TED Conversations

Andrew Hecht

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

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
    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.
    • thumb
      Jan 3 2012: I love your response and totally agree!

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.