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?

  • Jan 3 2012: My personal experience is probably different from that of most students. I spent the early years of my youth in Germany, studied in Grundschule and later in Gymnasium, and then moved to the United States where I became a Jr High School and High School Student. As a young person, I particularly liked the idea of having many choices in classes here in the States. In Germany, the only choices I (and my parents) had in my education mostly had to do with which foreign languages I was going to learn. Other than that, everything else was regimented - the entire schedule was exactly the same for me and my 29 other German classmates.

    But, there is a cost. And that cost isn't just the amount of money spent on education (I live in NY, and the average cost per student for my state is somewhere around $17-19 k, per student, per year). It also tends to lump excellent students with duds. Yup, you read right, I called some kids "duds". In every situation where a bunch of strangers are randomly intermingled, you will always have some "stragglers" and non-performers.

    We need to STOP believing that every student/person has the potential to become MIT/Harvard/Yale material. That's simply idiotic and gives way too much credit to our teachers and education system. No matter how much money you throw at a problem, no matter what grading system you come up with, and no matter how wonderful we all think our teachers are, we will *always* have students that aren't at the same level as other students.

    Unfortunately, I firmly believe that *once again* we are trying to accommodate for the lowest common denominator. Excellence is NOT that everyone is a rocket scientist. It's not that everyone becomes a physician or lawyer or military commander. There are many ways to measure excellence, but duping parents, teachers, and students into believing that we all should have the same grades, the same intellect, is not "excellent".
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      Jan 4 2012: Herro, I appreciate your response but I could not disagree with you more. One of the biggest problems in the United States today is that millions of students are classified as "duds" (as you call them). You say that society will always have "stranglers and non-performers." This thinking is inherently at the problem of our education system today.

      I contend that ALL CHILDREN, yes I said it, ALL CHILDREN, have the capability to succeed. Unfortunately, often in society- families, schools, communities, etc.- we do not provide children the motivation, resources or capabilities to succeed. We commonly measure student excellence in a box that values only those students who become physicians, lawyers, or military commanders (as you mention). Unfortunately, when we teach the vital subjects (math, science, English, etc.) necessary to create these professionals, we do so in an UNEQUAL manor. It's time we admit to the existence of the million pound gorilla in the U.S.. Children born into poverty or poor neighborhoods have an unequal opportunity to succeed. Instead, these "duds" fall behind in school at a young age and never are given the attention or resources they need to catch up. Rich parents can send their children to tutors or can help them solve problems at home. Children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are not so lucky. A cycle of poverty continues from generation to the next.

      I'm not saying that all children were born to be lawyers or doctors (or to go to MIT or Harvard). However, we must recognize that MOST of those so called "duds" were duds because we as a society failed them. Do children have to take some personal responsibility? Absolutely! However, society also has to take responsibility for failing them since 1st, 2nd, 3rd grade and for not providing them fair opportunities to succeed. We also have to take responsibility for not recognizing, valuing, or cultivating their strength or passion, whether it be dancing, singing, poetry, construction, design, etc
      • Jan 4 2012: Both comments are deeply thoughtful and conceivable but as a response to Andrew, I disagree that society has failed the poorer population in general. This is of course, a multilevel issue, where several facets are much better than some have ever hoped and some obviously worse. Poorer kids do have a greater disadvantage although the current situation in the US, I believe (yes, this might be personal bias) is that most students can achieve most any degree with enough time spent in class and applying for scholarships. Rags to riches stories are not common, but I happen to know several personally myself. It is a careful combination of student loans, time in class, time on the job site, and time with family.

        "Poor people have poor ways." Is this true? Living in a society that feels so entitled to the riches of the world and with a large (although minor statistically, the dependent population I speculate is bigger than ever before in historical societies) population living on welfare and government benefits that lobbying politicians have been pushed into passing by an ever increasing crowd?

        One way to mitigate the effects of generational "non-progression" or the passing down of slum characteristics is to introduce the sciences/arts more steadily to a wider population. How do you get a scientist or a large group of them to tour the country talking to kids, inspiring them to move on? It isn't an easy problem easily fixed by money either, since those scientists have jobs, families, and educations to pursue. This contributes to the multilevel idea, like a graphite sheet with layers of information needed for each area of interest. Age, interests, capability, motivation, home-life/family, commitments, morality, education, religion, gender, all play a part in this system.

        Amanda, 17, kindergarten-sophomore year, catholic, interested in music and graphical design is pressured by her parents to drop out and make money for the family so they can raise kids. Argument? not so easy
      • Jan 7 2012: Andrew wrote: "I contend that ALL CHILDREN, yes I said it, ALL CHILDREN, have the capability to succeed. " ... if you lower the standards low enough.
        But when you have general measures (objective written tests) with "grades" deemed having the "Basic Skills" (or not) and being "Proficient" (or above) people are surprised that low standards mean students DO NOT have even the needed "basic skills" for that subject, content area, or grade level.
        If you want to abandon grading why not abandon grade levels? Why not group children by age? (Oh yes, that's what the social promotion policy does, while hoping the child will learn in the next year what they didn't learn in the prior year.) Letting students learn without structure, without standards, and without grades, leads to the society of the barnyard.
        • Jan 7 2012: I strongly disagree that lowering standards is the only way to allow all children to succeed.

          I myself, was a successful student. Analyzing what it was that made me successful and others not, I cannot honestly conclude that there is something inherent in me that is superior to others. All I see are chains of events and conditions that have led to, for example, my wielding a certain way to think that was amenable to academics.

          I interpret Andrew's assertion to mean that all children have the same basic tools. And that the events and conditions that surround and nurture them in their life determine their proficiency at certain tasks and therefore their success.

          I agree with this interpretation.
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          Jan 7 2012: Larry, if you re-read any of my previous posts you will notice that I never once advocated for the lowering of standards. In fact, I think we should have higher expectations for our students than we currently have.

          "Letting students learn without structure, without standards, and without grades, leads to the society of the barnyard."

          Larry, I respectfully disagree with this statement. This is the baseless argument many people revert to anytime someone propose structural changes to our education system. I am not promoting a structureless education system without evaluations where kids run wild. I am simply arguing we focus more on LEARNING than judging and evaluating. If you think we should raise standards I'm all for it. However, standards are a waste if all we do is focus on how we will measure those standards and fail to give attention to how we will TEACH those standards.

          Maybe its just my perception, but if you listen to the rhetoric surrounding public education, you hear the words TEST, ACCOUNTABILITY, EVALUATION, STANDARDS, and MERIT more than you hear the words TEACHING and LEARNING.
      • Jan 7 2012: Andrew wrote: "Children born into poverty or poor neighborhoods have an unequal opportunity to succeed. Instead, these "duds" fall behind in school at a young age and never are given the attention or resources they need to catch up. Rich parents can send their children to tutors or can help them solve problems at home. Children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are not so lucky. A cycle of poverty continues from generation to the next."

        Unequal???
        Being poor doesn't mean you can't pick up the trash around your house, can't work hard in school, nor that you cannot learn. You equivocate low income with poverty of thought and bad habits (vices that suck up ones income).
        • Jan 7 2012: If I were to reframe what I understand to be Andrew's assertion, it is that being poor makes short-term interests more important than long-term interests because if you were rich, you'd have more options to invest in longer term interests. When you're poor, you can't afford to invest long-term because it's too expensive right now.

          I don't think there was an equivocation of low income with poverty of thought and bad habits. If anything, I think your comment was insensitive to what it means to be poor.
        • Jan 8 2012: Hi Larry, here is a thought. I grew up in the military. I landed in Hawaii, awesome! It was high school. They grade on a scale. I would get a B, ( in said class ) My grade controlled the scale! Needless to say, I got a lot of cr---p, from my peers. There needs to be a basic, fundamental aspect of education. Grade a student, for their progress. I was poor, I was bullied, I was not an idiot. YET, I received cr--p for being poor and smart? We are putting too much emphasis on the public schools. Public schools su--k! Grade a human for their ability to learn. :) ( I will stop the rant )
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          Jan 8 2012: Larry, I think we can both agree that regardless of their economic backgrounds (poor, middle income, high income, etc.) all students have the capability of learning and succeeding. That is without question. But you are severely mistaken if you think a child born into poverty receives an equal education and has an equal opportunity to succeed as their more affluent peers.

          I am all for capitalism and meritocratic values. However, it is unfair to expect a sprinter to win a race if he or she is a mile behind and their competition is given a car (solely an analogy). The unfortunate reality is that often low income does in fact equate to poverty of thought as well. Not because children born into poverty are not capable. But because they commonly lack access to good role models, good schools, good computers, and resources that aid in the cognitive development all children need.
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    • Dec 31 2011: This is too funny.....I just had to let you know.....I understand your point.
  • Jan 9 2012: Replacing the A to F grading system will not change the culture of school to the extent that we would like, because the grading scale isn't the problem. The problem is the deeply embedded cultural idea that a good grade = a good person and a bad grade = a bad person.

    As a teacher, one of the biggest obstacles I face is the fear of "the wrong answer". Useful learning is not comprised of a set of memorized facts or formulas. Useful learning requires that a student be able to take the facts and actually build formulas through experimentation, analyzation, synthesis and extrapolation. If a student is afraid to take a guess, then he or she will never get to the other steps. In an attempt to begin to free students from the fear of failure I built a sign that is prominently displayed in the classroom. It says" There are no such things as mistakes or failures, only choices and outcomes. If your choice didn't work, make a different choice until you get an outcome that does."

    Most of the methods used in education are at least 150 years old. They do not take into account current knowledge about the brain and how humans learn. We are only just now beginning to adjust our classrooms to use the new technology. My colleagues and I are about 20 years behind when it comes to integrating computer tech in school. The whole field needs to be forced into the 21st century, both physically and philosophically. Experimentation needs to be encouraged and failure seen as a way to learn what not to do next time.

    It is a shame that the field insists on doing the same things and expecting different results. A new assessment would focus on what the student could do with the information rather than the information itself. This would make the assessment as useful to the student as it is to the teacher.
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      Jan 10 2012: Mariahn,

      Such a good point about the difference between memorization and applied learning! It makes a lot of sense therefore that the problem is not so much the grading system as the fact that teachers use the wrong metrics on which to judge performance. Why don't more teachers grade on demonstration of competence at a skill or step, as opposed to grading on memorization? Or, what can be done to shift the mindset?

      I also agree with you about having a tolerance for experimentation. I think it's important to highlight the iterative nature of this. One experiment which ends in "failure" should not be the end of the lesson. The experimentation should be continued until "success" is achieved (however that is defined).
  • Jan 7 2012: I think you bring up very good points, but may fall short of what I feel the conclusion is: The grading system itself may be the problem, no matter how you modify it. We, as unique people, are raised in a no-options educational system where, no matter what our hobbies, likes, dislikes, career goals or new ideas, we are herded into the same classes and taught the same material. It is little wonder why our schools are overrun with chaos. The children are not being defiant, we are failing to let our children bloom in to the happy, productive people they want to be.

    No child answers "what do you want to be?" with "Homeless and starving" or "Working a dead end job". They have grand plans for themselves and we herd future scientists into cooking classes and language classes, which aren't themselves evil, but to kids with no interest are punishment. Punishment for showing up to learn both discourages their attendance and teaches them what they want is irrelevant, when what they want should be the focus of the school.

    There are already schools which have adopted this "cart blanche" method of aiding education as opposed to directing education. The founders of Google attended such schools, and well, they created one of the most successful companies in existence. Imagine if they had been forced to learn sewing or history (neither of which are bad, just irrelevant to their goals) instead of programming, science, electronics and math? Note how most of the required courses today are listed as classes which likely helped them to be successful. Allowing children to choose their own adventure, to use a novel term, lets them decide when they are ready to learn the basics. When anyone is given the choice, they arrive motivated and willing, something severely lacking in the military method of perform or reprimand the school system embodies today.

    For those curious, please look up Montessori education on the same Google the education approach itself helped build.

