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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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  • Jan 8 2012: I agree with the fact that we are only going to school for a grade. It disturbes me that the school system has made education as a symbol of how perfect you are instead of as a method of spreading new ideas, and having kids get excited about the world! If we are constantly worrying about what grade we get, and learning everything for the next test, nothing sticks, and nothing interests. Instead we see education as a burden, something stressful and ugly, and not fun. But, when we look at all of these TED talks (for example), we can see how exciting education and innovation can be. I know that if my classes were based on homework, class participation/discussions, projects, and maybe just quizzes (since those test your memory but are not as stressful as tests) I would have a lot more fun at school, and absorb so much more.
    However with all of the fuss about equal education i think there are three sides of the story, 1 it is true that those who say live in dangerous neighborhoods with low income have less of an opportunity for education, 2 there are those who don't have the capability(seriously don't) who would be lost in a class with other kids, or if you dumbed down the class would lose a lot of the faster learners (like the standardized testing system) 3, there are the kids who just don't care, and don't want to. I believe the last one can be changed with the way the education system works, if we can make it more about how these topics connect to us, why we should care, and more exciting/fun rather than grades and a bunch of homework then we might be able to get this last group up and running. See there are all different situations.
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      Jan 8 2012: Thank you for your response Debarati! I really enjoyed your perspective. Education should be viewed as a method of spreading new ideas as well. Hopefully, one day we can see this change come to fruition.

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