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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 9 2012: We will always have assessments. Research shows that the act of taking an assessment reinforces learning. As Andrew mentions, traditional grades have a negative feedback loop. You study up to the point of getting an A, then relax because you don't want to do too much work. A better system would be statistical analysis of each class - we have more than enough computer storage and processing power to do it. Each class would include the mean, median, mode, range, standard deviation and rank. Then the goal becomes not just to get an A, but to be #1, which requires a lot more work. It eliminates the grade inflation problem - not everyone can be #1. It eliminates the college grade manipulation to keep federally funded failing students in class - require them to be in the statistical top 1/3, rather than passing, because of course if that is the standard, everyone passes. There are MBA programs in which every student gets a B because industry only reimburses for a B or better. Stats stop that too.

    There are problems, like comparing across schools, but standardized tests and certifications can do that. Also, employers can judge the relative merits of a 1st rank at MIT vs. Podunk U.
    • Jan 10 2012: What you seem to be espousing is the Bell Curve. It was used years ago and dropped for the most part in the 90s. The problem is not the title (A-f, pass/fail/the Bell Curve). The problem is that Americans in large numbers, do not respect education.They "debate" global warming, despite overwhelming scientific evidence. If surveys are to be believed, over 50% of Americans doubt evolution! You cannot expect students to respect an institution that continually being degraded and criticized (correctly and incorrectly) continuously in the media. Education needs to change, but not as much as the media would lead you to believe. What we really need is a fundamental shift in society's value system. Instead of shouting from every pillar about the importance of education, show how valuable it is by funding it and respecting its product and processes.

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