Should students receive grades?
The pros and cons of America's grading system
February 18, 2018
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Why students need grades
Students should have grades not because they are beneficial, but because they are necessary.
In America, the letter grade standardizes a students academic performance and participation into one of five common ranks: A, B, C, D, or F. As the most widespread grading scale for secondary schools in the U.S., the letter grade method is necessary for holding students accountable, gauging their performance, and ensuring standards are met.
Grades certify that students uphold personal excellence through positive and negative reinforcement. It is simple logic; when a student completes an assignment successfully they are rewarded with a high grade, just as when the student fails to meet the criteria, they are served the consequence of a low grade. With reinforcement from both sides of the spectrum, the student will find that the more beneficial outcome is maintaining academic achievement.
Another essential gain of letter grades is that they allow students and teachers to gauge their own performance. For example, if a student is working hard to earn a high grade in a class, but consistently receives low marks, there is obviously an inconsistency with performance. In this case, the low grade isn’t a consequence, but a sign that the student hasn’t fully grasped the learning material. At that point, even the low grade can be helpful in pointing out what the student does not understand, and allowing them to hone in on that area.
In a similar fashion, teachers can use the grade trends of their class to receive an overall idea of what lessons their students may or may not understand. When it comes to a graded assignment, if a majority of the class unexpectedly performs poorly, then it may be considered that the students hadn’t fully learned the concept. As a teacher notices such a trend, it is then their role to reflect on their teaching and ask if it could have been connected to the low grades. If so, those grades provide a helpful tool in improving the lesson.
Those who oppose letter grades have a valid argument in that grades don’t always reflect effort, but it is not to say they can’t. Grading based off participation is a fine way of recording student engagement. This way students are alert and aware of their contribution to the class. But, it is not effective to grade off of participation alone.
Grades based on assessment scores are necessary to guarantee standards are met. When students graduate from high school there needs to be certainty that they actually learned the lessons the were taught. It would be silly if a student graduated because they simply participated in their math class, but couldn’t actually solve an algebra problem. Grades provide answers like a magic-eight ball. Can student number one define the slope of a line? It is decidedly so, they received an A.
Overall, it is important that people stop basing educational problems on grades, and start seeing their value in American schools.
Cons of grades
School: the word carries a negative connotation. With it comes a handful of memories including sleepless nights due to excessive amounts of homework and stressful days worrying about whether or not you’ll get an A on the upcoming test. School was intended to benefit society by educating its citizens, but the education system, specifically grades, has stripped education of its beauty.
The natural inclination of humans is to want to learn about the world, but the grading system takes away the love for learning and reverses the purpose of school. The way the learning system is structured, students study material to do well on a test and get a good grade, not just for the sole purpose of learning new information. Oftentimes after the test, students forget what they were taught because they only needed to know it for that assessment.
Letter grades have transformed school from a place of learning into a competition. Colleges and other higher education establishments often tend to prefer and accept people with higher grades, creating a competitive spirit in schools to win a spot at a college. Students’ focus is shifted to getting good grades rather than actually learning the material. Higher education is essential for many jobs, so why should it be harder for some students to get accepted into these establishments based on their grades? Because higher education is essential to a majority of students, it should be easily accessible to all students, not based on grades.
By basing a student’s level of intelligence off a grade, it unnecessarily ranks the students in a class. The letter grade system forces society into viewing those with an A as “intelligent” and those with a C or lower as “dumb.” Those students with lower grades may feel as if they are not as smart as their peers, and those with higher grades may have a sense that they are better than students with grades lower than their own.
Grades supposedly reflect a student’s intelligence in a certain subject, but are they accurate? Students learn in different ways but all of them are taught and tested in the same way. The school system is tailored to one type of learner and that type of learner typically receives higher grades. Those who learn in a different way than is taught will not learn the material as well, and therefore will receive a lower grade. Grades reflect how well the school system is suited for a student, not how smart they are.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein