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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?


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    Dec 31 2011: I think the A-F system is just like any other status quo; It got us this far, and has admirably served it's function for many years, and many are understandable a little reticent to just up and throw it out the window without a lot of thought as to why the wheel needs to be reinvented. And certainly traditional grades will be around far longer than us early adopters would like. That being said, the way grades are assigned across subjects and teachers is nowhere near as consistent as a standard report card would have us believe. Some teachers weight homework highly and tests lowly, so a student who has a perfect command of the subject matter and little inclination to do homework that is unneeded in order for them to learn will receive a lower grade than someone who does all the work, but still walks away from the classroom with only the faintest understanding of the subject. Others grade on perceived class participation, which is measured extremely subjective at best.

    My principle problem with A-F is not that it's a standard rubric, but that it claims to be and isn't. What would be more equitable in my opinion is a system that gives students goals, and checks them off the list when completed to a high standard... if not up to par, they get bounced back and get to try again. There should not be a penalty no matter how many times you get it wrong before you get it right, as long as you eventually get there. Likewise, there should be no unnecessary grinding for those that get it right the first time, they should simply get to move on. And now that I've ventured past the OP by a fair margin, I'll get back to the point: Should we get rid of A-F? Eventually. Is there anything better? Of course! There's always something better, it's just a matter of when and where we find it.
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      Jan 2 2012: I agree Ryan!
      You said "Is there anything better? Of course! There's always something better, it's just a matter of when and where we find it."
      To this I would like to comment.
      One thing I like bout teachers (among many things of course) is that they are not stupid. However, we have to understand their goals. We like to think that they work for the student and parents, but they work for the Board of Education. They agree to do this because they get paid for their time. There is a contest between what teachers will do and what they are asked to do, for the simple reason that there are not enough hours in a day to do what they are asked to do.
      The A-F system has many superior systems. But it is an acceptable compromise when time, clarity, simplicity, and functionality are all factored in.
      Teachers have already developed innumerable grading systems over the years. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but none has been able to work as well as A-F for every group that has an interest in student progress.

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