    Cheers.
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      Jan 9 2012: Hi Edward
      The Montessori approach is based on the idea of auto-didacticism, or to 'self-teach.' It depends on both the teachers and materials necessary to be in the environment as required by the physical and psychological level of the students who, given motivation by the teachers, and the proper materials to study whatever the student is interested in (prompted by both the teacher and provided materials) the student will naturally learn.
      It has of course had great success since the beginning of the last century. The students are in student sized environments surrounded by materials that enable them to reach the goals they are ready to achieve.
      Whether or not it is graded at all is not the point. It would be possible to either grade or not depending on the particular school and teachers involved at that point.
      That is all great.
      At some point either the student has to enter the main stream or make their own stream, such as the Google team did. So for some very bright and motivated students, self teaching will work.
      How will society at large benefit from this, and how will the student justify their interests to the system? Will the ed system - which is now facing a storm of critical review - be able to receive the necessary financial support from tax payers who are already revolting against the high cost of education? At least the ed system can - for now - point to the recognized achievements of its graduates. The resumé still carries weight. Harvard rates above Podickly. What will happen if everybody 'does their own thing?' How will students be evaluated upon entering the work force? Will the work place give them a test? Will they grade A-F?
      At some point, the other shoe will drop. Avoiding realistic evaluation of student progress is a mistake.
      • Jan 9 2012: Hello Jon
        You bring up some great questions, and I hope I have some good ideas for solving them.

        "How will society at large benefit from this, and how will the student justify their interests to the system?"

        The system already justifies the specialization approach in careers, certifications, licensing and the workforce in general. In my view, the educational system is the only system left still adhering to an arcane "generalized skills" approach. To move to a self selected specialization approach would both motivate students and lead to much better suited workers once they leave the school system either for further study or directly into the workforce.

        "At least the ed system can - for now - point to the recognized achievements of its graduates."

        A great number of the recognized achievers are highly specialized in their selective trade, which benefits a specialized school system over the current generalized system.

        "The resumé still carries weight. Harvard rates above Podickly. What will happen if everybody 'does their own thing?'"

        Harvard is well respected because graduates come out with more knowledge in a certain area than lesser schools. This will not change, though with public schools allowing students to choose their focus, the students will head to colleges with higher levels of knowledge in their focus area, allowing all colleges to teach new students at a higher level immediately, which means the Harvards of the world will still pump out great achievers, but it also means all colleges will improve the usefulness of their graduates to the same ratio as current levels.

        "How will students be evaluated upon entering the work force?"

        In nearly the same way they are today, by focused trade exams. These exams could be used throughout their education to provide insight as to their current skill level and where focus can be directed. All of this can be done on a standardized, national level. Upon graduating, the final scores will follow them to college/work
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          Jan 9 2012: hi Edward
          You have great ideas and an approach that is very sensible. I wish I knew how to implement it on a grand scale.
      • Jan 9 2012: What I think is the best benefit of the system I have laid out is employers will line up to provide their own trade exams to students, which provides exceptional benefits for everyone involved.

        1) Major employers could specialize exams based on their needs for skilled workers.
        2) Students would be nearly guaranteed work coming right out of lower education
        3) Even normally low achievers could leave lower education with a specialization guaranteed to be useful to at least one specific employer.
        4) Trade exam materials would be provided, at no cost to taxpayers, by those who are best suited to write them, the employers in the respective trades.

        To further expound on the benefits, employers could also help students, who choose their selected trade, select the proper literature to learn from. I don't think it would be overly optimistic to expect some larger employers to write and even provide the required materials to students. After all, it would be money well invested, and the students would be catered to like they have never been before.

        Employers could stop being the recipients of whatever there was to choose from and begin molding a workforce they dream of. The flip side being students would have a solid chance of getting well paid, solid employment right out of primary school, something almost unheard of today.

        All of this guaranteed employment would have other, less direct benefits, including higher wages, lower crime (namely theft) rates, much lower unemployment, lower welfare rates, which would lead to more stable families, .. the list goes on.
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    Jan 4 2012: In short... no. If you don't learn the material, then you don't know it. I don't want doctors to be peer evaluated, I want them to be in the 5% of people who remember most of the things they've learned. The grades are a means to an end. If you want to start a donut shop, or make car parts for a living, drop out and get a job, learn the trade. If you want to be a respected engineer, or lawyer, or doctor, or chemist... Learn 90% of the stuff.

    Nothing is stopping everyone from getting an A... If everyone got 90% of the questions right, and did there homework, they'd all have A's... Colleges would fight over the most emotionally developed students, the best dancers, and writers. People are lazy. People give up. People fail. The competition isn't that stiff up here.
    • Jan 7 2012: We have Google and Wikipedia that can remember context-specific details for us. Someone like Kim Peek (inspiration for Rain Man) would probably not be a great doctor. I don't think we have a definitive answer for what makes a good doctor/engineer/lawyer etc, yet schools, vis-a-vis grades, implicitly shout "Yes We Do."

      I don't think the point is that school's should somehow lower their standards. Rather, I think the point is that schools undermine learning when evaluating students based on a linear, absolute and arbitrary measurement.

      I think there's a scale with Actual Learning on one side and Societal Pragmatics (i.e. If we don't grade, we can't pick the best people) on the other. I think an ideal solution should balance both.

      What is incorrect, I think, in mainstream thought is that the 'best people' are somehow inherently the Best. Contrarily, I believe that the educational system has a primary influence on this. As I understand it, the poster's opinion is that the grading system is at the root of it. I don't disagree.
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        Jan 7 2012: Hi Chan
        You said: "linear, absolute and arbitrary measurement." Of course you are correct in that belief, but the A-F grading system is not that way. It is flexible and can be modified 'on the fly' as students' capability changes.
        The idea of depending on standardized tests is a good idea in theory and absolutely counterproductive in actuality. Teaching to the test is the result, and creativity and focusing on student needs are thrown out the window.
        Politically, standardized tests are becoming more favored, which will lead to more criticism of teachers for the simple reason that they will be held accountable for the achievement of the students. The assumption that the standardized tests are an adequate way to evaluate the education process is one of the great mistakes being made in the politics of the institution of education today. Teachers teach, provide an environment suitable for learning, and motivate students to learn. But in the end, students have to do the learning. Politically, this is not a popular idea. Politically, every student should be able to learn everything. Politicians have been promising this kind of idea in many areas of politics. We are experiencing the results. I hope that student centered education will experience a rebirth.
        • Jan 7 2012: Hi Jon. I share your hope. I think it to be one of the great opportunities of this century.

          Just to clarify:

          When I say linear, I mean that A is always better than B, B is always better than C etc.
          When I say absolute, I mean that my C+ is exactly equivalent to my neighbor's C+.
          When I say arbitrary, I mean that the actual reality is much more complex and the summary that the grade provides is dangerously misleading.

          I am in no way defending standardized testing. I agree with you, I think they are flawed. I just think what is more flawed is to be judged while you learn, for the sake of culling.
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          Jan 8 2012: You are actually making an argument here, that basically, denies the scientific method of human inquiry, and I'm pretty sure you don't reallize it. If there are concepts, that we expect schools to teach our children, in a specific class, and the standardized test, tests students on their abillity to demonstrate mastery of those concepts... Then "teaching to the test" is fine.

          If the tests aren't doing that, we need to fix the tests. To suggest that we give up national standards all together however is literally to say, that an individual teacher, could make a test that tests conceptual learning, but the government, couldn't possibly pay a teacher to do the same thing. You're saying that the people who are good at teaching, are only good at it, in a way that is no way reproducable or demonstrable. Good teaching is something that only exists when you can't see it. That can't be true.

          Why on earth would someone possibly believe that it's the good teachers, whose students are failing standardized tests? Is the government so good at intentionally not teaching concepts, that they've made it impossible to teach concepts and have your students pass the test? Improve national testing, spend some money on it, recruit some great teachers to right tests that test "real learning"... Don't give up on objective reality. Don't let bad teachers convince you that standardized tests couldn't be anything but bad... That's nonsense.

          As to A to F... An A is always better than a B... An A means you remembered at least 89% of the material, a B means you didn't... I don't care what the excuses are. If you can't do it in a class room, how are you going to do it in a warzone? on an operating table? on the floor of a billion dollar business? Without standardized testing, the south wouldn't teach slavery, as part of history, or the history of the American Civil War, it would all be states rights. No national standards sounds nice, till you look at the counties.
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    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.
  • Jan 3 2012: Andrew, please forgive an old teacher: It is the MANNER in which people are being graded, not manor (that is a house).

    See? As both a teacher and a parent I see many sides of this issue. And there are many flaws. But, most are societal in my eyes. Issues about the perception of the purpose of education clouds everything else about it. We have become an extremely goal oriented society that seeks "metrics", means of measurement for absolutely everything. And while this has its place it has become vastly overused. The current system in the U.S. of declaring schools failures if their students don't reach a pre-approved metric is a fallacy in and of itself. Since the metrics are not standard across states the statistics are deeply flawed. Then, you remove any and all social influence of family and community and place the entire burden on the teacher. Ridiculous.

    Over the last 30 years we have made schools of all levels into diploma mills. The goals are to pop out pieces of paper, not well educated functioning members of society. Since the goal is to get that grade and that paper parents go crazy over the grade. I have watched as parents threaten to sue teachers who gave a student a perfectly appropriate grade - in college. That is not a flaw in the grading system, it is a flaw in the society.

    Let's look at one oddity. In the US students are taught to be competitive. They all, to the last, hate group projects. And we all know why we hate group projects. Yet name for me one part of your life that is not, in essence, a group project! Is there a better way to "grade" students? Yes, of course. But, you need to recognize that the entire society's attitude toward education needs to change before you can decide what you want to achieve in the change. I give the US an F for its attitude toward knowledge, education, and learning.
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    Dec 30 2011: Hi Andrew
    Schools have to do something to indicate how well a student is doing. I think you will agree to that.
    So, The best way is for each teacher to write a comprehensive report covering everything that a student has accomplished or not accomplished in the class. This should be done frequently so that parents and students as well as the school know how a student is doing. Writing each report will take the teacher about an hour for each student. A normal teaching load is often around 150 students. At 8 hours a day, it will take the teacher almost 19 workdays a month to write these reports. Wait... there has to be a better way that will work in this world.
    OK. Lets have the teachers give points for student achievement. Total up the points and and wait... One teacher's points are not the same as another teacher's points. Points end up being meaningless.
    OK. Let's build a system where the teachers can use whatever method they think works best in their class, for their students and us a common, easily understood way of indicating how the kid did in each class. Wait... That is what the A-F system is. The grade is easily understood and it is matched to both the achievements and behavior of the students. It is possible for a bullying little tough to get an A in achievement and an F in Citizenship. This is very clear and when the name of the class is added, such as Chemistry, we can start worrying about whether that kid might try to blow up something. Getting a D in Math and an A in Citizenship could mean we have a nice kid who should not grow up to be an accountant.
    The A-F system is very sophisticated and provides everybody with an insight into the students' achievements and behavior. When you come up with a better system, please discuss it with your community school system at the Board of Education meetings.
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      Dec 30 2011: I 100% agree with you Jon that "something to indicate how well a student is doing" (a.k.a a student assessment) is needed. Moreover, I am not against the concept of grades. However, I am against the seemingly arbitrary manor in which grades are formulated and the disconnect between grades and learning…Let me explain.

      First, the A to F model tears down the self-confidence of students on the lower end of the scale. Why did we start using an A to F scale? The scale is very arbitrary and does little to let students know how well they are actually performing in school. On the scale, a student who receives a “0 to 59” receives an “F” but someone who receives a 60 receives a D. How about the student who receive a 59 on tests. He or she obviously knows some information but not enough. But unfortunately, they are classified a “FAILURE.” This characterization is in no other words, judgmental and wrong. These students need to know that they are not a “failure” but rather that they need to improve.

