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Andrew Hecht

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Should public schools in the United States eliminate the traditional A to F grading scale? And if so, what assessment do we replace it with?

In 5 months, at the age of 21, I will be graduating college from the University of Florida. Yet, it wasn't until recently that I began to realize how distorted my view of education has been for past 15 years of my life. From childhood, we are commonly "taught" (and indoctrinated) that when we receive "good grades", we are "good people" and "good students." Consequently, beginning around kindergarten, a child's self worth is defined on an "A" to "F" scale. From the perspective of a child, an "A" student is "good" and an "F" student is "bad".

This belief entirely distorts the real purpose of education. We are commonly driven to learn not for the sake of learning; but instead, we are motivated by the almighty grade. Growing up, rather than reading books for fun or curiosity, I commonly read only those books that were assigned. Rather than exploring new concepts, I stayed on the designated curriculum and track. And rather than creating new ideas after school, I completed my homework. By high school, my GPA became somewhat of a false deity, a barometer of self worth, and a ticket to future success. Sadly, a large number of my "academically successful" peers had an even more distorted view of education than I. In high school, I often saw students copying each others homework before class as a means to manipulate the system. School was not about learning, it was about recieiving high grades. In college, this same manipulation manifests itself every time I hear a student say "I'm not taking Professor X's class because it's hard and I need an "A" for grad/law/med school."

Moreover, not only does the "A" to "F" scale seem flawed but the standards we measure as well. Commonly, in public schools we measure math, science, and reading but deny the students who excel in dance, singing, painting, building, and poetry the self worth of receiving an "A" in their area of expertise.

Should pub. schools in the US eliminate the traditional A to F grading scale? Is there a better way?


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    Jan 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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