TED Conversations

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?


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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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