      Secondly, the A to F grading scale does nothing to help students learn or to improve academically. It is simply a judgment tool. But your right, a “comprehensive report covering everything that a student has accomplished” is not feasible. However, that doesn’t mean the grading system has to be so hard lined and inflexible. An alternative- Maybe we can have sub categories when we administer grades. For example, in an English Class, we could provide students an assessment on their use of grammar, another on their reading comprehension, and dare I say it another category on their creativity in writing their own stories. It allows students to use their grades as a way to IMPROVE themselves. It’s not simply a judgment tool for teachers and schools
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        Dec 31 2011: Hi Andrew
        You say: arbitrary manor in which grades are formulated.
        I hope not. There are generally 2 kinds of courses: Skills classes where a high score is needed in order to function. Failure is real and in the real world costly. Math, Typing, Driver Ed., Chemistry, Medicine for example. Do you want a doctor to operate on you who received an A+ or "Satisfactory"? Even sports like running has real athletes who will go on to the Olympics, but where 99% of the students just need to learn how to warm up before mild exercise for the rest of their lives. If they show up to class they should pass. This may seem arbitrary, but it reflects reality.
        The schools have been pampering the below average students for too long. The idea that everyone can succeed in college is a sad joke. But society wants to believe that, and as a result, grades have less and less to do with reality and more to do with politics. The result is plain to see in American society. What was once the most productive and creative country in the world, is a laughing stock, with 10% unemployed and 25% underemployed.
        If Americans can not reinstate the idea of excellence and high achievement through hard work, it will be relegated to the 2nd level of nations.
        There are as many 'gifted' students in China as there are students in America. If America places its hopes and dreams on the brilliance of the 'average' student, it will not be competitive in the future. The core idea of my position is that the A-F system works very well. What is wrong with the system is not how students are graded, but in the softening of the scale to pacify political forces.
        Every student can succeed in a system that teaches courses suited to them. But is a fallacy to think that every student can be a doctor or an astrophysicist. It is wrong to tell the student that they can be what ever they want to be unless they know the truth about themselves and can make good choices about what they want to be.
        • Jan 7 2012: Why exactly is it that any given student would be unable to become a good doctor or astrophysicist?

          My belief, generally speaking, is that there are certain recurring mental thought patterns that prevent a given person from learning more about a given thing. At the root of these bad thought patterns, I believe, are bad past experiences. Many bad past experiences, I believe, stem from the educational system, but are delivered through social experiences which are colored by certain premature assertions inherent in most educational system.

          E.g.
          Bad recurring thought pattern: Chemistry is hard. I'm not smart enough for chemistry. What the hell are "mols"? What the hell is all this chemical bonding nonsense?

          Bad past experience: Everyone else in the class (seemingly) 'gets it' but I don't. I must not be smart.

          Premature assertion: If you don't get it right away, then it's because you're not smart. All people with A's are smart. If I get an F, I'm not smart.


          The actual root cause of why this person didn't 'get it' could be a myriad of things. Life distractions/pressures, unique learning style (whatever that means).

          We have not proven that even if the education was executed differently, learning would still not happen.


          Belief in some fundamental potential of all human beings is not politics. Genetics has not been proven to be a limiting factor. Any occupation boils down to a series of tasks and knowledge. I would argue that emotional wisdom is a much more significant driver for efficacy at performing these tasks and retaining this knowledge. Unless it is proven to me that emotional wisdom cannot be developed explicitly, I strongly believe that anyone can do anything.
      • Jan 7 2012: 59% = F+
        Try again.
        Aim for 75% mastery in summer school and earn a "C" grade.
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      Dec 30 2011: Thirdly, the A to F model inherently promotes educational inequality. By using an A to F grading scale we can easily classify children into categories based off percentage results on tests. Why can’t we use a satisfactory, unsatisfactory, needs improvement (and explain in what areas they need to improve ) type grading scale? A to F grades are used simply because it’s a way for society to separate the “good students” from the “bad”, the “dumb” from the smart, in order to help us better determine who is worthy of AP, honors, IB classes and who is “worthy” to ultimately go onto college. This model inherently promotes educational inequality.

      I am not against grades or student assessments. However, I am against grades being used solely to JUDGE students as we use them in the United States.

      Also, full disclosure, I'm not some disgruntled student who received bad grades in school lol. I had over a 4.0 GPA in HS (graduated 7th in my class) and have great grades in college at UF. However, as I reflect on my k-12 education and the education of my peers (many of whom were not as academically "successful" as I), I really think we need a pyradym shift on grades in education

      Thanks for your thoughts Jon. I would really like to hear what you think.
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        Dec 31 2011: Andrew, you say: "A to F grades are used simply because it’s a way for society to separate the “good students” from the “bad”, the “dumb” from the smart, in order to help us better determine who is worthy of AP, honors, IB classes and who is “worthy” to ultimately go onto college. This model inherently promotes educational inequality."
        You are mistaking 'worthy' with 'qualified.' People are not equal in many ways. This does not make anyone less worthy of respect and consideration than anyone else.
        However, the system is set up to suit a technological society where the cutting edge areas need the best and brightest in order to understand and improve the technology.
        Regarding a paradigm shift, you are absolutely correct. It has to based on what the full capabilities of the students are and how to help them reach their full capabilities. But this means we must accurately know what their capabilities are, have a curriculum supplying classes for a wider range of talents, and stop telling kids that 'everything will be all right, don't cry.' when they fail at a a task that is simply not within their capabilities or for which they did not prepare. In our 'ideal' school, real tests for a variety of talents or 'intelligence' would be available and the student and parents would receive real world information which would help them reach the goals that are within the reach of their family. Society would provide a variety of teachers who could get to know each student in a smaller class size, and there would be counselors and real world experiences to give the students a correct understanding about their world and what needs to be done to be successful in it without destroying it.
        It is good that a top student like yourself is questioning the system and is looking for a better way.
        • Jan 7 2012: The very inclination of many to conflate "worthy" with "qualified" is part of the problem is it not? Isn't this very attitude what actually happens in the real world? The hypothesis, as I understand it, is that this attitude stems from a grading system that doesn't reflect reality. And the result of this attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

          My personal belief is that a course grade that dually acts as a filtering mechanism is inherently flawed. Instead of a GPA, all there should be is an attendance record. Standardized testing (with its own flaws) can remain as the filtering mechanism.

          To put the pressure of a GPA on students while learning is supposed to happen is flawed and, on the whole, counterproductive. Learning should have its own merits. Competitions that include some kind of scoring system should be available for voluntary participation.
      • Jan 7 2012: @Andrew, i think you do yourself, and the discussion, a disservice by stating your GPA in a discussion where you are arguing to remove such a grading system. If grades are unhelpful, then your GPA is moot.

        This discussion hits very close to home for me, and I ask you share in my personal experience:

        I was gifted in math from a very early age, teaching myself algebra by age 4. By the time I entered grade 1 (7 years old), I was at the level of the current American Algebra 2 course load. As you can imagine, I was beyond frustrated with what I saw as a waste of my time being forced to attend basic math classes. Being enrolled in public school, and dictated by federal government education policies, I was never allowed to attend math classes in line with my current skill set.

        I was still a seven year old child, so my other skill sets in English, history and science were at or near the "expected" seven year old level. Skipping six grades was not an option, as I would have been far behind in other subjects. By the time I entered school, aeronautical engineering was my goal. I was well ahead of the curve, yet the school system itself was so rigid, as time went on I became burnt out trying to fight for an appropriate education and, as a result, bored and defiant.

        I was given homework assignments well below my knowledge level and stopped doing them out of boredom. I scored perfect scores on tests on a regular basis, as I knew the material but was unable to be challenged.

        In the end, I went from straight A's to D's and F's simply out of boredom. It should be noted, in college this inflexible system continues, where I had to fight tooth and nail to skip the "required" math courses and move straight to calculus and beyond.

        In the end, I think they need to give out tests PRIOR to attending and educate based on the results. Beyond removing the A-F scale (and keeping with 0-100 tests), they need to remove grade levels and teach based on knowledge, not age.
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    Dec 28 2011: I think the grade more appropriately belongs to the teacher.

    It's not merely that the student has failed that subject, but that the teacher has failed to teach the student.
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      Dec 28 2011: Too simplistic. It's usually the assessment system/method that fails both.
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        Dec 28 2011: I agree to a point. Often there is inadequacy on the part of the teacher as well.

        That in part can be attributed to a failure of the system (teachers college, curriculum-setting, etc.) to give the teacher the right tools to reach a broad spectrum of learning styles.

        So I alter my statement to "the grade more appropriately belongs to the system."
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          Dec 28 2011: The difficulty with education in modern times is that people seem to need a one-shot quick-fix.

          Unfortunately, in New Zealand, this attitude keeps being applied to teachers but nothing else. For example, why are doctors not being hauled over the coals because of rampant obesity or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases?

          To me, the answer is obvious - the system is badly flawed. Ironically, all those parents that 'hated' school, still only want to see a simple statistic at the end of the year to sum up their child's learning. (In my experience, they really only want to know if their child is 'better' than their classmates).

          Old tradition dies hard, but it is happening.

          Honestly, the first step is to tell politicians to keep their noses out of education. Their job should be only to invest appropriate amounts of tax dollars in the future generation, which they fail at anyway in their mindless crusade to "save" money.

          I agree that there should be robust appraisal systems for teachers and the power to oust those poor performers. I also think the same should first be done for politicians.

          Sorry about the rant, but education is at a fork in the road and it feels like a lot of people are poised to head down the wrong path (I'm talking about the kind of politician that doesn't know when to let go of the reins and hand them over to experienced folk).
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        Dec 28 2011: Don't apologize for the rant. We're on the same page.

        The system (here in Canada as well) is broken and really needs to be completely re-envisioned.
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    Dec 24 2011: I could not agree more, Andrew. As a college instructor, I am sick of the letter-grade system I am forced to use, and the deleterious effect it has on learning. Not only does a letter grade belittle many hard-working students, but it utterly fails to do what it's intended to do: encapsulate the prowess of students whose abilities span multiple domains and modes. For example, what in the world does a "B" grade mean? Does it mean the student is hard-working but has trouble grasping a few concepts? Does it mean the student is a genius but doesn't apply themselves as much as they could? The system is ridiculous.

    Some institutions like the Evergreen State College in Washington eschew letter grades, replacing them with narrative assessments written by professors for each student, highlighting strengths and weaknesses. At least this way you get a more nuanced and multi-dimensional view of each person's learning. I'm not sure this entirely escapes the problem of students seeking the easiest professors, but at least it's a step toward something more meaningful than a letter grade.

    I've wondered what would happen if schools stopped giving letter grades altogether. Would this solve the problem of false motivation you so accurately describe (going for a grade rather than actually learning all you can)? I suspect it would help, but the next problem you'd face is the diploma/degree/certificate: people will still attend a school just to get that symbol, and may likely pursue the acquisition of the symbol instead of actual learning.

    Let's take this idea to its ultimate conclusion and imagine if schools didn't grant diplomas/degrees/certificates at all. I don't have any firm visions of how this scenario would play out, but I suspect it's one worth pondering and investigating. I imagine it would reduce the number of students attending the institution, but the average motivation of those students would be much higher.
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      Dec 25 2011: Thanks for your compelling response Tony. I completely agree. Removing grades would not solve the problem entirely but it might be a step in the right direction. There will always be a need for assessments (diplomas, degrees, cert., etc) that prove educational attainment. For example, It is essential that doctors receive a degree to prove medical competency. In a similar fashion, I would expect a pilot to prove they can fly a plane before we allow them in the skies. I would expect these assessments to serve as final indicators of knowledge and an appropriate form of motivation. However, there are 2 vital questions:

      First, Do the assessments we use take away from learning, or enhance the learning process? And
      Secondly, Are the assessments and grading tools we use accurately determining an individuals knowledge?

      Unfort., the current assessments greatly take away from learning and distorts the meaning of education. For one, standardized testing limits curriculum, and creativity. For ex, growing up, I was never inspired to read a book in my spare time, or to write independently. Why? Because within the schools I attended, this was not a priority (or even a goal for that matter). All that was expected was that I met the basic educational standards. And I did.

      Also, I could go on for days about how the A to F grading scale is flawed but my biggest gripe with the scale is that it does absolutely nothing to improve learning. Instead, the scale is very subjective in how its administered and is used solely to judge a student. Lets say a student receives an F. On there report card, does that F ever include information on why they received that grade? Does it let them know the areas they need to improve on? And does the grading scale ever allow students to improve in the future to move up the scale once they've mastered material? The answer to all of these questions is unequivocally no. The A to F inherently promotes learning gaps and educational inequality within schools
  • Jan 11 2012: I guess it depends on what or who such letter grades serve ... for potential employees it is a unidimensional way to measure you against the herd in terms of perceived academic excellence ... it could just as well reflect an ability to cram for exams successfully, show that you have a great mind, prove you are a able to cheat sneakily, that you have mastered great exam technique or that you are an erudite scholar.

