TED Conversations

Andrew Hecht

This conversation is closed.

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?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Dec 29 2011: I believe that everyone has the right to fail. It is essential to experience success. It's the same reason why we wouldn't know the taste of "sweet" unless we also knew the taste of "sour." The A-F measuring stick works because it let's students know where they stand based on a time-tested, structured scale. I have heard that some schools are giving out Incompletes (I) instead of an F. This is equivalent to everyone getting a trophy on a sports team, "just because." I was a "C" student who felt dumb all the way through college, but completing 12 years of school was enough. This year, instead of applying too much help to our 5th grader, as we had in the past, we let him feel what failure was like. In his first report card, he got two C's and three D's. It didn't feel good. He learned what failure looked like. His recent report card is on A and four B's. That's a first, on his own. In life and in school, I am just a big believer of what failure can do to someone's character development on their way to success. As old as the A-F system is, it serves it's purpose. It's your right to fail, to later succeed. A safety net is what I am worried about. What does that teach? And not everyone gets a trophy just for showing up. :)
    • thumb
      Dec 29 2011: I would go further to say that everyone needs to experience failure to learn how to overcome it.

      The first time I failed something I was 17. As ridiculous as it sounds, it had never actually occurred to me before then that I could. And it didn't matter that I knew *logically* that it was the direct result of skipping most of that class, suddenly every time I took a test I was hyper aware that I *could* fail it, and it gave me anxiety attacks.

      I started second-guessing everything and I would literally have about 20 minutes before the panic level got so high that I couldn't even read the words on the page.

      Obviously, I managed to get past that, but I think it's just not healthy to get that far without really being challenged at a serious level.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.