The educational system needs some way to inform students of how they’re doing in school. Did they grasp the content or not? Do they understand what they’re supposed to be doing? Did they write a successful essay or not? Even so, the grade system is deeply flawed and it’s troubling to see how much value students attach to the letters on their transcripts. Below I list some reasons I wish we could move away from our current grading system.
Grades in a course Are Somewhat Arbitrary.
Students often ask for rubrics when they have an assignment. Seeing that a thesis is worth 10 points and that the Works Cited is worth 20 makes the grading system seem so logical. In reality, however, there’s no intrinsic reason a thesis should be worth 10 points rather than 8 points or 15 points. Even so, students still seem to find it comforting to attach a solid number to everything.
Further, students will sometimes dispute whether a paper is really deserving of an “A-” but if an instructor tells them it’s a 92, for some reason they’re convinced that this number reveals the paper’s true worth. Even though deciding whether a paper should merit a 93 or a 92 or a 91 is also pretty arbitrary. What is the difference between a paper that receives a 91 or one that receives a 92?
Grades Across Classes Mean Different Things.
Prof. Y gives bonus points in her English 101 class. Prof. Z does not. Prof. Y gives everyone an “A” on the assignment if they do all the revisions she points out. Prof. Z won’t give a paper an “A” unless she really thinks the paper deserves an “A,” no matter how much it was revised. Two students doing the same work could receive entirely different grades depending on whether they take the class with Prof. Y or Prof. Z. So how does someone looking at transcript know how much weight to give a grade? How would they know that it’s actually more difficult to receive a “B” in Prof. Z’s class than it is to receive an “A” in Prof. Y’s?
Grade Inflation Has Made Grades Meaningless.
Thanks to grade inflation, a good many students have 4.0 averages or above. In some classes, you may find students who say they never received less than an “A” during all of high school. It immediately becomes clear that they’re not working at “A” level (though they don’t know it). All this means is that looking at a person’s transcript and seeing a column of “A’s” and “A-‘s” tells you nothing about the level of work an individual has performed. When everyone has an “A,” how do you tell who’s outstanding?
GRADES DISCOURAGE INTRINSIC MOTIVATION.
Students attach so much value to grades that they often consider anything not graded as not worth doing. Reading a book, writing a response, sharing their thoughts in class–none of it seems valuable to them unless someone’s measuring how well they do it.
Ironically, this attitude ends up putting more pressure on students. Instructors may find themselves having to give a grade to everything just so their class does the work. Otherwise the students are obviously going to spend all their time doing the work for someone else’s course–the course where they’re going to get a grade for every little assignment.
STUDENTS UNDERSTAND VALUE AS A NUMBER (OR A LETTER).
Many an “A” student has found themselves emotionally devastated by receiving their first “B” for an assignment. Of course, receiving a “B” usually means nothing about the individual in question, other than that they didn’t perform all the work of a certain class. Even so, it can be difficult for students to accept that they’re still valuable and intelligent after such an occurrence. Their self-identity is too tied up into their grades.
This attitude can affect other areas of the student’s life. Some students tend to view the world as another type of school. They look at things and want to assess them like an assignment and give them a grade. But life isn’t graded. No one’s going to assign a number to how well you do your job or to how successful of a poem you wrote. You have to find other ways to value things.