    It does not necessarily indicate you have a grasp on the fundamentals of the various topics.

    Our education system has the hidden curriculum and message that says if you get good marks you will be a success and get a good job etc.

    There are so many aspects of intelligence ... the ability to apply learning, to adapt it, to communicate it and to synergise with other disciplines ....

    Our world is too obsessed with how athletic, beautiful, rich, connected we are rather than shifting to a different paradigm where we value each other in the total honesty and effort we put int o living together in harmony ..

    That is the real "win win" that educatio has to work on ... not just rote learing but teaching kids how to think and also how to act ethically.
  • Jan 10 2012: Try reading "A whole new mind" by Dan Pink and the "Rich Dad" series by Robert Kiyosaki. These should be good eye openers for you
  • 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.
  • Jan 4 2012: ....continued... just as there are stragglers in every other part of our society. We have kids that suck at sports. We have kids that suck at chess. We have kids that ... yes... suck at math. Just like we have companies that suck at customer service, suck at closing a sale, suck at building a retaining wall, etc. That's the "American Dream", pal. Except, that's the part they don't show you in Hollywood movies and afterschool specials.
    It's the part where for every winner there's 11 losers. For everyone that becomes a Bill Gates there's 5,000 that fold up their business and cash in their 401k to keep their house. For every real estate agent that retires there's 40 that leave for other jobs. I think you've gotten sucked into the "winner" part a little too much. You forgot about the competition part. The part that makes America "great". That we do produce losers. And that failing businesses ... fail. And that companies that don't have good customer service and suck at selling stuff and can't glue two bricks together get closed. And yeah, a country where kids that suck at math don't get scholarships, or when they suck at football they don't get to play in the superbowl.
    And how exactly do we figure out who the deserving ones will be? Do we just dance around in class all day, make clay pots and straw hats, paint with our fingers, and judge our kids by how happy their faces look at the end of the day? I've got news for you. That's what we've been doing all this time. The US lags behind pretty much every other nation except the ones that suck even worse than us.
    I say, more grades. More tests. Separate the intelligent kids from the ones that have trouble. Don't punish our kids, the ones that do well, by lumping them with the ones that struggle. Quit basket weaving 101, photography 102, and music appreciation 103.
    Math, Science, Language. Let the chips fall where they may, and our country WILL rise, and our kids with it.
    • Jan 7 2012: Pedagogy is politics. Politics is pedagogy.

      What is the end game? Is it to become Bill Gates? Is it to win the Superbowl?
      Perhaps we can agree that the ideal is "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for all.
      Now, if we have an educational system that is unjust, does this not infringe on the ideal?

      Your assertion seems to be that the educational system is unjust because we don't sufficiently filter out the "duds". This is a fine assertion, but its predicated on what I believe to be a faulty assumption. Namely, the existence of "duds".

      I would contend that if you go back far enough, those "duds" are "duds" for unjust reasons. That is, the non-duds just got "lucky".

      So what we have here is a situtation where lucky people are successful, unlucky people are not.

      To make it more "just", what is it that we, as a society, should reward with success? Is it intellect? Does the ability to determine why e^(i*pi) equals -1 of merit in our society? Perhaps it is, because then we can compete with the Chinese.

      But does this promote "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for all men?

      Harsh realities suck. But I think to stray from ideals is dangerous.
  • Jan 4 2012: This is interesting! The public schools, that have been funded, are now failing? The grade system is now, not working?
    You are 21! Congrats! You are in college. How did you get there?
    When it comes to the arts and dance and singing, painting, poetry, self worth. The tax payers cannot foot the bill. Hell, we cannot even teach children the basics! ( too expensive ) Awesome question! :)
  • Dec 31 2011: I teach in an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme and we are beginning the process of eliminating the traditional grading scale and using criterion based scoring. The students and parents were very receptive and positive to this idea. Allowing students to achieve by measurable criteria that doesn't indicate "failure" but rather gives students a target and the steps to each that target, I think, will be life-changing for many students.

    It has been a difficult shift for many of our teachers, but for me, it was exactly what I have been searching for.
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      Dec 31 2011: Hi Christina, that is great to hear. I don't know the specifics of the program but It sounds like a good idea.
  • Dec 31 2011: My High School used a 100 Point scale system. This meant that there was no "work to get an A" mentality. It made grades real in the realest sense. This prevents the disparity of the student who busts their hump and gets an A to the student who does the bare minimum to get in A. This alternative of a 100 point system, allows students to see their true hard score and keeps them true to their ethics. I know that I worked harder and retained more in with this system. It also creates a realist approach to perfection. Where an A is perfect, it makes perfection seemingly obtainable. The truth of the matter is that the insatiability of the human imagination drives us to strive for this perfection, with a 100 point scale it helps young students gain this perspective that they don't need to be perfect to succeed and thrive. 100 points > 4 points
  • Dec 30 2011: "A grade is not given, it is earned", a quote I'm sure we're all familiar with. Grades are the combination of teaching skill, student ability and level of interest. I don't believe grades can ever disappear, how could they? How could we weed out those worthy of becoming doctors, lawyers, engineers?

    Say the grading system were to be removed such that if you felt like you could take on medical school, fine, have at it, no MCATS. What then? You go to medical school and...read all the books you're supposed to...do some flash cards. So you've spent your $200,000 and are pretty ready to be a doctor now, mind you, you have still taken tests but even if you receive some awful grade, who cares right? Not you because your school doesn't show you the door after bad grades because that system isn't there. You 'graduate' medical school and...are a doctor now right? I don't quite think so, we should probably still have you take the USMLE because we don't want you mending bones and performing surgeries without adhering to some standard, that's common sense. Here's the end game; you've either been given more opportunity because of the absence of the grading system till this end point or you've just dug a debt hole so deep you'll be working some other job till you're 75.

    We need grades but we need standardized tests to be IMPORTANT and more FREQUENT. There should certain required subjects and optional subjects; say math and writing as required then two or three other choice subjects (art, history, philosophy, music, science, etc). I haven't thought much on this but something along these lines could be a good direction.

    Unfortunately parents dictate a student's involvement in academics more so than most factors. How can "do as I say, not as I do" truly be taught here?
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    Dec 29 2011: Having an A or an F doesn't mean we are good or bad. But without it, how can we know someone is good or bad?
    I am not pretty sure but in my humble opinion, we still need this kind of scale until someone figures out a new method, breaks a new ground and brings new developement into education and into this earth (may be).
    You happy with that scale, you follow, no dispute, hand down.
    You are not happy, invents new and you will become famous, everyone will remember you.
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    Dec 28 2011: I propose for consideration that education adapt competent / non-competent system of advancement. If you successfully complete a module you may advance to the next module. You continue this until you complete the course map. The computer monitors your course map and allows you to progress for any area you meet the prerequsites. You would progress at your rate of learning through all available modules. You would not receive a grade. You would instead receive a transcript of successfully completed courses. This would be a educational resume and a transcript for further education. Each module has progressive demands. EXAMPLE: Band I is basic. Band IV requires in depth knowledge and expertise to achieve competency. This is a thumbnail sketch of a complete system. I would be glad to further discuss this plan.
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    Dec 26 2011: I'm perplexed. If you already know that it is the "belief" that distorts the purpose of education, why are you suggesting a different grading scale?

    No matter what kind of grading system we have, as long as our meritocratic perspective persists, nothing would change.
    • Dec 26 2011: Why the "perplexed" comment?

      In your profile you say that you are a good listener but never cease talking, two mutually exclusive activities, and you are a "TED TRANSLATOR". I could easily say that I am perplexed by that but I will not. What's the point?
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        Dec 27 2011: Hi Patrick. That was just a simple remark of my impression while reading the description of the conversation. It's a part what I want to express and question thereon. Frankly, when you ask "What's the point?" I think you know well what the point of it is - it has the same purpose as you commenting about my profile, and still asking "what's the point?" If you really didn't know what the point was, you wouldn't have mentioned it at all.
        • Dec 28 2011: And Hi to you,
          Not sure you got my point though. The point of me mentioning your profile was to show it was a pointless comment not adding to anything.
          I see too many people on here "perplexed" about things.
          I just think comments could be more constructive, or not made at all
          Best
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        Dec 28 2011: Hi again.
        You may have a distinct definition of what a constructive comment is, but I don't think my comment was out of context in any way. If I'd only mentioned that I'm perplexed, perhaps I could understand where you're getting at. But really, do you always read people's comments and pick out what you think is less constructive while completely disregarding the rest?

        You say too many people are "perplexed" about things. May I ask, what's so wrong with that? If they are, let them express it.

        What I consider less constructive would be making a comment on a part of another's mere reaction and standing entirely awry from the main prompt of the conversation.
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    Dec 26 2011: For me it's not about the grades that we get but the subject we teach. Of course we all need to to learn to read and write and communicate but beyond the the education system is driven by a collection of subjects that we deem to be good and bad, in a sense 'A' and 'F' subjects. If you take Math and Science, you are a good kid child, if you take Art and Dance well, you know the rest. 'A' and 'F' grading needs to exist so that we can see how we are performing by the standards we have set not by the standards others have set. Using this approach I would hope that children will learn to make a distinction between the subjects they take and the person they have become and not they they are one of the same. I have lived half of my life on the US and my native England and we both suffer from the same problem. At the moment my daughter is about to enter into her last two years of high school where she has chosen to focus on four main subjects: English Literature, Photography, Drama and RE. While she is a strong student in all subject these are the ones she loves to do so why do Maths and Science? She does not want to be a Scientist. So we force children down the academic road of education where many of them fail and we say well you can always be a Plumber.
  • Jan 18 2012: Very good points made here. I go to high school now, and you can distinguish the people who are genuinely interested in learning from the people who just care about grades. That being said, I can't tell how you would eliminate grades entirely. Colleges need grades to distinguish candidates, for example. However, I think we sometimes focus too much on what letter grade we'll receive and not enough about what we're actually learning.
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    Jan 18 2012: The reward for learning should be the knowledge, not the grade. A grade has no intrinsic value. It is a letter (or a number). A single letter is not worth any more than any other single letter. We practice the “binge and purge” method of learning. Store up the facts just long enough to regurgitate them onto the test, then forget them and repeat. This way, we get fantastic grades!

    Yes, grades are a superbly simple way to show how well you did in school and therefore how you are likely to do in a job. But, I can’t think of a reason why you can’t just come to an employer and tell them the things you know. Can you lie? Can you say “I know calculus well” when you don’t, and be believed? It’s absurd.

    We understand that children who want to do something and are excited about that thing are very likely to succeed. Those children will try and try again, on their own, until they get it right. Children who are taught hunger for knowledge get awesome grades at school, so long as the teacher has even half a brain, because they seek the knowledge themselves. It’s almost like cheating. They don’t play within the rules. They don’t begrudgingly regurgitate the lesson to win a letter. Instead, they completely digest the knowledge and let it add to their person and sort of collect this strange alphabet soup as a byproduct.

    Grades are only needed to make sure the students aren’t trying to gain knowledge.
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    Jan 16 2012: Well, I personally believe for grading to change then education itself must also change. A-F is a ranking system that is quick, easy, and understood across community groups. It is easily manipulated for good and bad. It is not a true representation of a skillset. There is also the 4-3-2-1 system with 3 meaning meeting standards independently, 4 being exceeding, 2 meaning needing support to meet standards, 1 meaning" basically not getting it". These systems seem to be in place to rank students easily and do the paper shuffle. Teachers are not given any time to really look at what students are producing. Then students have to move on rather than focus and fix it. Many students are not motivated to produce on a piece of paper.

    I would like education to become a balance between process and product. Technology gives us a great & easy way to store data. Pictures, videos including explanations of student products could be more easily stored than that of student portfolios. I would rather that students have a real product that can be shared with peers, teachers,and the community. If the product works without problems, it is a success (a garden, a meal, a shed, a piece of clothing, etc). If it doesn't work, then fix it, redo it, or come up with a different plan that will work. Students would be motivated to do things and create things likethey do in art, music, and PE.

