Obviously, the emphasis that American schools place on grades and testing (don’t even get me started on standardized tests…) is an issue, and a lot of people would like for us to come up with an alternative, but that’s a lot easier said than done. Some people say we should just focus less on grades and not even really mention them to students. I know one college I looked at back in high school emphasized the fact that they only really record grades for the benefit of graduate schools that their students apply to. Now, I don’t know about you guys, but that would really, really stress me out. Just because the people giving you the grades don’t put much stock in them doesn’t mean that the aforementioned grad schools/colleges/people-holding-your-future-in-their-hands won’t. And at least when teachers and schools recognize the importance of grades, they’re willing to work with you to help you figure out what you need to do to achieve your goal score and how you can work to improve if you’re not where you want to be. De-emphasizing grades, I feel like, would give students pretty much no control. Like, I just imagine a student going up to the teacher to ask about an assignment, and the teacher being like,
“Oh, don’t worry about it.”
“But… did I do alright?”
“It’s not important. We don’t really care much about grades here.”
“But, but I need to know. Did I demonstrate proficiency in the concepts we’ve been discussing? Do you think I’m on track to be prepared for, like, my future?”
“Really, don’t worry about it. Your grades aren’t going to matter until you go try to get a job or something.”
And see, that does not seem very pleasant to me. (Obviously that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get what I mean, right? Despite the risk of grades becoming too prominent a factor in students’ actions, if you’re going to give them, students need to be aware of them and their
potential to affect their lives.)
So, if there’s no way to have grades without their importance being prominent, why don’t we just get rid of them all together? Teachers can just write out a summary of every student’s performance at the end of the grading period detailing the pupil’s strengths and weaknesses and providing the teacher’s opinion of the student’s proficiency. Which is all well and good, but do you think someone trying to determine if a student is right for their program/school/etc. is going to want to read all of that? We’re talking dozens of reports to wade through, and that’s just for one student. Considering that colleges can have thousands of applicants every year, I don’t think that’s a very feasible request. So grading systems are kind of necessary in a highly populated society such as ours. The people reviewing a student’s school records need a simple system to compare different students’ academic performance and determine who better suits what they’re looking for. So this is how we come to need letter grades and percentages to categorize people. The fact that, as I mentioned last week, people aren’t actually that easy to categorize, that no system can accurately represent the whole person and all their positive and negative features, is irrelevant. People are still innately driven to organize the world, other people included, into categories and try to make sense of their surroundings, and grades are just one product of that necessity to label.
I feel like I’ve kind of gone off on a tangent, but I also don’t feel like wading through all that to try and fix it. Sorry :/ To wrap things up, then, yes, grading is a problem. It puts the focus too much on reaching this abstract label and not enough on actually improving your skill and knowledge. But at the same time, our society requires that we have some sort of system to determine how well students do in their classes, and we have yet to come up with a better alternative. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing anyone can do to make it better. As a teacher, it’s important to try and make sure that high levels of learning correlate as closely as possible to high grades, so that the things students do to try and improve their grades will be deepening their knowledge at the same time (grading is, after all, supposed to be representative of learning). And as a student, I guess it’s important to recognize that grades, though important, are not the only thing of importance. It’s ok not to be perfect, as long as you’re doing your best and working toward whatever goals you have set for your future (definitely still trying to learn that lesson myself…).
And that is the end! Speaking of school stuff, though, I have my first field day of the semester tomorrow. That means I’ll be spending all day at an elementary school! With kindergartners! Eeeeeee!!!!!!! So that’s exciting :) Kbai!