the US and my native England and we both suffer from the same problem. At the moment my daughter is about to enter into her last two years of high school where she has chosen to focus on four main subjects: English Literature, Photography, Drama and RE. While she is a strong student in all subject these are the ones she loves to do so why do Maths and Science? She does not want to be a Scientist. So we force children down the academic road of education where many of them fail and we say well you can always be a Plumber.
  • Jan 18 2012: Very good points made here. I go to high school now, and you can distinguish the people who are genuinely interested in learning from the people who just care about grades. That being said, I can't tell how you would eliminate grades entirely. Colleges need grades to distinguish candidates, for example. However, I think we sometimes focus too much on what letter grade we'll receive and not enough about what we're actually learning.
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    Jan 18 2012: The reward for learning should be the knowledge, not the grade. A grade has no intrinsic value. It is a letter (or a number). A single letter is not worth any more than any other single letter. We practice the “binge and purge” method of learning. Store up the facts just long enough to regurgitate them onto the test, then forget them and repeat. This way, we get fantastic grades!

    Yes, grades are a superbly simple way to show how well you did in school and therefore how you are likely to do in a job. But, I can’t think of a reason why you can’t just come to an employer and tell them the things you know. Can you lie? Can you say “I know calculus well” when you don’t, and be believed? It’s absurd.

    We understand that children who want to do something and are excited about that thing are very likely to succeed. Those children will try and try again, on their own, until they get it right. Children who are taught hunger for knowledge get awesome grades at school, so long as the teacher has even half a brain, because they seek the knowledge themselves. It’s almost like cheating. They don’t play within the rules. They don’t begrudgingly regurgitate the lesson to win a letter. Instead, they completely digest the knowledge and let it add to their person and sort of collect this strange alphabet soup as a byproduct.

    Grades are only needed to make sure the students aren’t trying to gain knowledge.
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    Jan 16 2012: Well, I personally believe for grading to change then education itself must also change. A-F is a ranking system that is quick, easy, and understood across community groups. It is easily manipulated for good and bad. It is not a true representation of a skillset. There is also the 4-3-2-1 system with 3 meaning meeting standards independently, 4 being exceeding, 2 meaning needing support to meet standards, 1 meaning" basically not getting it". These systems seem to be in place to rank students easily and do the paper shuffle. Teachers are not given any time to really look at what students are producing. Then students have to move on rather than focus and fix it. Many students are not motivated to produce on a piece of paper.

    I would like education to become a balance between process and product. Technology gives us a great & easy way to store data. Pictures, videos including explanations of student products could be more easily stored than that of student portfolios. I would rather that students have a real product that can be shared with peers, teachers,and the community. If the product works without problems, it is a success (a garden, a meal, a shed, a piece of clothing, etc). If it doesn't work, then fix it, redo it, or come up with a different plan that will work. Students would be motivated to do things and create things likethey do in art, music, and PE.

    Many innovators and great thinkers leave schools because they have big ideas that they want to make real! They are doers. These people feel they can't do that in the school setting. They rather change the world from their garage. That says a lot to me.

    I feel we need a change in perspective. There are many jobs out there that are necessary to the functioning of our lives. However, we rank those like we do grades and people. If you are content in your job, you are able to support yourself and your family, you are a good citizen, then you are a productive member of society and I thank you.
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    Jan 16 2012: I'd take my chances any time with some numerical, objective and universal method of measuring my performance before relying on personal evaluation by a single individual (or small cabal of individuals). The latter is an invitation to sucking up, rather than to learning!
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    Jan 16 2012: Correlation does *NOT* prove causation..... I'm skeptical that changing how one measures performance is relevant to issues like cheating, feelings of success/failure, 'shortcutting', and so on. Life consists of gradations and measuring them is critical.... is being operated for an intestinal obstruction by an undergraduate English major the same as being operated on by a surgeon? Is having a truck driver represent you in a divorce court just as good as having a divorce lawyer? Skills have to be measured at some point before actually 'hitting the road' and testing oneself in the 'real world'.

    That said, we live in a world where Bernie Madoff fraudsters are common. I don't see how eliminating measurement of skills makes life better for anyone. It strikes me that giving everyone an 'A' automatically is counterproductive. The fact that lots of people are liars, fraudsters, and so on doesn't prove we should eliminate measurement -- or to demand such things as achievement, effort, and so on.

    Would a world in which nothing is measured be a better one? Nope.
  • Jan 16 2012: I met to turn this in earlier, but the dog ate my homework!

    The objective grading of students for classroom performance is important as a matter of fairness, not just for students, but parents and teachers as well. It enables an official ranking of a student's grasp and application of the subject matter presented. Grades serves the crux of what it means to be a student -- to learn and academically compete with one's peers (other students) in a classroom environment.

    The system can and does breakdown. Teachers can be ineffective and/or incompetent, schools can be substandard, or pushing their own agenda, homes can be hellholes, etc. It would be nice if all these problems could be magically eradicated, or fixed, but reality is what it is.

    This grading process does not satisfy many parents, teachers and students because it demands accountability and it is not perfect. It would be interesting to know if exceptional students object to the achievement demands placed on them, or if they are more appreciative of the special recognition they receive as a result of excellent marks and the opportunity it may afford them in the future.
  • Jan 16 2012: `i have not read the diverse array of ideas expressed here so forgive me if this is a repeat, but I believe the OLD brick and motor models are dead. I think every school and university should have a bulldozer sitting outside of them with the engine set in the "DRIVE" mode. Face it... the current system is failing. We have the technology to create the same or better learning environment without the child leaving his home. Sure there are other skill that you gain from the class room that you can not get at home, then cool work on that set of issues, but the present system is a distraction to those still developing their brains and those yet to discover they have one. Just my overall thought on the present day learning institution.
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    Jan 15 2012: As a high school student, everything you've said rings incredibly true. As my math teacher phrased it, we're been taught to simply "learn school" instead of to foster a lifelong love of learning. In the focus on grades, which are often ambiguous and not at all indicative of an individual's abilities, students tend to overlook that grades are simply numbers and that what really matters is the development of critical thinking and creativity.

    Here's an incredible article I recently read on this topic:
    (It's by Alfie Kohn and was originally published in "High School Magazine" in March 1999.)

    These are the major points from the article that I believe are a great summary of the dilemma with grades:
    "1. Grades tend to reduce students’ interest in the learning itself...
    2. Grades tend to reduce students’ preference for challenging tasks...
    3. Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking...
    4. Grades aren’t valid, reliable, or objective...
    5. Grades distort the curriculum...
    6. Grades waste a lot of time that could be spent on learning...
    7. Grades encourage cheating...
    8. Grades spoil teachers’ relationships with students...
    9. Grades spoil students’ relationships with each other."

    The article continues by refuting common objections to replacing grades and by discussing routes to reform. I strongly suggest reading it to whoever's at all interested in the education system of today.

    I myself, as well as many of my current teachers with whom I've discussed this topic, believe that, although far more time intensive, replacing grades with some form of comment feedback would be significantly more beneficial to students and conducive to learning as a whole.