    Many innovators and great thinkers leave schools because they have big ideas that they want to make real! They are doers. These people feel they can't do that in the school setting. They rather change the world from their garage. That says a lot to me.

    I feel we need a change in perspective. There are many jobs out there that are necessary to the functioning of our lives. However, we rank those like we do grades and people. If you are content in your job, you are able to support yourself and your family, you are a good citizen, then you are a productive member of society and I thank you.
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    Jan 16 2012: I'd take my chances any time with some numerical, objective and universal method of measuring my performance before relying on personal evaluation by a single individual (or small cabal of individuals). The latter is an invitation to sucking up, rather than to learning!
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    Jan 16 2012: Correlation does *NOT* prove causation..... I'm skeptical that changing how one measures performance is relevant to issues like cheating, feelings of success/failure, 'shortcutting', and so on. Life consists of gradations and measuring them is critical.... is being operated for an intestinal obstruction by an undergraduate English major the same as being operated on by a surgeon? Is having a truck driver represent you in a divorce court just as good as having a divorce lawyer? Skills have to be measured at some point before actually 'hitting the road' and testing oneself in the 'real world'.

    That said, we live in a world where Bernie Madoff fraudsters are common. I don't see how eliminating measurement of skills makes life better for anyone. It strikes me that giving everyone an 'A' automatically is counterproductive. The fact that lots of people are liars, fraudsters, and so on doesn't prove we should eliminate measurement -- or to demand such things as achievement, effort, and so on.

    Would a world in which nothing is measured be a better one? Nope.
  • Jan 16 2012: I met to turn this in earlier, but the dog ate my homework!

    The objective grading of students for classroom performance is important as a matter of fairness, not just for students, but parents and teachers as well. It enables an official ranking of a student's grasp and application of the subject matter presented. Grades serves the crux of what it means to be a student -- to learn and academically compete with one's peers (other students) in a classroom environment.

    The system can and does breakdown. Teachers can be ineffective and/or incompetent, schools can be substandard, or pushing their own agenda, homes can be hellholes, etc. It would be nice if all these problems could be magically eradicated, or fixed, but reality is what it is.

    This grading process does not satisfy many parents, teachers and students because it demands accountability and it is not perfect. It would be interesting to know if exceptional students object to the achievement demands placed on them, or if they are more appreciative of the special recognition they receive as a result of excellent marks and the opportunity it may afford them in the future.
  • Jan 16 2012: `i have not read the diverse array of ideas expressed here so forgive me if this is a repeat, but I believe the OLD brick and motor models are dead. I think every school and university should have a bulldozer sitting outside of them with the engine set in the "DRIVE" mode. Face it... the current system is failing. We have the technology to create the same or better learning environment without the child leaving his home. Sure there are other skill that you gain from the class room that you can not get at home, then cool work on that set of issues, but the present system is a distraction to those still developing their brains and those yet to discover they have one. Just my overall thought on the present day learning institution.
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    Jan 15 2012: As a high school student, everything you've said rings incredibly true. As my math teacher phrased it, we're been taught to simply "learn school" instead of to foster a lifelong love of learning. In the focus on grades, which are often ambiguous and not at all indicative of an individual's abilities, students tend to overlook that grades are simply numbers and that what really matters is the development of critical thinking and creativity.

    Here's an incredible article I recently read on this topic:
    http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/fdtd-g.htm
    (It's by Alfie Kohn and was originally published in "High School Magazine" in March 1999.)

    These are the major points from the article that I believe are a great summary of the dilemma with grades:
    "1. Grades tend to reduce students’ interest in the learning itself...
    2. Grades tend to reduce students’ preference for challenging tasks...
    3. Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking...
    4. Grades aren’t valid, reliable, or objective...
    5. Grades distort the curriculum...
    6. Grades waste a lot of time that could be spent on learning...
    7. Grades encourage cheating...
    8. Grades spoil teachers’ relationships with students...
    9. Grades spoil students’ relationships with each other."

    The article continues by refuting common objections to replacing grades and by discussing routes to reform. I strongly suggest reading it to whoever's at all interested in the education system of today.

    I myself, as well as many of my current teachers with whom I've discussed this topic, believe that, although far more time intensive, replacing grades with some form of comment feedback would be significantly more beneficial to students and conducive to learning as a whole.
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    Jan 14 2012: Oh man - dare I comment, after such thoughtful, careful responses...? I'll be brief!

    Andrew, good people get bad grades. If you get a bad grade, more often than not, it means that you've either misinterpreted the instructions, didn't understand how the work would be evaluated, weren't given an opportunity to practice and be corrected, or made a choice not to apply yourself. The first three have to do with assessment, and are the responsibility of the teachers to facilitate in the best ways that they are able. To have your work evaluated after good assessment has taken place most certainly is fair.

    The bottom line is, A - F evaluating scale is handy, and universally understood. It's only really inaccurate when the assessment sucks. Think of it as being handed a rule book for football, and being trotted onto the field to play a big game, before you've ever been coached. You'll try as hard as you can, and they'll squash you. Coaching and practice time are assessment. Game day is the letter grade.

    Think the scores are fair in the NFL? Yes? Good coaching and lots of practice has taken place. Think a C- is fair on the paper that you tried your best on? No? Look to poor coaching, and not enough practices. I hope that in FL, good students with bad grades begin to look at how they are being assessed.
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    Jan 12 2012: Hi Varlan
    You state: "peer evaluation might be a good part of the answer as it allows for specific information to be recorded about the students but is done by the collective."

    For an examination of grading by the collective, see "The Cultural Revolution"
    http://library.thinkquest.org/26469/cultural-revolution/
    The 'collective' was in charge of Chinese education for ten years.
    From the above article: "The CR started in Oct, 1966 and ended in Oct, 1976. Indeed, The CR was threatening China for ten years. In the beginning, destructive groups such as Red Guards and The CR Authority grasped the power, and China drove into the severe confusion. But passing the time, the people got to doubt the CR. And finally, ten-year tragedy came to an end in 1976."

    In summary, the article states:
    "In the early of 1980s, the CR was formally considered as wrong and Gang of Four was judged on trial. During the CR, the number of the people who were persecuted to death were uncountable, and the damage on the mind of the Chinese is beyond words. We have to face the past and think of what is needed for future so as not to cause such a tragedy. "

    It would indeed be a tragedy to think that students should be the primary controllers of the education process. People in their 20s think they know more than their parents, more than their teachers, and more than 'authorities' in general. It is humorous to see how the students see their parents growing smarter as they grow older.
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    Jan 10 2012: The University of California at Santa cruse has been trying this experiment since the 1960's I believe the idea then was a student should receive a holistic evaluation from each instructor but this involves an instructed who is well compensated for her efforts for her time.
    I would like to investigate the UK open university concept
    is this any different from UCSC?
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    • Jan 10 2012: If the U.S. educational system is so successful there would be no financial crisis, lower unemployment rates, and less homelessness. Did you know that in some schools there are janitors with PhDs? The educational system is failing badly and it's pathetic how there are still people who believe in it. Nobody asks to look at your report card during a job interview, nobody asks for your report card when you fill out the applications for a credit card. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both dropped out of college, yet they are probably the most successful Americans today. There is barely anything we do at school that will concern our lives: we do not talk in Elizabethan English, we do not calculate the joules of energy needed to fry an egg, we do not use the law of frictions when we want to make a turn when we drive. If the grading system rules out how successful we will be, our Nation would be ruled by nerds. I'd like to see how they can solve our problems using intricate calculus principles and physics equations.
      So in general, the US education system is a piece of shit. It has been modified to meet the needs of the industrial age and has not evolved with time. I suggest you start reading some books and see how our educational system that you're so proud of is failing. Seriously man, stop living in a fairy tale.
  • 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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    Jan 9 2012: YES YES YES it should be replaced.

    We should instill some standards of quality in the culture of our too-often-lackadaisical education system. There should only be one acceptable grade: "A"

    If a student does not perform up to an "A" grade, they should have to repeat, repeat, repeat the test/paper/project/class until they can DEMONSTRATE competency.

    No more pushing kids along just because the class schedule dictates. One of the most common curriculum structures is to progressively introduce new concepts which are built on previously-introduced concepts. A student who demonstrates an inadequate command of a concept gains little by getting a "D" or "F" and then continuing on with the class to the next concept. This is REALLY how we leave children behind.
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    Jan 9 2012: Nothing's perfect and flawless. I do dislike the current education system though. I believe the tradition A to F grading scale won't exist for a very long time. There is a mind shift occurring in various societies right now; things will soon change. I think creativity will be more valued in the future than what we call today "knowledge."

    Only time can tell.
  • Jan 8 2012: (I know i have alot to say just bear with me =)
    I personally believe that the only way that education would work for the best interest of the students is through an upheavel in the whole system of teaching not just the "almighty" grade as you put it but even the way teachers taught their class letting the children choose the classes they wish to attend and the lessons they wish to learn.

    The way I see it is that the only way that children can really learn is by being taught how to be critical thinkers at a young age if this sense of questioning everything and holding no assumptions about preconceived ideas then we would not have the problems we do now what with gun and knife crime so (supposdely) prevalent and a population of youths so disenchanted with the current way things are turning out no wonder school is a nasty place to be no wonder they all just wish to escape I know i did.

    Instead letting them grow by nourishing their minds, making school a adventure a fun place to be if teachers showed experiments let their imaginations run free then the generations of thinkers that came before could have their dreams accomplished a free land independant of rules , laws and regulations a land where are all equal. =)
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    Jan 8 2012: well it is good question, I already thinking about how is university measure students capability with scale A to F. well i agree with your statement.

    Firstly If we talk about university system Lecturer give their students scale A for good students and F for bad students. Even we cant blame students who get scale F as bad students even they may have another skilled not only on one subject which is they get low scale.

    Second the education system should change their assesment to students using scale A to F, probably they can make project or competition to explorer student capability, its not about the scale but how can they applied what were they learn on the reality.

    Third its about hardskill and softskill how can they make good collaboration about it and make assement to student, i think nowdays we need balance between softskill and hardskill for example a student who has high GPA but they cant socilalizing with the environment its just mean nothing if they cant make cooperation with anothers.

    So i make conclusion succesfull students in their life its not about how is high GPA they get on their studies, but how they applied their studies to society.
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    Jan 8 2012: i feel very surprise after i reading your conversation, your situation is very common in China, you know, the education is very important in one's life, it's just a way to develop a person, every one accept the same education ,but sometimes the result is different from everyone , maybe several years ago ,you are in the same class ,but several years later, you are in different life , what cause the difference is the real problem we should think about.
  • 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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    Jan 7 2012: I have attended college in the US. It was funny to me how we were being graded. I was coming from a system we were graded from 0 to 20. But if you look at it closely, you might see that it all comes to the same. So I think that the problem is not the system of grading. The question is to know if the way we have been carrying school instruction is still valuable or not?
    Some people have been calling for change in the global educational system, especially at the roots. I believe that school should be something serious, but also fun. At young ages, kids should be given certain psychological tests to see their inclinations for science, litterature or arts, and regularly as they go through general instruction, a special attention should be kept to their special abilities. That way, by the time they reach college, they have the confidence required to choose the last line to the accomplishment of the minimum required instruction in order to enter fully Life. The grade matters less... instead of grading, I rather think that regular evaluation of the "how-well" the kids understand should prime.
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    Jan 7 2012: I am new to TED so the LONG post are a little much for me BUT. I will say this. American schools actually allow for way more creativity than schools elsewhere. In other school systems we take a test at 11 years old that determines our educational path.

    By the time you get to college you better know exactly what you want to be in life and failing is not an option. If you fail a class you take the year over not the class the YEAR. This is why people come up to the US for college.

    As for your self worth, parents/society place pressure on children in regard to their grades. every child is not going to be an A student even if they are siblings. every child should have their strengths praised, their weaknesses assisted and their passions nurtured.

