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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 10 2012: The reasons why teachers don't assess differently are many and varied. As I see it, there are two prominent reasons why teachers don't assess competence in the same way that every other field does(namely, can you use what you know to complete a project?). First, there is a nearly carved in stone belief that testing for content is the only way to accurately assess what people know. While this is known to be false by those in education, it is state legislatures that hold the purse strings and call the shots. Since the politicians believe that testing is an accurate measure, there is a lot of pressure on teachers to teach students to be experts at taking tests. This involves covering a great deal of content, but leaves little time for project development and extrapolation.

    Another reason is time, specifically the lack of it. A hundred years ago, a person could learn everything they would need to know in order to earn a good living in about six years of schooling. At that time, school lasted nine months. There was one final at the end of the school year and if you didn't pass you were held back. Today, people have to be at least a hundred times more culturally and technologically literate. Public school teachers have the same 180 days to cover orders of magnitude more material. But if you measure it in hours and you take out all the lunches and pull outs and required testing - that 1080 hours of learning time shrinks substantially. The point is, experimentation takes quality learning time that we simply don't have. So my short answer is money and time. Trust educators to develop and implement modern ways of teaching, and give us the rest of the year to do it, with one week breaks at the quarters and we would graduate a lot more creative life long learners.

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