    But you asked about grades. there has to be a way to measure comprehension. The issue is all teachers are not given the proper tools to teach. Our educational system is separate and definitely not equal
  • Jan 4 2012: ...Continued.....It's obviously not that, at least not here in NY. Unfortunately, the fix is certainly NOT that we change the grading system. There are many things that have a much greater impact on learning than the grades that a teacher assigns, i.e. the grading system that is used. Think about these, for example: Politics (anyone walking with dinosaurs lately?), work hours (corporatism), teacher quality (can't get good ones when the bottom 20% of college students become teachers), teacher union membership (..and you can't get rid of them when *4* teachers in all of NYC were laid off in 2007 for nonperformance), Bus system (more like a catering business, if you ask me), Parental involvement (see corporatism), after school activities (football over math & science), drug abuse (50% or more in some areas), social membership (geeks vs. jocks).

    Again, I'm from NY. The wonderful state where we spend a huge amount of money on our kids and 80% or so fail High School in NY City, one of the most expensive-to-live cities in the world. I would argue that NOONE, not even the lowest, sickest, smelliest street bum in NYC is in "poverty". There are literally dozens of programs that government and NGO's have to help absolutely anyone and everyone in every situation - if they choose to take it. Contrast that to the billions of other people living in rural areas in China, in Africa, and other parts of the world that TV cameras have long forgotten. There are no spigots with a neverending water supply there. There are no magical lunch trucks that show up every two miles. There is no government sponsored emergency room. There is no bus to take you to school. Now that IS "REAL POVERTY".
    You say "unequal chance". Well, hello. Here, it's at equal as it's gonna get. Without a *massive* infusion of money, total redo of our business model and government, it's gonna stay this way. There will be stragglers, .... continued
  • Jan 4 2012: Andrew, you make good points, but let me elaborate on my post a little. I live in upstate NY, and have lived here since my second year in the US (on and off) for about 30 years. I am now a US citizen, after having served in the military (pre 9-11). Also, I do vividly remember my High School and College experiences. I vividly remember coming to Regents math classes and instantly becoming the "smartest" kid in class, simply because I had vastly more "experience" in algebra and geometry. I remember laughing to myself when they tried to teach everyone the metric system in science class (I believe Reagan started that program). Hey... question: How many millimeters in a km? Don't be offended by this question -- I have no clue how many feet there are in a mile even 30 years later....I still have to look it up every time. My point is this: Unfortunately, neither do MOST other American adults know how many feet there are in a mile. In fact, if you ask most college bound kids during their 2 1/2 month summer vacation how many quarter miles there are in a mile, they would probably have to pull out a cheatsheet or reach for their I-Phone and ask Siri.
    I live in an area where honestly noone lives in poverty. I've seen what poverty really is, and I find it disturbing that people that have cars, live in homes with running hot water, have jobs, free education, all kinds of government owned/sponsored ammenities from shopping malls to walk ways, would ever go around and count themselves as living in poverty. I guess it's relative around here. I don't make a six figure salary (far from it), but I live in a nice house and drive a late model Camaro with my wife who also makes a decent, but not six-figure salary.
    Again. Let me be more blunt, perhaps, this time. What's the excuse for being dumb? Is it that we don't spend enough money on our kids ($19k/year/kid !!!). ....Continued
  • Jan 4 2012: The process of school is a commonly known phenomenon that consists of six to nine periods of stipulated time spent staring at the instructor who attempts to get twenty to forty (depending on where you live) young adults to focus on a particular subject he or she is discussing. Is there a way to liberate the mind and motivate students to grow and learn on their own capacity while still conserving the right atmosphere, i.e. not chat hour?

    Several journalists with a teaching background speculate that online learning is the course to go. Others argue for "team" classes, where students sit in basically a cubicle with several other students and research the topics of the day away from the teacher and then report the findings to the teacher who then gives a comprehensive and overall synopsis of the lesson and leaves time for in-depth conversation. There are various other ideas that formulate inside my head but the question really comes down to ethics.

    How can a child reason that lying is immoral and wrong if his/her parents are separated because of lost trust? How could you communicate well enough to a college graduate that no one needs a surgeon who cheated his way through med school? Students must be stimulated from an early age that no matter how hard a subject is, if you put enough time into it, the subject will get easier and be rewarding. The loss of morally sound parents to teach their kids that stealing, lying, and cheating is not the correct way to proceed through education where it hampers children in their wider studies outside of the classroom, effectively making the time spent in class worthless. Knowledge is meant to be used and spread, and where it is not, it is there to instruct a student's mind to think cohesively and make comparisons with the real world where it means much more than a letter on a page. Going to school is about teaching you to teach yourself; or in other words teaching you how to learn and where to gain knowledge from trustworthy sources
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    Jan 4 2012: We all know that it is all about the money. politicians and the government run everything; even our schools and our lives. the better grades students receive the more money and school funding the school will get. it's so fucced up....
  • Jan 4 2012: I agree that the system of grades is flawed, I am 17 and I am a senior in high school and I have recently improved my grades. This is not because I have learned more, but rather because I have learned to manipulate the system to get a good grade. Since learning is a process of maturation and growth in the persistence of memory, my proposal is that students take a test in the beginning of the year and one in the end of the year and as long as the student could clearly demonstrate that he/she has improved their knowledge base then the student could be labeled successful. Progress is the base of learning, and therefore the student must improve. This system might work because it redefines success to an individual level and not to a comprehensive ideal of "normal," instead it caters to the need of a student to have intrinsic motivation for the material rather than the extrinsic motivation of the grade. For example, the students would have no desire to cheat on the tests because the subject itself would be what is qualified. However, this may fall prey to the quantification of the intangible notion of intelligence and learning, and if that is the case a complete redefinition of our school system would need to be established for it is currently aimed at the mass production of conformist members of society (after all, school were established during the time period of the assembly line). For schools to succeed we must redefine success as not a qualifiable grade but rather as the value of gaining knowledge for the sake of developing as a human being and ultimately as a human race.
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    Jan 4 2012: Traditional way exsits for a long time with its onw reasons. However, it does explore some disadvantages with the development of society. The thing is , in my humble opinion, how to guide it in a right direction.

    welcome yr comments
  • Jan 3 2012: It's sad that our education has become about a grade on a paper rather than what it is that we are learning. Rather than focusing on intelligence, the potential of learning, or even knowledge, school is all about having a high GPA. I'm 17, and have good grade not because I learned anything but because I bullshit most of my work. Instead of guiding students into developing their own skills, thoughts, and creativity they have a curriculum shoved down their throat. Our school system is almost like a factory system, all students learn the same thing at the same pace to obtain the same goal of a high school diploma. Instead of students being graded, they should be measured on their intelligence and ability to grow and develop on their own. Instead of using the red pen to mark papers, teachers should have the ability to fit learning to the child's needs in order to help them develop and use their intelligence.
  • Jan 3 2012: To me the question is not how we assess a student's progress but what we do after the assessment. Education is a journey. Along the way, teachers need to stop and understand where each indiividual student is along the route. If we look at a grade as the end of the process than we, as educators, have failed our students. Grades should be viewed as markers along a route. A grade is an opportunity for both the teacher and the student to learn more. Examining how a student achieved their grade is critical to moving forward along the education journey. Gaining a better understanding of how we learn is an important element to our development. Grades are not the problem. The problem is how we utilize grades in education.
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    • Jan 4 2012: True ( to the P.S. ), but in my experience which I understand is specific to my area of the world, some students are lazy when the teacher is not breathing down their necks and neglect to comment intellectually or to attempt to help influence their peers towards the right ideas when it comes to learning and seeing the content agreeably.
      • Jan 7 2012: Game mechanics could possibly address this.

        Example:

        Assuming that a given assignment has some 'true' and 'deserving' grade X, and assuming that a given grade X is absolutely superior, absolutely inferior or identical to a given other grade Y:

        The 'true' grade can be defined as the weighted average grade given by all peers.
        The higher the deviation from the 'true' grade of a grade given by a specific peer, the lower the weight of that grade. (The actual calculation of the 'true' grade would involve minimizing the total deviation by all peers)
        However, if the specific peer is graded well, or has a history of being graded well, the weight of that peer's assessment is increased.

        In this way, there is a sense of wanting to maintain your 'standing' as a quality grader.

        ....something like that.
        • Jan 7 2012: The only problem is quantity. There is not enough time in class, or out, to grade every individual's assignment by enough other peers for accurate gradings (they could be incredibly precise but be way off because of a bias specific to those few students) unless there is class-time spent for student-to-class evaluation. The student is removed and the whole class studies the individual's assignment; in this way the class can learn how better to grade by examining their instructor's grading methodology. Putting aside the possible humiliation by the student, two good factors arise: the students will understand what a good paper or assignment looks like helping them to understand through practice how to manage the "workings" of the class (if it were a biology class, people might realize to diagram what they are trying to visualize and subconsciously pick up good habits or in an english class realize they are spending too much time analyzing the occasion and not enough of the credibilty gained by the author in the text ) and second the students are naturally competitive and like Varlan stated "love pointing out other's mistakes" for their own reasons.

          I feel like it was a lot of rambling for little result. Maybe a better approach would be just not to focus on grading methods but to focus on increasing student motivation and let them decide what seems best for their class through democratic vote. Hmm... looking back on that, I realize that that is not the best solution; too much democracy means an unhappy crowd which inevitably spoils the academic purposes of the classroom where absolute rule is generally required.

          There needs to be balance between motivational needs(finding ways to inspire kids to move on with their life) and rule in the classroom. Would too much liberty in the classrom cause chaos and havoc or would it liberate kids to think creatively outside of their specific environment? I tend to suspect the former but you can take what you want from it.
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          Jan 9 2012: Hi Chan
          I understand your game theory assessment.
          It would work if the curriculum was centered on the students' increase in skills.
          I think that is the crux of the disagreement here.
          Education is not a game. It is a dynamic virtual organism with its own set of esoterica, irrespective of who the students are or the growth of their skill set.
          The fact that petty bickering and mobbing are possible when students have too much power in the process is proof that the process can get off track if we lose sight of the ideals inherent within a set of curricula. It is true that we as a culture often lack descriptors which would enable true definition within a large area of knowledge.
          for example, the value scale for a Rembrandt is not the same as that for an Andy Warhol.
          Yet they are lumped together as 'Art' and are both capable of selling for millions of dollars.
          The A-F scale or the point scale both reliably reflect an idea of what is to be learned and what has been learned. The curricula must set the goals, and the teachers must apply the scale to the students' accomplishments. It is not as important to argue over changes to the grading system as it is to argue over the ideals we need to be teaching, and the needs of the society and its children.
          As soon as people start arguing over bad teachers, bad grading systems, and school unions, we have left the arena of education, and entered the arena of politics.
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      Jan 4 2012: It also opens it up for petty bickering and mobbing to unduly affect unpopular kids' marks.
      • Jan 7 2012: Not if you don't know who you're evaluating and you don't know who's evaluating you.
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      Jan 7 2012: Cooperative learning is a great way to educate people. It requires a rather high level of teacher training, and above average student abilities in socialization and willingness to participate. It fails when there is too great a range between the lower ability students and the higher ability students. If the highly motivated students find themselves doing all the work for the poor students the amount of cooperation decreases and moral suffers.
      However in motivated, capable, homogenous classes, cooperative learning is very successful. If the teacher is highly trained, cooperative learning can be used for a wide range of ages and abilities.
      But in the end, the teacher and the course requirements, and how well each student has met the requirements must be evaluated by the teacher. During the course, the students should critique each other often using scales suitable for the course. These range from pass/fail, A-F, point scores, and individual comments.
      Remember, the students are also learning how to evaluate each other, and failures of correct evaluation must not affect the final course grade. Kids are kids and might give a good or bad grade to a classmate based on their personal feelings. The final course grade must be made by the teacher and the teacher's personal evaluation of the students' achievement of the course requirements.
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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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    Dec 30 2011: I am a senior in high school and getting ready to go to college. The dude next to me in algebra honors freshman year barely squeaked out a B, while I just barely missed an A. Colleges don't see that, they see our grades as equal. I think the A-F is too simplistic of a grading scale. At minimum, there needs to be pluses and minuses. However, I also think that is as far as it should go. The grading scale cannot be too complex either, since everyone has to be able to work with it.
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      Dec 31 2011: Thanks for your response Derek. You say you want a plus and minus scale now. But trust me Ias a college senior myself) you wont be saying this during college. At most schools, an A is a 4.0 on your GPA where as an A- drops you dramatically to a 3.67. Very few colleges (in fact, none in Florida) use pluses in calculating GPA.

      Wait three years, after your GPAs been royally screwed over on multiple occasions by the minus scale and you'll change your opinion. But I remember thinking like you once lol
  • Dec 29 2011: Having had an education in a high school with an American grading system but being Dutch, I have always thought that it was too easy to obtain the highest possible grade (A or A+). In the Netherlands, it is by far more difficult to obtain a 10/10 (the grading scale is 1-10) - this rarely occurs. One may even compare an A with 8/10. It is then strange that it is not possible to do better than A+; surely there must be someone better than you? How could this person obtain a higher grade? With this I mean to say that it is not clear that one can always do better in the American system, and that while one is close to an A it is tempting to do everything to obtain that A.

    Also, the schools in the Netherlands are not very much competitive, as one will be able to study with merely passing grades, except for popular studies like medicine and psychology, but even for those studies there is a way to be admitted without high grades (and with high I mean an average of 8 or higher). Correct me if I'm wrong, as I did not finish my high school in the Netherlands.

    It must be noted, however, that there is a down side to this. It is what we call the ``six-culture'' in the Netherlands, i.e. the idea that everything will be fine so long as you pass (with a 6). In that way, people do not give their very best, and do the least possible work to pass their exams in high school and college. It is controversial whether this is a real problem or not.

    If you want to read more about grading in the Netherlands, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_grading_in_the_Netherlands . Note also that the ``curving'' of grades in America is frowned upon by some in the Netherlands (``if everyone around me is stupid I get an A, if they are all very smart, I receive an F?'').
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    Dec 29 2011: I agree, Gisela!
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    Dec 29 2011: I believe that everyone has the right to fail. It is essential to experience success. It's the same reason why we wouldn't know the taste of "sweet" unless we also knew the taste of "sour." The A-F measuring stick works because it let's students know where they stand based on a time-tested, structured scale. I have heard that some schools are giving out Incompletes (I) instead of an F. This is equivalent to everyone getting a trophy on a sports team, "just because." I was a "C" student who felt dumb all the way through college, but completing 12 years of school was enough. This year, instead of applying too much help to our 5th grader, as we had in the past, we let him feel what failure was like. In his first report card, he got two C's and three D's. It didn't feel good. He learned what failure looked like. His recent report card is on A and four B's. That's a first, on his own. In life and in school, I am just a big believer of what failure can do to someone's character development on their way to success. As old as the A-F system is, it serves it's purpose. It's your right to fail, to later succeed. A safety net is what I am worried about. What does that teach? And not everyone gets a trophy just for showing up. :)
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      Dec 29 2011: I would go further to say that everyone needs to experience failure to learn how to overcome it.

      The first time I failed something I was 17. As ridiculous as it sounds, it had never actually occurred to me before then that I could. And it didn't matter that I knew *logically* that it was the direct result of skipping most of that class, suddenly every time I took a test I was hyper aware that I *could* fail it, and it gave me anxiety attacks.

      I started second-guessing everything and I would literally have about 20 minutes before the panic level got so high that I couldn't even read the words on the page.

      Obviously, I managed to get past that, but I think it's just not healthy to get that far without really being challenged at a serious level.
  • Dec 28 2011: Could it be that one of the problems of the A-F system is that it is not precise enough? I am not very familiar with that system so please correct me if i'm wrong.

    In most of Europe we use numerical grades instead of the A to F letters. In my case (Switzerland), it was 1 to 6 (with 6 being the best grade), but it can be 1 to 10 or 1 to 20.

    The difference is that the grade can be any decimal number on that scale (e.g. 5.4, 3.8, etc). This grade is usually calculated based on the number of correct answers you have in your test, or an average of the number of "points" that were attributed to the various questions of a test.

    This means that the perfect 6.0 grade is almost inacheavable (even one wrong answer out of 60 gives you a 5.9). This means that you don't compare "good" students that got an A to some tests and others that got Bs, but you compare "good" students that got 5.7 and other students that got 5.4, and so on. This seems less dicriminatory to me and allows students to evaluate themselves and be evaluated on a more linear scale.

    Another difference I see between what I read here and my own education, is that I never got grades on home assignments (that can easily be copied or done by someone else). We still copied home assignments because failing to do it could lead to punishments (e.g. additional homework or detention), but the grades were only given to tests taken in the classroom. That way it's much more difficult to "buy" your grades.

    To be clear, this was no perfect system but it seemed to be successful more often than not and I didn't feel social pressure to get that ideal "A" every time.
  • Dec 28 2011: As an educator in your state Andrew, and being familiar with the education system here for the past 40 years I have to say that regardless of the system in place, it is up to the parents of the students to make them realize that a grade does not represent in its entirety the success of the student.

    Many times the grade represents the lack of effectiveness in the teacher's ability to make sure the student's have mastered an objective. There are many incompetent teachers. Other times, the teacher is effective, but she chooses a standardized test provided by the publisher of the book she is teaching out of, and the wording of the test items is totally confusing to the students. They know the information, but they don't understand the questions on the test.....this is especially so in Middle and High School......and dare I say college!?

    In my humble opinion, as an educator and a mother, you have to put grades in perspective. An "A" does not make you smart. And an "F" does not make you dumb. Some students are great at taking tests....while others are not.

    In the end, you have to know who you are and what you want to accomplish in life, and not let a simple thing as a grade stop you from reaching your goals.

    For those of you in other parts of the world: Here in Florida, we have the FCAT test administered yearly to students in 3rd - 10th grade. It is a basic test to see if the student has learned certain state benchmarks. What is sad about it, is that teachers are now teaching to the test, and creativity has long disappeared from many classrooms. Overwhelmed by a system that is broken, teachers are now viewed by many as glorified baby-sitters. And have been reduced to data input clerks in some counties....they must input student's grades into a computer weekly.....the time left to teach has greatly been reduced....everyone is paying the price.

    Any issue dealing with education is very complex, and requires many voices....I hope mine has shed some light.:)
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      Dec 31 2011: Hi Mary, thank you for your response. I really appreciate your perspective. I too am from Florida so I know all about the FCAT. Additionally, next fall, I will be teaching in Miami Dade County for Teach For America. So it is possible that my perspective will change with time.

      I 100% agree that student assessments are needed. And, I am not against the concept of grades. However, I am against the seemingly arbitrary manor in which grades are formulated and the disconnect between grades and learning.

      First, From my perspective, the A to F model tears down the self-confidence of students on the lower end of the scale. Why did we start using an A to F scale? The scale is very arbitrary and does little to let students know how well they are actually performing in school. On the scale, a student who receives a “0 to 59” receives an “F” but someone who receives a 60 receives a D. How about the student who receive a 59 on tests. He or she obviously knows some info but not enough. But unfortunately, they are classified a “FAILURE.” This characterization is in no other words, judgmental and wrong. These students need to know that they are not a “failure” but rather that they need to improve.

      Secondly, the A to F grading scale does nothing to help students learn or to improve academically. It is simply a judgment tool. I understand, that it is not feasible to provide comprehensive reports covering everything that each student has accomplished. However, that doesn’t mean the grading system has to be so hard lined and inflexible. An alternative- Maybe we can have sub categories when we administer grades. For ex., in an English Class, we could provide students an assessment on their use of grammar, another on their reading comprehension, and dare I say it another category on their creativity in writing their own stories. It allows students to use their grades as a way to IMPROVE themselves. It’s not simply a judgment tool for teachers and school
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      Dec 31 2011: Thirdly, the A to F model inherently promotes educational inequality. By using an A to F grading scale we can easily classify children into categories based off percentage results on tests. Why can’t we use a satisfactory, unsatisfactory, needs improvement (and explain in what areas they need to improve ) type grading scale? A to F grades are used simply because it’s a way for society to separate the “good students” from the “bad”, the “dumb” from the smart, in order to help us better determine who is worthy of AP, honors, IB classes and who is “worthy” to ultimately go onto college. This model inherently promotes educational inequality.

      I am not against grades or student assessments. However, I am against grades being used solely to JUDGE students as we use them in the United States.

      Also, full disclosure, I'm not some disgruntled student who received bad grades in school lol. I had over a 4.0 GPA in HS (graduated 7th in my class) and have great grades in college at UF. However, as I reflect on my k-12 education and the education of my peers (many of whom were not as academically "successful" as I), I really think we need a pyradym shift on grades in education

      Thanks for your thoughts Mary. I would really like to hear what you think.
      • Dec 31 2011: Hi Andrew,

        First of all, I really like your ideas, I have always graded students work in different ways according to the task at hand.......I think most dedicated teachers do. I think that once you get into the classroom you will notice that as a teacher, you will be able to implement what works for you. and also what is in the best interest of the students you teach. Unfortunately, you will still have to sit down at the end of the week and put in the ABCDF grades, no matter what method you personally use in your classroom.

        Anytime you want to change a long established system you are required to step lightly.....Miami-Dade county has alot of very hard issues that they are dealing with. Apathy of fellow educators is one of them. You sound like me when I got out of college.....full of wonderful ideas, and willing to share them with anyone that would listen.

        If you are able to join a professional organization outside the county, and also attend educational conventions nationwide you might find professional educators who might be able to help you find listening ears to your wonderful ideas.

        But always keep in mind that ideas are just that.....ideas. When dealing with changing a school procedure such as grading, teacher training is involved, and right now, at least here in Miami, it has become a hardship to train old teachers to do anything new.

        Finally, the following quotes are nagging at me to get out.....Please keep them in mind as you venture out into the public school system:

        "If wisdoms ways you wisely seek,
        five things observe with care,
        to whom you speak
        of whom you speak
        and how,
        and when,
        and where"
        Laura Ingalls Wilder's mom in the series Little House on the Prairie

        "In an unfamiliar culture - it is wise to offer no innovations, no suggestions or lessons"
        Maya Angelou

        I am familiar with the school system. Should you have any questions feel free to ask.
        Here's a video someone sent me:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U&sns=em
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    Dec 28 2011: Self Assessment.

    Most forms of assessment fail from the outset, largely because they are not relevant or valid - meaning they don't actually assess accurately what they are supposed to assess and/or are used for other purposes (bureaucracy not the learner).

    By giving the learner the thinking tools they need to measure themselves, it's possible to do away with static, artificial and ultimately meaningless assessment measurements.
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      Dec 28 2011: I think we also need to give them the power to shape the system to meet their needs.

      As an aural learner, I often took down only mnemonic keys as notes. I recall in a particular class being penalized for not take the complete notes the teacher thought I should have been taking. It literally was a choice between missing marks by compromising my learning style or missing (fortunately fewer) marks for not taking the notes in the style she wanted.

      So self-assessment and assessment of the system as well - that actually impacts the way the material is presented so that they can do better.
  • Dec 28 2011: For some reason I can't reply to individual comments :S
    I really liked Robert Winner's idea of modularizing the entire thing. Grade however desired, but we should get rid of the idea of grades K-12, GPA, single test results etc. Those chunks are too large and arbitrary to be useful to anyone. And they hold good and bad students back. It wasn't practical before computers, but now, as far as I'm concerned it is the only way to go. With a full scholarly transcript of every module you ever passed from kindergarten up you could drop the idea of clumping your falling gym grades with your advanced placement physics and thus lowering your GPA. Allow people to proceed where the excel and push them to expand in areas where they struggle. With 7 billion of us, we don't all need to be schooled the same.
  • Dec 28 2011: Though my response is off the topic, I would say ..our top most priorty now is to find ways to improve the current graduation rates in united states rather than changing the current grading system or allocating more funds to current system.

    While working with local school district on a project, I noticed there are plenty of resources available for parents/students at no cost which is completely other way iin countries like India and china. First, we need to create a NEED for education which needs to be done at elementary stage only.
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    Dec 28 2011: I would say that this idea of grades and self-worth is a reduction that needs to be addressed rather than the grading system itself. The issue of self worth as it is linked to grades is inherently problematic, not the assessment process itself. Why do students tie their self-worth to the grade they earn? Academic performance is but one of innumerable "measures" of worth--but, as your question points out, it is one that is given the highest social priority. The school system is a primary social institution, and, at its core is academic performance, so, I understand how easy it can be to reduce performance in school to a student's self worth. That doesn't mean it should be--and it does mean we have a responsibility to address that as an issue rather than trying to adjust performance assessment. Academic achievement should be measured, and grades should be assigned as earned so that students can continue to strive toward improving their education. Grades should not, however, determine a student's self worth. That is an issue that is a part of, yet goes far beyond, our educational system.

    We need to be able to assess academic performance, and, by assessing academic performance, I mean we need to do so objectively without pressure to inflate assessments in any way. That said, our society needs to engage in a dialogue of what it means to be successful. Academic ability is but one of many invaluable talents and gifts inherent in us as individuals--and it is only one measure of intelligence. Success is often measured in terms of wealth and monetary gain--something that is often correlated with education and grades. I take issue with social definitions of success, taking the position that success itself has been reduced to economic terms and as a result, we often overlook or fail to strive for that which would truly enrich our lives in favor of achieving this narrow vision of success. Grades and academic assessment are one small part of this picture.
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    Dec 28 2011: As a quick aside, there is no E grade, is there? I've never quite understood the logic of that, either.
    In any case, Andrew, I would wholeheartedly agree with your assessment. I was a rather mediocre (or "average") student throughout my schooling, content with C+ and B grades. These seemed to me to be quite good grades, and above average, which is something that neither my highschool guidance counsellor nor University advisor understood. Luckily my parents, both academically minded, understood the desire to learn over the desire to pursue simple grades.
    Yet I think I absorbed and learned more than most of my peers. I still have a passion for learning, continue to read and devour information and expand my knowledge. Schoolmates with better grades went on to big careers and are basically middle-aged suburban 'blahs' now, now pushing their kids to get straight A's but lacking any desire to actually learn.
    I can't say what I would replace the system with - perhaps a simple Pass and Fail, although that may be fraught with its own problems. The obsession with placing yourself on a scale is tremendous, especially, it seems, in the US: "Am I better than my neighbour/classmate/friend?"
    And it's not even a simple A to F, as the + and - business, especially for C grades, adds additional layers. They are all rather worthless, yet are used as the basis for achievement. Add to that the bizarre, almost divinatory status that SAT scores are given, and we truly have a bad situation. For example: students with a great head for dates and numbers excel in History courses, while the student who understands how it all fits together is left wanting due to never quite recalling the exact date of an event. It's all quite silly.
    I was told as a freshman once that putting historical situations into context (which is what I was doing) should happen as a Senior. For now, I was required to learn dates and the events. C+ for my class :-(
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    Dec 28 2011: Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have a system whereby a member gets a merit badge when they become proficient at a particular task. The members can choose which badges they will work for and do not get the badge until they are proficient at that particular task. I suggest using this system, especially in developed countries where computers will allow individual instruction.

    The sky would become the limit in education (and the galaxy for a few). The artists, athletes and musicians could have a banner (or collar or jacket) full of badges that they have achieved to wear proudly even though algebra might be incomprehensible to them. Competition would increase as kids would want their banner full of badges; instead of just quitting as a failure they would master the skills that they are capable of mastering.

    Certain badges would be a requirement for each year of school and could be broken down into a weekly set of requirements where a child never gets "lost" in the system as the teacher would know each Fri. which students needed assistance in particular areas.
  • Dec 26 2011: I believe it would be more constructive to iterate within the curriculum rather than the grading scheme. Many students, especially in technical fields, are going out into the work force with an education equivilant to that of a technical degree 10 years ago. With the rapid pace of technological innovation we are witnessing today, those students are already behind when graduating with a BA or BS. I agree that we need to experience and experiment with educational change, I do think that a strict grading scheme of some sort is needed. As Patrick Donnelly pointed out, failing is a great concept to have, it pushes people to do beter (or we hope it does).
  • Dec 26 2011: I don't think you are looking at this in the most productive manner. Failures and failing are ok concepts to have. Without such how do you get successes and success?
    The grading system itself could change but it would only be superficial. It is in our nature if not our actual nature to win and lose. Institutional learning is for the masses which by definition fails most people. Learning needs to be made more part of life and the family structure (becasue that is themost common structure of life groups today). Look to how Finland do it and their successes. Young people or their guardians need to get a better understanding of what success means for the kids and work towards a more individualized education. We send kids off to school more happy for the peace and quiet at home than any sense of giving them world preparedness.
    There will always be failing along the way but in the end the prize should be success for the individual, whatever that looks like for them
    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Why-Are-Finlands-Schools-Successful.html
  • Dec 26 2011: Yes. I think the A-F system is far too linear. A new report card should grade A-F along several possible dimensions and characteristics that promote a vast array of qualities such as analytical, creative, original, familiarity with current body of knowledge etc...
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    Dec 26 2011: There are some good points being made in this discussion and in the OP.

    Growing up (I graduated from high school in 1975) I understood the grading system to represent a measure of the child's mastery and understanding of a subject. It was meant to help the child as much as the teacher and the school system--as well as potential employers, for whom our "socialized public education system" was designed--to determine whether or not they are ready to continue on to more advanced studies. To hear my parents and grandparents tell it, and from my perspective, this worked well for all the generations until sometime recently.

    Why does it not work now? How and when did this morph or devolve into a measurement of whether a child was a good or bad person, a good or bad student? Why is it now used to stigmatize students, as James McGuiness asserts? Maybe it's this perception, which seems to be perpetuated by teachers and students alike, that is the biggest flaw. It makes the grade the goal, rather than the measurement; actually mastering the subject is secondary, if considered at all.

    I am afraid that I cannot offer any answers, just more questions. I agree with Jamie Barnes in my skepticism that we can find an alternative that doesn't have the same potential to negatively label students. I am intrigued by Tony Kuphaldt's idea of narrative assessments, but am skeptical that potential employers will bother reading them, and/or may get the wrong impressions of the employee's abilities, or that they may offer them reasons to not give the prospective employee a chance; the more generic letter grade doesn't offer specifics, so they must take a chance. Maybe we just need to re-educate our educators to use grading as a way to encourage and measure our students progress, and find way to remove incentives to cheat, to appear as something they are not.
  • Dec 25 2011: Absolutely. This is a flawed concept and an institutionalized dysfunction. If education were completely re-molded to accommodate how the human brain actually grows and it's capacities change,"pass" is the only grade there should be. What would matter is some kind of developmental index which might be given on someone's profile reflecting the readiness of the student to take on the subject and the lengths to which he or she went to pass. Nobody would "fail". The system that accepts failure IS a failure. In my view "social development" would become as important or more important than simple knowledge retention as it bears so much on motivation. Nothing is really learned if the motivation behind learning it was to avoid the threat of consequence for non-compliance. All manner of indices can be developed to create the "dip stick" measurement that may mean something to employers. But this is not the Industrial Age where the factory is the destination for life--be it on the assembly line or the office. The utility of a person for that eventuality must be changed to another value since that eventuality no longer exists and won't be back.
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      Dec 26 2011: To quote you James, you say...
      "some kind of developmental index which might be given on someone's profile reflecting the readiness of the student to take on the subject and the lengths to which he or she went to pass"

      Isn't this already done.. in the form of grading, that is, from A to F?

      How exactly an alternate system could exist to reward academic achievement without creating distinction similar to the current one is almost impossible. The reason I say this is because there will always need to be some sort of rank associated with where a student’s score falls. This is of course to indicate where that students positions is according to all other possible scores, including scores which describe the average. What I think could change is the perception to the grading, and what it means to be Higher or Lower on the "Ladder", but this is getting into social sciences; the score would still exist, and so to the system, it would just be a change in our value of that score/system.

      When I say a change in perception, Im talking about acknowledging something along the lines of the following...

      Academic affluence does not equate to career success. There have been numerous studies done (Harvard and others) on students achieving top exit grades in the academic curriculum. The survey has found that in 5 to 10, and 20 years from graduation, many of these students have made limited progression and impact in the professional world when contrasted with their extremely good results in academia. In contrast, many students with much lower exit scores have crafted their way through the pressures and demands of the real world and attained a quality standing in their field; generally beyond that of their higher scoring academic peers.

      Why so?

      The answer is a mix of reasons, but mostly because academia is theory based method of assessing knowledge absorption and retention, and not much else. The real world, is of course much more complex than this.
      • Dec 26 2011: Absolutely not. That grading system is a stigmatization system that has so much wrong with it that I could use up many times the amount of characters permitted and not hit it all. I think you'll need to come outside 'the box" quite a ways to see this. I mentioned "social development" becoming as much or more of a priority that knowledge development as a fundamental education reform criteria. Well, when people mix knowledge development and social development, they are no longer "learning machines" and "test-takers"--they are facilitators in each other's development. And when that happens each person acts in several roles along the way from learner to motivator, to documentarian, to teacher--all things that establish a much greater range of value, capability, emotional wellness and so forth than the simple aggregation of test scores. And "test scores" are part of education whose motivational model is threat of consequence for non-compliance which to me is the lowest and worst motivator there is. Once you change motivation level of priority, the level of output changes where new metrics are required. You have to think techniques like "mastery learning"--sticking with one subject until mastered before moving to something else as well. If your mind is stuck in an assembly line industrial age education where education is dispensed by rigid or in rigid time slots, you wont get any of this. Nothing personal. Millions upon millions of people know nothing different than what they've gone through.

        Bottom line--you must yield to "social development" becoming primary and becoming the horse that draws the cart. In that as yet invented world, there can be a thousand ways for people to earn distinction and real connection out in society based upon the real identity they establish and personal sponsorship of them by many players who know them much better than that "A", "B", "C"', "D" or failing student.There is also plenty of room for academic competition as well.
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          Dec 27 2011: No, I disagree. Test scores serve as a yard stick to delineate those who accomplished the objectives and those who don’t... lets face it, it’s not the most productive way of learning, and most of the time, it’s far too objective and open to discrepancy. It is one method though, that has stood up through the ages. If you want to distinguish progressive and learnt abilities, it serves the purpose fantastically. If you want to measure personal gains and quantify innate ability, and also expose transparency into the exertion a student applies, it can fall very short.

          The system of learning you’re describing sounds great, but also highly theoretical and aims for a type of idealistic harmony of exchanges. I don’t mean offence when I say this, and whether you like it or not, it seems far from the reality of competition that exist in this world... and that completion, be it a good or bad motivator, describes some of the reasons why people ascribe such distinction to getting an A to begin with. People like A’s, they feel good about them, and as long as that’s happening, I think a great majority of people will be willing to leave that bullseye on the dartboard....

          Which essentially leads me back to my train of thought earlier;Its human based perception. We all ike to be the best, we all like to be regarded. Change the 'A' to another format/approach/method/entire band, and that too will be as equally sought by individuals who strive not only to be better, but better than the rest...

          I'd really like to make it known that its not that I reject your proposed methods, I think your ideas offer inherent advantages that we could all gain much from, rather its more so I dont know if the rest of society would be willing to drop the ball for it.
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        Dec 26 2011: "academia is theory based method of assessing knowledge absorption and retention, and not much else. The real world, is of course much more complex than this."

        I think this in itself is largely the problem. In schools (large generalization, not all classes but in some) we spend so much time on absorption and retention that to students subjects have no real world relevance or application.
        • Dec 27 2011: The letter-grade system is utilitarian measure within an authoritarian system to reflect a certain type of result. Human worth and potential are far greater dynamics but you won't be able to philosophize on how much and in which directions the educational model could or should be reformed if you yourself think there isn't anything all that wrong with the way things are. Personally I think they are criminally dysfunctional, ineffective and inefficient and the nature of the grade system makes it easy for politicians to pat themselves on the back for effectively rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. I once thought much like everyone else who is a product of 20th Century education and then I took off the horse-blinders and realized that we are still in the dark ages and have no clue how much potential we squander through this continued human processing machine. We could do more in the next 10 years than we've done in the last thousand if we change a few things around--starting with ending motivation by threat of consequence for non-compliance and replacing it with motivation through an individual picture of connecting relevance. It's not easy, but it is now possible and we must start braving that change.